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Friday, July 22, 2016

On Representation, Female Badassery, and Complex Aliens in STAR TREK BEYOND

I keep having to remind myself that I can't have it all. Just because a film features a boss chick played by 64-year-old Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog), an openly gay and married Asian officer of the U.S.SJohn Cho), and a alien chick (Algerian actress Sofia Boutella), who kicked serious male ass on screen, apparently doesn't mean that its only black female lead (Zoe Saldana) would have more ass kicking duties as well. But, like, can we not make her the damsel in distress though, especially when we all know she can throw a good right hook (or three) when provoked?

I'm nitpicking here, because I actually thoroughly enjoyed STAR TREK BEYOND. It's fun, it's action-packed, and has a seriously awesome cast that knows how to deliver a good joke in the middle of an apocalyptic crisis (shout out to Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto, whose one-line zingers as Dr. McCoy and Commander Spock provided unexpected levity even in the midst of dire circumstances). And while Liutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is supposed to be the pragmatic and loyal one of the group, I was just really hoping to see Saldana a la Colombiana--kicking ass and taking names.

Instead, that job belonged to Jaylah, a new alien warrior to the franchise, who not only ended up saving the entire crew, but proved to be a good deejay on the low (slight spoiler, so I won't say anything beyond that). So often in sci-fi films, the alien is the villain, ready to blow up everything for no reason at all. But Jaylah shows up on the scene, right after the U.S.S. Enterprise takes a nose dive, scattering its crew, and she presents herself as threatening yet compassionate, ready to snap a neck if the situation calls for it, while harboring a tragic past. She's exactly the kind of three-dimensional female character that we deserve. And Boutella owns every minute of it.

Krall, played by Idris Elba, is also really interesting to watch. Though Paramount had released countless clips from the film ahead of its release, I had no idea who Elba was playing until the last 20 minutes of the film--which actually gave me a better appreciation of the actor. Too often I feel like his celebrity gets in the way of his acting, and is sometimes the only thing redeeming a performance (yeah, I said it), but this was a nice balance of intrigue and complexity. Thank you, director Justin Lin, for bringing this out of him. Ladies, now I get it. Finally.

All that said, STAR TREK BEYOND is a thrill ride: a fun popcorn movie that highlights the value of  teamwork and a good playlist (priceless core values in life). As mentioned in an earlier post, Paramount is already working on the sequel. My dream plot? Jaylah and Uhura team up for some major badassery. You're welcome, Paramount. 

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

STAR TREK BEYOND is now playing.

Check out a clip from the film--a scene between McCoy and Spock:

And here's a Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) featurette:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How Will the Opening Film for the New York Film Festival Influence How We Handle the Issue of Mass Incarceration?

If you've been following this blog, you know that I have what you might call a complicated relationship with filmmaker Ava Duvernay's work. I love her for what she stands to her legions of fans on social media--diversity, inclusion, film activism. It's so important, so topical, and so necessary. But when it comes to her films, I tend to have lukewarm to cold feelings about them.

Regardless, Duvernay has made black film a trending topic on social media, an urgent demand for representation on film, and will hopefully continue to bring attention to the wide canon of black films from a variety of great black filmmakers--both women and men--still struggling just to be seen. But something she hasn't been able to accomplish--though not a mandate as a filmmaker-- is getting more moviegoers (particularly non-black audiences) to care enough about the issues she explores in her films enough to want to do something about them. This represents where we are as a society--sympathetic yet complacent, enraged yet crippled by helplessness, or simply too terrified to react. 

I thought of this after receiving the press release from Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York announcing that Duvernay's new film, THE 13TH, will open the New York Film Festival (September 30 – October 16)--their first documentary opener ever. The film features interviews with prominent civil rights figures like Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and examines the criminalization of African Americans in the United States--provoked by a pattern of fear and division. 

“It is a true honor for me and my collaborators to premiere The 13th as the opening night selection of the New York Film Festival,” said DuVernay. “This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation."
THE 13TH will be distributed by Netflix, who has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood game--marked by their 54 Emmy nominations and consistent ability to spark conversation inspired by their original content. But with the network's universality and the prestige that comes with opening the New York Film Festival, will the film serve as a catalyst to a much needed national conversation about the state of mass incarceration among black people in the U.S. that affects actual change?

Again, this is not really the responsibility of the filmmaker to move us into action when it comes to this issue. For what it's worth, Duvernay has done everything she can to present these issues in a way that would motivate us--and our government--to want to do something about it. But meanwhile, more African-American lives are seized unjustly and ending too soon.

Are we finally ready to recognize the issue of mass incarceration of African Americans as not simply a "black issue" but a national crisis? 

THE 13TH will debut on Netflix and open in limited release on October 7.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Race, Gender, and the Law: Assessing Some of the Strongest TV Performances From Women This Year

Imma let you finish, but the limited series and television movie categories of the Primetime Emmy nominations have the most fascinating groups of performances out of the entire list. Seriously, you can fight me on this if you want. And this is in a year of some truly amazing nominees, like Aziz Ansari (Master of None) and Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish).

Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance absolutely SLAYED their roles on the must-see TV event, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and Bokeem Woodbine and Jesse Plemons helped make the second season of Fargo even more bloody and bats**t than the first, but we need to seriously bow down to Sarah Paulson The People v. O.J. Simpson, Jean Smart (Fargo), Kirsten Dunst (Fargo), Regina King (American Crime), Felicity Huffman (American Crime), Lili Taylor (American Crime), and Kerry Washington (Confirmation)?  These women portrayed some of the most flawed, complex, and compelling characters on the small screen--in any format of any year.

It is Paulson and Washington's portrayals, however, of two of the most divisive American women in history, Marcia Clarke and Anita Hill, that have stayed in my mind. I find it interesting that both characters are renowned female legal professionals who learned that even with their strict attention to the law and factual evidence on their side, they were still two women up against two powerful men. They were ridiculed in the media and defamed by their peers for simply not remaining silent and complacent.

While both Washington and Paulson's characters dealt with race and gender politics, The People v. O.J. Simpson dissected each volatile layer of the the post-Rodney King era in which it is set--adding more layers to Paulson's performance. Though Confirmation focuses more on Hill's brave expression of the truth right at a pivotal moment in then judge Clarence Thomas's career, it waits until the end of the film--in postscript--to discuss its significance to the women rights movement that followed. If a movie is good, you shouldn't have to explain its relevance; it should speak for itself. That's the trouble with the movie as a whole; it talks about itself so much and doesn't allow its characters to breathe on their own.

Despite the shortcomings of the film, Washington's performance is eerily spot-on to how I remember Hill's court statement, looking right in the eyes of her all-male prosecutors--determined to state the embarrassing and wildly inappropriate series of events that occurred in the office of her then superior but also acutely aware of the potentially damaging repercussions. Washington portrays Hill as smart, sensitive yet strong, and very self-aware of the mistakes that she has made while recognizing that she used her best judgment at the time. It's at times hard to watch a woman so revered have to recount a poor decision she made ten years prior--and be persecuted for it.

Meanwhile, Paulson's Clarke is not so quick to admit her mistakes. Resilient in court, yet vulnerable when no one can witness it, Paulson's depiction is equal parts adamant when it comes to the law--yet virtually naive about the role race plays in an obviously racially charged case. Despite all her legal acclaim, her shortsightedness--clouded by white privilege--ends up only allowing her to see the law devoid of politics (a rookie mistake). As a result, she crumbles under what she herself once described as "an open and shut case."

Both Paulson and Washington's performances present a prevalent dichotomy in our society: strong, single, independent, intelligent women whose authority and pragmatic approach are reduced to meaningless quibble when standing in the same courtroom as men. More than twenty years later, not much has changed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trailer Watch: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and Uzo Aduba Star in Netflix's TALLULAH

Already, I really want to see this.

Let's get this over with: Ellen Page + Allison Janney + Allison better = AMAZEBALLS. While the upcoming Netflix film, TALLULAH, about two women whose lives are at a dramatic crossroads, looks a little Lifetime-movie-of-the-week(ish), I'm going to assume that this badass cast will elevate it through the stratosphere.

Writer Sian Heder (Orange Is The New Black) directs her first film, reuniting with Emmy Award winner Aduba.

Watch the trailer:

TALLULAH also stars Tammy Blanchard, Zachary Quinto, John Benjamin Hickey and premieres July 29 on Netflix. 

Our Boyfriend of the Moment, Chris Hemsworth, is Returning to the U.S.S. Enterprise

I love how the new Star Trek movies will seriously do anything to get me to see them--despite my severe indifference. Most recently, it was the badass alien chick, Jaylah, from STAR TREK BEYOND (in theaters this Friday):

And for the franchise's next trick, it's our boyfriend Chris Hemsworth aka Thor aka the hot dude from the new Ghostbusters movie. Well done, Paramount. Brava.

According to a press release issued on Monday from Paramount Pictures, Hemsworth is returning to the Star Trek universe to reprise his role as George Kirk, father of Captain Kirk (played by Chris Pine) in the already planned sequel--which has yet to be scheduled (but you can rest assured that it's a sure bet). This is all the information we have right now:

In the next installment of the epic space adventure, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk will cross paths with a man he never had a chance to meet, but whose legacy has haunted him since the day he was born: his father.

They had me at Chris Hemsworth. 

Monday, July 18, 2016


You may remember a few months ago when SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR made my list of most anticipated films at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Long story short, with the countless other screenings and events happening, I never got a chance to watch it at the festival--which is why I'm psyched to hear that it's been picked up for distribution by Investigation Discovery and FilmRise.

The documentary chronicles the case of the San Antonio Four, four Latina women who were wrongfully accused, convicted, and incarcerated for gang raping two girls in Texas back in 1994. A highly politicized case, largely due to how conservative Texas is and the fact that all four women are lesbians of color, the San Antonio Four continue to fight for justice in the face of adversity. The film reportedly follows their journey, more than 20 years after they were first sentenced, and the enraging sequence of events leading up to and following it. More below from the press release:

SOUTHWEST OF SALEM begins its journey inside a Texas prison, over a decade after Ramirez, Rivera, Mayhugh and Vasquez were put behind bars. Documentarian Deborah S. Esquenazi weaves together emotional interviews with the women (labeled the San Antonio Four) and their families with actual news footage and home videos, equally showcasing the injustice of the situation and the families that were torn apart as a result. Unique to the San Antonio Four case, none of the four women ever took a plea bargain or even considered it, despite serving their time in separate prisons. While the state offered deferred adjudication, requiring no time in prison but probation for ten years, the women turned down the offer, maintaining their innocence and faith in truth and justice. Deborah S. Esquenazi also follows the work of attorneys from the Innocence Project of Texas, who played a pivotal role in securing an on-camera recantation by one of the victims, now 25 years old—and their ultimate release from prison in 2013. Today, the San Antonio Four continue their fight for exoneration in tandem with the Innocence Project, and their case is currently up for review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A hearing date has not yet been set.

I'm keeping an eye on this so I don't miss it again. SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR is slated to begin its release schedule in the U.S. September 14.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's All Fun and Tricks Until Madea Comes After You With a Shotgun

If there was a Halloween (er, Hellurween) version of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tyler Perry's famous Madea character would be it. In BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN (actual title), the brassy matriarch is threatening to ruin Christmas for killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls, and zombies everywhere, by chasing them down with a shotgun--like any good Christian woman would do.

And as if she didn't have her hands full enough with that, Madea has also been charged with keeping an intensely watchful eye on some unruly neighborhood teens. Watch the new trailer:

I...don't hate it. But it looks basic, like most Tyler Perry movies, so who knows how this will go. 

BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN hits theaters October 21. Will you be watching?

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