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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A New Sammy Davis, Jr. Biopic Aims to Explore the Man Behind the Politics


I'm here for Hollywood icons telling their stories in their own words in documentary form. Because too often their stories are distorted or downright inaccurate in feature films--especially when it comes to black icons. So I am intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film, SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I'VE GOTTA BE ME, which will world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.

Davis was an icon, a mystery, renowned, incredibly talented, yet still a controversial Hollywood figure in some circles. He was black, vocal, yet respected in a way that made white Hollywood uncomfortable. His story is ripe for a fascinating big screen narrative, so here's hoping that director Sam Pollard has pulled it off with this PBS American Masters documentary. Here's more about it:

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME is the first major film documentary to examine Davis’ vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America.

Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, so vast and multi-faceted that it was dizzying in its scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was the veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions trying to stay relevant; he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America; he was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to another persecuted minority.

Featuring new interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and excerpts from his electric performances in television, film and concert, SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I’VE GOTTA BE ME explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory blazed across the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the 1980s.

Watch the trailer:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Writer/Director Justin Simien (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE) Signs On for a Hair-Rising Horror Satire

None of that headline is actually me being facetious. It's true. Justin Simien, the writer/director behind both the TV and film versions of the race "satire" Dear White People, has signed on for what's also being pegged as a satire in the horror genre, BAD HAIR. (I use quotation marks around the word satire because I find nothing really satirical about blackface and black LGBT politics on college campuses. But, the media has apparently taken comfort in referring to it as such, so there's that). It seems to be about a young woman whose weave gets beyond her control...or something.

Read the synopsis:

Paralleling the rise of New Jack Swing in 1989, Bad Hair is a horror satire that follows an ambitious young woman who gets a weave in order to survive the image obsessed world of music television. Her professional success comes at a higher cost than anticipated, however, when she discovers her new hair may have a mind of its own. Filled with biting satirical commentary and genre bending thrills, Bad Hair marks both an evolution and departure for filmmaker Simien from his Dear White People film and television series.

Watch the teaser:





Yeah, I don't know. In this age of hair politics? We'll have to wait and see, I guess. 

Your thoughts? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Want to Hear a Couple of Badass Women of Color Writers Get Real about Working in the Industry?


Hey good people,

I, along with Jamie Broadnax and Valerie Complex (both from Black Girl Nerds), have just submitted a panel discussion Women of Color Film Critics and Representation for the 2018 SXSW Festival, exploring the importance of women of color voices in film and TV criticism, navigating the gatekeepers, and explaining what it truly means to be a woman of color on the web every day. And we need your help! Vote for us to have our panel among those selected. Polls are only open until August 25.

Click here to cast your vote. Thank you!

6 Intriguing Films on the New York Film Festival Main Slate

Come hell or high water, I do plan to cover the New York Film Festival again this year. And, judging by the main slate of films just announced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, it's going to be a great one. While there are many films on the list helmed by buzzworthy stars including Woody Allen (however you fall with that), Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach, and Greta Gerwig (for her directorial debut), I took a liking to some work from the more seldom discussed filmmakers who excite me. Here's what I'm checking for this year (including my hot takes):




Before We Vanish

Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2017, 129m
The latest from master of art-horror Kiyoshi Kurosawa is perhaps his most mainstream film yet, a throwback to 1980s sci-fi. An advance crew of three aliens journey to Earth in preparation for a complete takeover of the planet. They snatch not only bodies but memories, beliefs, values—everything that defines their conquests as human—leaving only hollow shells, which are all but unrecognizable to their loved ones. This disturbing parable for our present moment, replete with stunning images—including a drone attack and a bit of Clockwork Orange–style murder and mayhem—is also a profoundly mystical affirmation of love as the only form of resistance and salvation. A NEON release.
HOT TAKE: I read "a throwback to 1980s sci-fi" and "Clockwork Orange" and that already had me pulling up a chair. This sounds spectacular. 



BPM (Beats Per Minute)/120 battements par minute
Dir. Robin Campillo, France, 2017, 144m
U.S. Premiere
In the early 1990s, ACT UP—in France, as in the U.S.—was on the front lines of AIDS activism. Its members, mostly gay, HIV-positive men, stormed drug company and government offices in “Silence=Death” T-shirts, facing down complacent suits with the urgency of their struggle for life. Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys) depicts their comradeship and tenacity in waking up the world to the disease that was killing them and movingly dramatizes the persistence of passionate love affairs even in dire circumstances. All the actors, many of them unknown, are splendid in this film, which not only celebrates the courage of ACT UP but also tacitly provides a model of resistance to the forces of destruction running rampant today. A release of The Orchard.
HOT TAKE: I feel like I've seen this story several times before, but I am curious to see a French narrative exploring the AIDS epidemic. I'll give it a chance. 



Call Me by Your Name
Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Italy/France, 2017, 132m
A story of summer love unlike any other, the sensual new film from the director of I Am Love, set in 1983, charts the slowly ripening romance between Elio (Timothée Chalamet), an American teen on the verge of discovering himself, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome older grad student whom his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has invited to their vacation home in Northern Italy. Adapted from the wistful novel by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is Guadagnino’s most exquisitely rendered, visually restrained film, capturing with eloquence the confusion and longing of youth, anchored by a remarkable, star-making performance by Chalamet, always a nervy bundle of swagger and insecurity, contrasting with Hammer’s stoicism. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
HOT TAKE: I'm literally only interested in this film because everyone has been raving about it. I can only assume the trailer doesn't do it any justice. I'll allow it.


Mrs. Hyde/Madame Hyde
Dir. Serge Bozon, France, 2017, 95m
North American Premiere
Serge Bozon’s eccentric comedic thriller is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with many a twist. Mrs. Géquil (Isabelle Huppert), a timid and rather peculiar physics professor, teaches in a suburban technical high school. Apart from her quiet married life with her gentle stay-at-home husband, she is mocked and despised on a daily basis by pretty much everyone around her—headmaster, colleagues, students. During a dark, stormy night, she is struck by lightning and wakes up a decidedly different person, a newly powerful Mrs. Hyde with mysterious energy and uncontrollable powers. Highlighted by Bozon’s brilliant mise en scène, Isabelle Huppert hypnotizes us again, securing her place as the ultimate queen of the screen.
HOT TAKE: I'm still salty about how y'all fell over yourselves for Huppert's lackluster performance in last year's Elle, but this movie actually sounds really good. I haven't seen a Jekyll/Hyde approach in a long while. Keeping my fingers crossed. 



Mudbound
Dir. Dee Rees, USA, 2017, 134m
Writer/director Dee Rees’s historical epic details daily life and social dynamics in the failing economy of Mississippi during the World War II era. Two families, one white (the landlords) and one black (the sharecroppers), work the same miserable piece of farmland. Out of need and empathy, the mothers of the two families bond as their younger male relatives go off to war and learn that there is a world beyond racial hatred and fear. The flawless ensemble cast includes Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks. A Netflix release.
HOT TAKE: After giving us the deeply personal, and astounding Pariah back in 2011, I'd watch just about anything from Dee Rees. But at some point, we have to talk about Mary J. Blige as an actress....because how long can that go on?



Thelma
Dir. Joachim Trier, Norway/Sweden/France, 2017, 116m
In the new film from Joachim Trier (Reprise), an adolescent country girl (Eili Harboe) has just moved to the city to begin her university studies, with the internalized religious severity of her quietly domineering mother and father (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen) always in mind. When she realizes that she is developing an attraction to her new friend Anja (Okay Kaya), she begins to manifest a terrifying and uncontrollable power that her parents have long feared. To reveal more would be a crime; let’s just say that this fluid, sharply observant, and continually surprising film begins in the key of horror and ends somewhere completely different. A release of The Orchard.HOT TAKE: I'm not 100% confident that I understand the premise, but I'm curious enough to at least find out what this "terrifying and uncontrollable" power is.

The 55th annual New York Film Festival takes place September 28-October 15 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. For more information, visit their website

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Trailer Break: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME



If there is one film I kept hearing about out of Sundance this year, it is this one. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is said to be charming and soul stirring work from Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Check out the official synopsis:


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, the new film by Luca Guadagnino, is a sensual and transcendent tale of first love, based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman. It's the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family's 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows wit h natural delights. While Elio's sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio's father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

Watch the trailer:



Goodness knows Armie Hammer needs a real hit (while I love Nocturnal Animals, that so isn't his movie). I'm very intrigued to see what he brings to his role as he tends to let his roles be more interesting than his performances. The film itself looks like something I've already seen...a few times. I'll reserve judgment on this one until I watch it. 

What do you think of the trailer?

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is in Select Theaters November 24.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SUBURBICON Trailer: The Suburbs are Just as Disturbing and Buckwild as You Always Suspected



Literally every single time I think that I want to move to the suburbs when I grow up, I think about every single horror movie and the fact most heinous, unsolved murders happen in Suburbia. Then I think, nah I'm good.

I thought of this as I watched the trailer for director George Clooney's upcoming twisted dramedy rooted in picket fence-land, SURBURBICON. Like most his films, it's as dark as it is hilarious, and stars Matt Damon. So, he's definitely got a type. However, I can't say I was too hot on his last film, The Monuments Men. Let's hope this is significantly better.  Official synopsis:

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns…the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.




Can I also just say, more Oscar Isaac in everything, please? Thanks in advance. 

SUBURBICON is in theaters October 2.

Monday, July 24, 2017

THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES is Not So Incredible



I'l have to assume that there will come a day when a black woman headlining a film isn't cause for a think piece, social media hashtag, and a parade. But today is still not that day. And I don't think I ever want to not celebrate the fact that a woman like Jessica Williams--irreverent, nose-ringed, confident but not sassy -- executive produced and stars in a film that was written just for her (by a white guy, no less). But sadly, THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES is only isn't up to par with the tremendous talent of the former Daily Show correspondent, who still brings her keen observational comedy and wit to this Netflix romantic comedy only to have it wasted.

Like anything involving Williams, THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES does play against type. It's a romcom that doesn't adhere to the typical girl meets boy, he breaks her heart, she runs after him, he's not ready to commit to her, then much later runs to find her when he is through man whoring around town format. Though the title character and Williams's alter ego is aching over a breakup, triggering her to passive aggressively plan dates with guys she's not interested in to places where she hopes she'll bump into her ex (Lakeith Stanfield), she is still very much in control of her situation. An aspiring screenwriter, Jessica meets Boone (Chris Dowd) on one of these non-date dates and ends up kinda liking him, at least enough to sleep with him. So, they have a thing, and it's light and fun until his baggage ends up getting between them and their situation becomes no longer tolerable.



But, the film is hollow and as scattered as its protagonist (who, to be fair, is also razor-sharp, ambitious, and delightfully feminist). The plot is paper thin, unorganized, and fails to make an impact. And I'm baffled by the fact that the story seems to take place in a metropolitan city, yet Jessica and her ex are the only people of color. Jessica's dates are all white. Her bestie Tasha (Noël Wells) is white. And the only places they seem to go are coffee shops and hipster joints (not like black folks don't like coffee or random bars, but I question it with these optics). It's like writer/director Jim Strouse (the white guy I mentioned earlier) saw Williams's talent, but could only write her in his dominant gaze of whiteness. Which is woefully problematic, a lost opportunity.

While Williams herself is magnetic and commanding in the role, she's just not given enough character development or substantial material to really use this vehicle to catapult her to the status of which she is so deserving.

THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES launches exclusively on Netflix July 28.

Watch the teaser trailer:

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