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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Edgar Ramirez and Usher are Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard in HANDS OF STONE

I'm not going to get on my rant about how Hollywood has no clue how to cast (and narrate) real-life black people, because you probably know it by heart at this point. But know that Usher Raymond IV (otherwise known simply as the R&B crooner Usher) as Sugar Ray Leonard is ridiculous. That's all. 

I am intrigued, however, by Edgar Ramirez, even in theory unrelated to any of his movies. He stars as Panamanian fighter Robert Duran in the upcoming film HANDS OF STONE, alongside Raymond, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro and Robert De Niro. Synopsis:

HANDS OF STONE follows the life of Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), the Panamanian fighter who made his professional debut in 1968 as a 16 year‐old and retired in 2002 at the age of 50. In June 1980, he defeated Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) to capture the WBC welterweight title, but shocked the boxing world by returning to his corner in their November rematch, famously saying the words “no mas” (no more.)

I really, really want this to be good. 

HANDS OF STONE is written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz and hits theaters August 26. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

America Ferrera Deserves Better Than This New Netflix Comedy

America Ferrera (Getty Images)
With her incredibly smart and hilarious new show, Superstore, greenlit for a full second season, and her contribution to the compelling new article exposing What It's Really Like to Work in Hollywood (If You're Not a Straight White Man), in which America Ferrera shares how powerless she felt when she painted her face white and dyed her hair blonde just for an audition, I am disheartened to hear the actress donning a thick Latina accent and playing a stereotypical character in SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS, a new Netflix original film starring Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana.

Ferrera, born and raised in the U.S. of Honduran descent, rose to fame in the mid-aughts with her Golden Globe-winning performance as the title character in Ugly Betty. And after using her celebrity to forge a platform for diversity in Hollywood, speaking out against stereotypes in the industry, she's become a role model in the Latino community. And yet, she's somehow found herself in a role that plays right into Hollywood's narrow view of minority characters. Oy vey.

I can only hope that there's more to her character than accents and recipe-making (which is all I got from the new trailer). Bana is not enough to get me to watch the film, but I do like a Golden Globe host. The latter wrote, directed, and stars in the film. Benjamin Bratt and Vera Farmiga also star in the film. We'll just have to see how this goes.

More on the film:

Special Correspondents, a new Netflix original feature film was written and directed by Ricky Gervais and stars Eric Bana (Deliver Us From Evil, Lone Survivor) and Gervais (Muppets Most Wanted, Derek). The film is about a struggling New York based radio journalist whose arrogance and decadent lifestyle has hindered his career. With his job on the line, he fakes front line war reports from the comfort of his hideout above a Spanish restaurant in Queens.

Watch the trailer:

I'm fascinated by the quantity of war comedies these days, and how forgettable most of them seem to be. And this one goes as far as parodying war in Ecuador, a Spanish-speaking country, ironically. I can't even. 

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS will premiere exclusively on Netflix on April 29.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Miss Melissa Harris-Perry's #Nerdland? Tribeca Film Festival Has Another NERDLAND For You (With White Guys)

I can't even make this s**t up. So, you may be aware of the hubbub surrounding the departure of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and subsequent cancellation of the wildly popular show "Melissa Harris-Perry," which--among other things--discussed the intersection of pop culture and politics. Harris-Perry, an African-American woman,who's cultivated a devoted following on social media and beyond, often encouraged her digital audience to engage with the conversation using the hashtag #Nerdland. Naturally, her uber popular TV show also birthed the uber popular trending topic and movement, igniting an international discussion that created a safe haven for nerds--particularly people of color--to come outside the margins of society and talk about things that matter to them. In other words, it was pretty groundbreaking.

Despite the show being yanked from the airwaves, fans have taken ownership of #Nerdland to advance the existing conversations online. So, it's basically unofficially branded. Which makes it that much more awkward to learn yesterday that there's a new film showing at Tribeca Film Festival called NERDLAND, featuring a whole bunch of white guys. Yep, this is real life.

It's an animated film, so I guess that means it should matter less. And to be honest, I've never watched a single episode of "Melissa Harris-Perry," but most of my Twitter feed did, so I understand its importance. And I am aggravated that white Hollywood has yet again appropriated an already established culture as their own--and didn't even bother to have the decency to cast a single person of color in the film. Seriously, it's Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd playing almost 30-year-olds (yeah, right) trying to come up with get-rich-quick schemes. Pretty much the opposite of what #Nerdland ever was. A little more about the film:

NERDLAND is the story of two best friends, aspiring screenwriter Elliot (Patton Oswalt) and aspiring actor John (Paul Rudd), whose dreams of super-stardom have fizzled. With their 30th birthdays looming and their desperation growing, John and Elliot decide that in this 24/7, celebrity-obsessed world of over-shared navel-gazing, there are more ways to become famous – or infamous - than ever before. So, why not become famous TODAY? NERDLAND is that day.

Making up for what they lack in brains and talent with abundant, witless enthusiasm, John and Elliot troll Los Angeles on a fame-seeking journey, encountering and abusing friends both new and old. Navigating their hyper-stimulating landscape of consumerism gone wild, our two consumers want desperately to be consumed – and they will have their FAME, at any cost.

I'll leave this with y'all to attack as you see fit. I have nothing else to say about this. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

I Completely Forgot That I Even Watched I SAW THE LIGHT

I like Tom Hiddleston. Actually, I love Tom Hiddleston. Hank Williams? Eh, I've heard of him. I know he was--and still is--beloved. And...that's about all I know about Mr. Williams (sorry, country fans). So, I am not ashamed to admit that I really only watched I SAW THE LIGHT because of Hiddleston.

Now that we've got that out of the way, it's time to actually talk about the movie, a biopic on Williams, his tumultuous relationship with his wife Audrey Mae Williams (Elizabeth Olsen), and personal struggles with addiction. Well, I hated it. It's just not good. It's standard. If you know and followed Williams's career, nothing that happens in this film will be a particular revelation to you. Nothing even surprised me, and I didn't know anything about him. It's because the movie is your typical fast fame, womanizing, epic downfall musician story that we've seen a million times before. Walk away, kids. There's nothing new to see here.

As for Hiddleston, he's decent, despite the mind-numbingly bland screenplay by first-time screenwriter Marc Abraham (who also directed the film). But Hiddleston's chameleon-like charm is suppressed here. Basically, anyone could have played the role and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. There's no inflection, no quirk, nothing special about neither the performance nor the story.

And that goes for Elizabeth Olsen too, who is nothing to write home about either. The dismissed, feisty, wifey performance has been done to death (most notably by Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line), and it continues to fail to impress me. I need more.

I SAW THE LIGHT is one of those films that is instantly forgettable and a complete waste of talent from both Hiddleston and Olsen. How boring.

Rating: D (* out of ***** )

Watch a clip from the film:

I SAW THE LIGHT is in theaters Friday. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Snapshots: Melissa McCarthy is THE BOSS

I definitely thought this movie came out a long time ago. Apparently, I was wrong. 

In THE BOSS, Melissa McCarthy stars as a ruthless business shark who gets sent to prison on insider trading, later attempting to emerge back on the scene with a new image as America's sweetheart. Hilarity ensues. 

McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone, directed the film from a script penned by the couple along with Steve Mallory, who's making his screenwriting debut here having starred alongside McCarthy in both Tammy and Identity Thief.  Kathy Bates, Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage co-star. 

Here are a few stills from the movie: 

While I love that McCarthy is taking on producer, actress, and writer credits, this one just seems so...basic. Anyone else?

THE BOSS is in theaters April 8. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sign Me Up for Whatever Freakish Fantasy This Is

Oh, to be in the mind of director Tim Burton. It must be a dark, strange, yet beautifully photographed place. Which is proven yet again in the first trailer for his new film, MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Based upon the bestselling novel by Ransom Riggs, with a cast including Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson, the film follows a group of kids connected by their individual oddities.


From visionary director Tim Burton, and based upon the best-selling novel, comes an unforgettable motion picture experience. When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that spans alternate realities and times, he uncovers a secret refuge known as Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As he learns about the residents and their unusual abilities, Jake realizes that safety is an illusion, and danger lurks in the form of powerful, hidden enemies. Jake must figure out who is real, who can be trusted, and who he really is.

Check out the trailer:

Welp, I'm sold. How about you?


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

ALERT: The Iconic Series Finale of SIX FEET UNDER Will Be Shown at Tribeca

I have to resist simply typing a bunch of exclamation points and publishing that as this entire post. Because, seriously. the series finale of HBO's Six Feet Under (which originally aired on August 21, 2005) remains the most breathtaking, amazing series finale in all of history. Yeah, I said it. Which makes it that much more amazing that this year's Tribeca Film Festival will be showing it, amid other gems from the small screen, as part of their inaugural Tribeca Tune In program.

I'll give you a minute to digest that news. If that doesn't make you run to, I don't know what will.

It's actually really cool that Tribeca is celebrating small screen art during this golden age of television. Not only are they highlighting some of the great episodes from yesteryear, they're also premiering new series and talking with the talent. Here are a few titles from the lineup that caught my eye:

Animal Kingdom (TNT) premiere
Animal Kingdom stars Emmy® and Tony® winner Ellen Barkin as the matriarch of a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities, with Scott Speedman as her second in command and Shawn Hatosy also starring.

Roots (History) premiere
TFF attendees will get a special opportunity to see an episode of HISTORY’s eight-hour miniseries, Roots, in advance of its Memorial Day premiere. Roots is a historical portrait of American slavery that follows one family over many generations. The lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte, who is captured in his homeland of The Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America. Recounting the journey of one family and their will to survive, Roots is an inspiring story about the desire to carry on a legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity.

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) sneak screening of two episodes from season 2
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star as Grace and Frankie, two women whose lives are suddenly turned upside down when their husbands Robert and Sol reveal they are gay and leave their wives for each other. Both sparring partners and partners-in-crime, they form an unlikely bond to face an uncertain future together and discover a new definition of “family,” with laughter, tears and plenty of mood enhancers along the way.

The Good Wife – A Farewell (CBS) conversation and sneak screening of that night’s episode
We near the final few episodes of the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated drama series The Good Wife which has consistently been one of the smartest shows in recent times, with its raw and complex depiction of law, politics and all that lays in between. Join us as we bid farewell to this fan favorite and critical darling with an exclusive sneak peek of an episode followed by a jubilant celebration and look back over the past seven years of the show.

Series Finale: Six Feet Under (HBO) series finale retro screening with live commentary
Revisit one of the most visually and emotionally arresting shows on its fifteenth anniversary for a retrospective screening of the hauntingly brilliant final episode in which we said goodbye to the Fishers. Show creator Alan Ball provides an in depth live Director's Commentary to reveal the process behind these beautiful moments on screen. Moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Magazine/Vulture.

The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in New York City April 13-24. For more information, visit their website.

Monday, March 14, 2016

With Broadway's ECLIPSED, Danai Gurira Puts Women of Color at the Center of Their Own Narratives

With all the contemplation about how to make Hollywood more diverse, how to make the Oscars more inclusive, why Gina Torres isn't a bigger star, and when it will finally be announced that Idris Elba is in fact going to be the next James Bond, I want to bring your attention to Broadway--a medium that despite its own industry imperfections remains the only platform that can boast a production that is exclusively written, directed, and starring women of color.

But please, continue to fight among yourselves over Hollywood bulls**t . 

Meanwhile, with ECLIPSED, Danai Gurira (most known to the mainstream crowd as "Michonne" on The Walking Dead), puts women at the center of their own stories, fully realized characters that run the gamut of emotions and personality traits. In essence, she wrote a truly human story. 

This is particularly fascinating to see coming off the heels of Beasts of No Nation, which I know many of you love though like too many other African narratives marketed to a U.S. audience, it neglects the soul of its individual characters in favor of (re)telling a singular societal story. ECLIPSED goes beneath the atrocities of its setting, the Liberian Civil War, to reveal the stories of four women who--on the surface--seem to only be connected by the fact that they're all wives of a rebel officer. With that serving as the basis of their relationship, you'd think that the tone of the story would be relentlessly solemn. Instead, Gurira uncovers their many layers through humor that's brilliantly nuanced with dramatic inflections indicative of the circumstances with which they grapple: death, rape, and the virtual decimation of their identities (for much of the play, they refer to each other as Wife #1, Wife #2, etc.). Through their own process of self-healing, and leaning on each other for support, we come to understand their quirks, frustrations, desires, regrets, and dreams. As an audience, we form our internal opinions about each character, which inevitably have little to do with the war or their captors and everything to do with what they each bring to the story.

While Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) is the face on the playbill, and the play's catalyst, don't be mistaken: ECLIPSED is filled with riveting ensemble performances that introduce seasoned actresses Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh, and Zainab Jah to new audiences. It's not a musical, but somehow the show feels like a soulful ballad to unidentified and unseen women living on the margins. It breathes life into each character and resonates with a story that far goes beyond the scant compound that makes up the theatrical set. Now that's something worth talking about.

ECLIPSED is now playing on Broadway. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is the First Great Thriller of 2016

We haven't had a legitimately crazy thriller in a while, have we? I'm not talking about a villain running around cutting up people. I mean, like, someone who is living their life as though they're a normal person in a world filled with "lunatics." Yeah, that kind of crazy that makes you think of Carrie's mom in Carrie. In fact, I thought a lot about Piper Laurie's performance as I watched John Goodman in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

It's that kind of confidence, manipulation and savior complex possessed in a character that allows the actor to command every scene they're in (and leave a lingering sense of doom in the scenes from which they depart). So much so that you're never really sure whether it is safer with or without him in a scene. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is his newest bait, Michelle, who just barely escapes a brutal car accident at the top of the film and wakes up shackled to a bed in Howard's (Goodman) house. And the tension never leaves the story from there.

Michelle (clad in a cleavage-baring white T-shirt, mind you) seems like the type of character who I'd instantly write off as a female protagonist waiting for someone to save her (or die trying). But instead, she becomes dubious of her circumstances from the moment she arrives in Howard's well-sealed bomb shelter he calls a home, and plots her own escape. With Howard insisting that the outside world is the real villain, and that there's an airborne virus brought on by otherworldly beings, he sets the premise of what ends up being the most intriguing thriller so far of 2016.

And that's not just because of how uncomfortable it is to watch a woman trapped (with one other suspicious male character played by John Gallagher, Jr,) in the home of a middle-aged maniac, who continues to tell her that he is her only hope now in a world that's been decimated. It's because deep down you know that this isn't even the biggest threat in the story; it's just the most immediate. Are there aliens spraying a fatal virus in the air? Is Howard's home the safest place to be right now, with its bolted doors, barrels of perchloric acid, and photos of mysterious young local women who have gone missing?

Director Dan Trachtenberg, with his first full length feature film, creates an aptly unsettling, claustrophobic setting in the bowels of the last real home on Earth. Teaming with her Oscar-nominated screenwriter Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) , Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, Trachtenberg presents a smart, taut thriller that plays to the mass paranoia and hopelessness of a modern-day dystopia. It proves you don't have to go to the year 2075 to incite the same level of emotion and paralyzing fear.

Meanwhile, can we talk about how badass Michelle is? I mean, I rolled my eyes when she is first introduced in the film, but Winstead turned that around (and does change her shirt later). She is forced to become a new-age Ripley, using her wits to be her own hero--against all odds.

Unlike the first Cloverfield film, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE stays with you. It's well acted, nuanced, and surprisingly effective. A definite must-see thriller.

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

Watch a new :30 spot from the film:

Speaking Out: Revisiting Women of Color Critics and Visibility

Another day, another headline that asks "Where are all the diverse voices in film criticism?" I almost feel like standing up with a neon sign that reads "WE'RE RIGHT HERE." The virtual invisibility of women of color critics, particularly, is what propelled me to highlight some of the women I read regularly online in my "What It's Really Like to Be a WoC Film Critic" series.

And after poring over all their amazingly honest essays, frustrations, and accounts writing in the industry, I've noticed a single common denominator: a collective feeling of being undervalued. The talent is unquestionably there, the need for our voices is more present than ever, but the respect is missing--from both our white male and female counterparts. As you have seen from their diverse experiences featured in this series, it's a battle we continue to fight because we have something to say.

Below is the entire collection of essays:

Jamie Broadnax on Hollywood whitewashing and representation
Ashlee Blackwell on highlighting an underappreciated black horror genre
Natasha Parks on being the lone black woman critic in a room filled with white men
Karen Stevens on the value of women critics of color
Kimberly Renee on being a part of a women of color critics community
Courtney Elaine on the effect of social media on the visibility of women critics of color
Thomasena Farrar on how women of color critics are not a monolith

Now it's time to work together to make the film critic community inclusive.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tribeca Film Festival: Rocker/Actress Juliette Lewis Headlines an Impressive Short Film Slate

As I continue to nurse my feelings over Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)'s Oscar loss last month, I am excited to see which short films could have their chance at Academy glory next from Tribeca Film Festival's new lineup.

Here are the films that stand out:

Directed by Michael Rapaport
(USA) – World Premiere
In this heavy-hitting rock documentary, director Michael Rapaport explores the sacrifices acclaimed actress Juliette Lewis makes to pursue her first love: music. Bucking industry politics and critics, self-doubt, and physical injury, Lewis leads us on a deeply personal journey through her own authentic, independent, and raw sonic world.

Directed by Ben Hakim, written by Lior Zalmanson
(Israel) – International Premiere
A single mom works as a human drone operator, killing people on a daily basis in order to make a living. How much of it all does she take home? In Hebrew with subtitles.

Directed and written by Jonathan Napolitano
(USA) – World Premiere
In the small town of Binghamton, New York, there spins a 1925 carousel that once inspired Rod Serling and has since become a portal into the Twilight Zone.

Directed and written by Carlos Javier Ortiz
(USA) – New York Premiere
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the country’s recent focus on youth violence, police brutality, and marginalized communities, We All We Got is an elegy of urban America, and an intimate portrait of the people affected by violence in Chicago.

Directed by Henry Hayes, written by Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Henry Hayes
(USA) – World Premiere
In the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, a young man must come to terms with the fact that one of his friends is involved.

The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in New York City April 13-24. For more information, visit their website.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Intriguing Dramas, Eerie Horrors, and Probing Documentaries are Added to the Tribeca Slate

I have to say, this year's Tribeca lineup is kinda amazing. And with yesterday's announcement of stars like Viola Davis, Ellen Burstyn and Catalina Sandino Moreno on an increasingly eclectic slate, it just keeps getting better. I've highlighted a few of my favorites below:

Directed and written by Salima Koroma
(USA) – World Premiere, Documentary
Bad Rap follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders. Sharing dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews, these artists will make the most skeptical critics into believers. With humor and insight, the film paints a portrait of artistic passion in the face of an unsung struggle. With Jonathan "Dumbfoundead" Park, Nora "Awkwafina" Lum, David "Rekstizzy" Lee, and Richard "Lyricks" Lee.

Directed and written by James Lapine
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
Legal and intimate family dynamics dovetail in Custody. Starring Viola Davis as an embattled family court judge with a fraught marriage of her own; Hayden Panettiere as a recent law-school grad flung into a custody case; and Catalina Sandino Moreno as the single mother at the center of the case who risks losing her two children over an ill-timed argument. With Tony Shalhoub, Raul Esparza, Dan Fogler, and Ellen Burstyn.

Directed by Jon Greenhalgh
(USA) – World Premiere, Documentary
Jon Greenhalgh's Team Foxcatche rchronicles the paranoid, downward spiral of millionaire John E. DuPont that led to the tragic murder of olympic wrestler David Schultz. Never-before-seen home videos shot during Schultz's time at Foxcatcher Farms shed light on the disturbing events and serve as a poignant memoir to the legacy of the champion wrestler, husband, and father. A Netflix release.

Directed by Andy Goddard, written by Susan Boyd
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
The Blunderer, written by Carolauthor Patricia Highsmith, gets a classic film noir treatment in A Kind of Murder, a '60s-set Hitchcockian thriller that explores how we judge culpability in the death of another. Starring Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel, and Vincent Kartheiser.

Directed by Rob Meyer, written by Annie J Howell
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
It's the summer before 6th grade, and Clark is the new-in-town biracial kid in a sea of white. Discovering that to be cool he needs to act 'more black,' he fumbles to meet expectations as rifts are exposed in his tight-knit family, his parents also striving to adjust. This poignant comedy about understanding identity is the second feature from TFF alumnus Rob Meyer. Executive Produced by Cary Fukunaga. With Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Janeane Garofalo, and Christine Taylor.

Directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, Nicholas McCarthy, Gary Shore, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith, Scott Stewart, and Adam Egypt Mortimer, written by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, Nicholas McCarthy, Gary Shore, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith, and Scott Stewart
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
Get in the holiday spirit with this horror anthology from some of today's most visionary genre auteurs. From a very unholy Easter Bunny to a particularly macabre Valentine's Day gift, Holidays is a full calendar year of festive stories, bringing out the most twisted and subversive sides of each seasonal celebration. With Seth Green, Clare Grant, Ruth Bradley, Sophie Traub, Jocelin Donahue, Harley, Morenstein, Lorenza Izzo, and Andrew Bowen.

Directed by Rod Blackhurst, written by David Ebeltoft
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
A virus has ravaged human civilization, leaving two groups of survivors: those who have managed to avoid infection, and those driven to madness, violence, and an insatiable bloodlust. Living deep in the woods, Ann, Chris, and Olivia are forced to fend off the infected while foraging for supplies. But when a supply expedition goes terribly awry, one among their number must make a terrible choice. With Lucy Walters, Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson, and Shane West.

So, who's coming with me this year? 

The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in New York City  April 13-24. For more information, visit their website

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I Remain Fatigued by Terrence Malick Films

Filmmaker Terrence Malick's latest film, KNIGHT OF CUPS, hit theaters last Friday and, from my vantage point, has been received with nearly deafening silence. Kinda funny considering how curiously devout his fanbase has always been. What's even more interesting is the disparate response of this film versus 2011's The Tree of Life and 2012's To The Wonder--two films cut from the same indulgent fabric that has now deemed unsuitable as art.

My, have the tables turned.

Perhaps people are finally realizing Malick's fetish for bombastic mythology and themes. Whatever the case, it's caught up to him. So, what's KNIGHT OF CUPS about? Well, what any Malick film is about these days--weeping existentialism through a pixelated white male gaze. It's exhausting to have to sit through another narrative like this. I suppose there are some who can connect with this perspective, but I see no universality here. The quiet pensiveness Malick infuses in every character only exudes vapidity--not intrigue. I don't wish to learn anything about these characters, and it's almost like Malick doesn't care whether I do. Basically, it's him j**king off for two hours (the audacity of two hours) without ever finishing. How deeply unsatisfying.

I'd be more into KNIGHT OF CUPS had it been a cohesive study of the human spirit, with actual character development that draws you into their struggles, desires and circumstances. Christian Bale running from one woman to the next in a vacant gaze is just not cutting it. And seriously, Christian Bale? He's the wrong kind of actor to portray fragility in any form. Paired with Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto and Natalie Portman--actresses who are no stranger to vulnerable characters--further illustrated the awkward mismatch. It's like they acting in a completely different film than Bale (still one that you also don't want to watch, but at least are interested enough to note it).

I just need a break from Malick.

KNIGHT OF CUPS is now in theaters.

Rating: D (* out of *****)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Thomasena Farrar: What It's Really Like to be a WoC Film Critic (Blog Series)

I remember doing a press roundtable in Philly to interview actor/comedian Marlon Wayans, for his then upcoming feature A Haunted House 2. When I entered the room, I interpreted the look on his face, and the subsequent hug, as one of not only surprise, but of a sincere “come on in the room, Sis” welcome as I’m certain not many women of color bloggers/critics made the rounds (or were even invited) at the film’s press tour. So in the male-dominated room, with only one other African American who was male, I powered through my questions without a care in the world about being the odd woman out.

Feeling like an outsider often describes my experience as a black female film blogger in Philadelphia--which is home to the founding chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists)--being in the middle of a black women film critic desert.

I don’t participate in discussions after press screenings, where mostly white male critics congregate to share their thoughts and mine routinely goes unsolicited – which suits me fine because I’m not there to determine which “summa cum laude” worthy words I’m willing to pull out of my post-graduate degree vocabulary to bolster my opinions and prove my worth as a critic.

I’m also not here for anyone who thinks African Americans operate as a monolith, and that there are things we collectively accept or reject – i.e. Spike Lee and Tyler Perry films. Truthfully, I hadn’t really enjoyed a Spike joint since Inside Man until Chi-raq – with the exception of Old Boy (which is technically not a Spike joint but a remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film) and I really enjoyed Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and The Family That Preys, which in many media circles also leaves me as the odd woman out.

With an internet platform, I was able to create a space that highlights a potpourri of film and music, and share reviews with other fans who are looking for good entertainment and appreciate seeing themselves representated in various forms. And although I don’t limit discussions to “black” film, nor do I feel pressured to do so, I certainly won’t miss an opportunity to feature and celebrate it.

I was asked what I would like to see in the future of film criticism, in response to the recent Atlantic article, and my answer is this: I would like to see a mixture of voices--without expectation of what they should represent based on their skin color--highlighted in major media outlets. I would like to read all of the beautiful women of color I follow – like Candice Frederick, Candace Cordelia, and Kimberly C. Roberts to name a few – represented in the mainstream and on sites like Rotten Tomatoes where mostly white male voices are readily posted and accepted.

Thomasena Farrar
Women of color voices exist, are varied, and are necessary. We matter.

Thomasena Farrar is a Philadelphia Celebrity Examiner for and runs the entertainment blog Follow her @musicfilmdiva on both Instagram and Twitter.

For more information on this blog series, click here.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

It's Tyler Perry's Madea vs. Halloween in a New Movie

Tyler Perry's Madea alter ego is usually holier than thou, quoting from the Bible and curing everyone's problems by drawing from the Word. Which makes it that much more...interesting to see her face off against a pack of zombies and other undead apparitions, considered to be antitheses of Christianity, in the upcoming movie BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN.

Yes, this is real.

Read the description:

In TYLER PERRY'S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN, Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a hilarious, haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens.

And take a look at the teaser trailer:

BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN opens October 21. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

I Didn't Hate LONDON HAS FALLEN. But...

I have a feeling I am going to be in the minority here when I say that I actually kinda dig LONDON HAS FALLEN, in a Taken kind of way that is often contrived but has enough great one-liners to almost forget all the blatant flaws in the script.

Enter Gerard Butler, who I had all but written off, plays Secret Service Agent Mike Banning to the U.S. president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). As a wiseass who seems to always drop the mostly conveniently rehearsed lines, Butler has somewhat resurrected his C-movie career with this action-packed sequel to 2013's Olympus Has Fallen which places President Asher in danger as the prime target of an assassination triggered by the virtual decimation of London in a series of terrorists attacks.

Whew, that was a mouthful. Basically, there is a lot of gunfire and explosions--which all miraculously avoid our two protagonists in the film. Meanwhile, Mike spends most of the film essentially sticking his tongue out at all the bad guys in the film (at one point, he literally refers to them as "bad guys"). That and slipping in casual racism whenever he can. According to him, these "bad guys" hail from the dangerous country of "F*ckheadistan." Because, jokes.

I'm not going to get on my soapbox once again to talk about how harmful it is to spew these kind of Islamophobic comments--in the middle of a real life U.S. presidential campaign through which, ahem, a certain candidate has made an entire platform out of slurring the hell out of every minority group ever. But, you know I'm thinking it.

It is nice to Angela Bassett in all her glory command the big screen like we know she can. She plays Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs, who accompanies President Asher and Mike on the fateful trip to London. It just reminded me how much we badly deserve to see her as a superhero character saving the lives of others, and not a whimpering victim running for her life. Make it happen, Hollywood.

Eckhart and Butler make a pretty decent team on the big screen. Eckhart is particularly interesting to watch as he becomes the first U.S. president (?) who actually pulls the trigger on quite a few of the "bad guys" --saving both himself and Mike,

So, LONDON HAS FALLEN is another one of those forgettable end-of-winter action films that don't really make much common sense but are really fun to watch when you are distracted with popcorn.

Rating: C+

LONDON HAS FALLEN is in theaters today. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In Colorblind Casting News, NINA Distributor Responds to Film Controversy

In case you haven't been on social media at all today, the trailer for NINA hit and...folks are still pissed about this entire movie. You may remember the film, a biopic on the late, great singer/activist Nina Simone, which first ruffled feathers when the first image from the film emerged--with star Zoe Saldana in noticeable blackface and other ridiculous prosthetics as Simone. This is just the nightmare that keeps on replaying in all our minds.

The negative publicity has gotten so prevalent that Robert L. Johnson, Founder and Chairman, RLJ Entertainment, Founder, Black Entertainment Television (BET), who's distributing the film, issued a response to it:

“Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone. She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent. The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance. We are proud to distribute the film headlined by Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo on April 22, 2016.”

I'm just going to leave this one with y'all...but before I go, watch the trailer:

P.S. I'm slightly less concerned with her skin tone as I am with the fact that an actress whose acting style more closely relates to the essence of Simone (namely Uzo Aduba and Viola Davis) were not even considered for this role. But anyway, I digress.

Early Tribeca Slate Has Revealed a Feminist Batch of Films

Is it too early to call this slate of Tribeca Film Festival films "The Year of the Woman"? That was the first thought that came to my mind after viewing the first batch of films announced yesterday. Ranging in genre and showcasing a variety of narratives placing women at the center of the story, both emerging and veteran talent behind and in front of the camera are seizing this opportunity to bring their work to a larger audience.

Color me intrigued. Below are a few of the highlights:

Directed by Sophia Takal
Written by Lawrence Michael Levine 
(USA) – World Premiere
This twisty psychological drama about obsession, fame, and femininity follows two friends, both actresses (Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald), on a trip to Big Sur, to reconnect with one another. Once alone, the women's suppressed jealousies and deep-seated resentments begin to rise, causing them to lose their grasp on not only the true nature of their relationship, but also their identities. With Lawrence Michael Levine, Alex Koch, Jane Adams.

Directed by Ian Olds
Written by Paul Felten and Ian Olds
(USA) – World Premiere
After an exiled Afghan journalist (Dominic Rains) arrives in a small town in Northern California, he lands a menial job as a crime reporter for the local newspaper. Restless in his new position, he teams up with an eccentric local (James Franco) to investigate the town’s peculiar subculture only to find things quickly taking a dangerous turn. With Melissa Leo, Rachel Brosnahan, Tim Kniffin, Thomas Jay Ryan.

Directed by Logan Sandler
Written by Logan Sandler and Thymaya Payne
(USA, Bahamas) – World Premiere
Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) move to a small Bahamian island hoping to restore their relationship in the wake of a tragedy, only to find the picturesque island torn in two: on one side a dangerous human trafficker and on the other an aging patriarch, struggling to maintain order. With Leonard Earl Howze, Sam Dillon, Robert Wisdom.

Directed and written by Gael García Bernal
Mia Wasikowska, Sebastian Silva, Anurag Kashyap, Sion Sono, and Natasha Khan
(Argentina, Australia, USA, India, Japan, UK) – World Premiere
Madly is an international anthology of short films exploring love in all its permutations. Directed by some of the most vibrant filmmakers working today, the six stories in Madly portray contemporary love in all its glorious, sad, ecstatic, empowering, and erotic manifestations. With Radhika Apte, Satyadeep Misra, Adarsh Gourav, Kathryn Beck, Lex Santos, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuki Sakurai, Ami Tomite, Justina Bustos, Pablo Seijo, Tamsin Topolski. In English, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish with subtitles.

Directed by Kadri Kousaar
Written by Leana Jalukse and Al Wallcat
(Estonia) – International Premiere
This darkly comic, crime mystery set in small-town Estonia centers on Elsa, the full time caretaker of her comatose son, Lauri, and the locals, who are abuzz with rumors about who shot Lauri and why. But in this tight-knit town, where everyone seems to know everyone and everything except for what's right under their nose, the world's clumsiest crime may go unsolved. With Tiina Mälberg, Jaan Pehk, Andres Tabun, Andres Noormets, Rea Lest, Jaak Prints, Siim Maaten. In Estonian with subtitles.

Directed by Drake Doremus
Written by Nathan Parker
(USA) – US Premiere, Narrative
Set in a sleek and stylish future world, Drake Doremus' sci-fi romance envisions an understated dystopia, where all human emotion is seen as a disease that must be treated and cured. Against this backdrop, coworkers Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult) begin to feel dangerous stirrings for one another. An A24 release.

PARENTS (Forældre)
Directed and written by Christian Tafdrup
(Denmark) – World Premiere
Told with deadpan Nordic humor and a touch of surrealism, Parents follows Kjelde and Vibeke, two empty-nesters who find themselves unable to let go of the past. Stripped of their identity without their son, who recently moved away to college, they attempt to reclaim their youthful vigor by moving back into the old apartment where they first fell in love. They soon realize that everything that once defined them might no longer exist. With Søren Malling, Bodil Jørgensen, Elliott Crosset Hove, Miri-Ann Beuschel, Anton Honik. In Danish with subtitles.

PERFECT STRANGERS (Perfetti sconosciuti)
Directed by Paolo Genovese
Written by Filippo Bologna, Paolo Costella, Paolo Genovese, Paola Mammini, and Rolando Ravello (Italy) – International Premiere
Paolo Genovese's new film brings us a bitter ensemble with an all-star cast that poses the question: How well do we really know those close to us? During a dinner party, three couples and a bachelor decide to play a dangerous game with their cell phones. Brilliantly executed and scripted, Perfect Strangers reveals the true nature of how we connect to each other. With Marco Giallini, Kasia Smutniak, Valerio Mastandrea, Anna Foglietta, Edoardo Leo, Alba Rohrwacher, Giuseppe Battiston. In Italian with subtitles.

Directed and written by Daniel Grove
(USA) – World Premiere, Narrative
Daniel Grove's neon-soaked feature debut follows reformed mobster Behrouz, who is haunted by memories of being a child soldier in Iran in the 1980s. As he pursues the American Dream in Los Angeles Behrouz finds it increasingly difficult to stay away from the seedy underbelly of the city. Grove's neo-noir is a smart, action-packed, and colorful thriller with an electrifying score. With Reza Sixo Safai, Helena Mattsson, Parviz Sayyad, Julian Sands, Laura Harring, Dominic Rains.

Directed by Judd Ehrlich
(USA) – World Premiere, Documentary
Lacrosse is a sacred game for Native Americans, traditionally reserved for men. When a women's varsity team forms in upstate New York, they aim to be the first Native women’s team to take the championship title away from their rivals Massena High. With the indigenous community torn, they find that more than just the championship is on the line.

Directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi
(USA) – World Premiere, Documentary
In 1994, four women were tried and convicted of a heinous assault on two young girls in a court case that was infused with homophobic prejudice and the Satanic Panic sweeping the nation at that time. Southwest of Salem is a fascinating true crime story that puts the trial of the San Antonio Four in context of their ongoing search for exoneration.

As a reminder, I am planning a Tribeca Blogger Meet-Up this year, so if you're interested in learning more about that, please let me know via the Contact box in the right sidebar of this page.

Stay tuned for my assessment of the next batch of films to be announced on March 8. The Tribeca Film Festival will take place in New York City April 13-24. 

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