The Old and the New Collide in “Crazy Rich Asians”

                Image courtesy of joblo.com

Film critics knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. We all understood that is was time overdue for a mega box office Asian film that put Asians as the main characters and spoke to the growing number of wealthy Asians globally.It has been 25 years since the US has had an Asian film—“The Joy Luck Club”—with a majority Asian cast. And though “The Joy Luck Club” had a stellar Asian cast and did well at the box office, Hollywood did not really stand up and take notice and nor did “The Joy Luck Club” spur Hollywood to invest dollars in other Asian films with a mainly Asian cast.

                Image courtesy of vanityfair.com

That said; 25 years after “The Joy Luck Club” things have changed. Asians are the largest group of new millionaires and billionaires globally. And “Crazy Rich Asians” reflect this new wealth demographic. Though most Asians are not wealthy, in fact, globally, most Asians live below the poverty level; this fact did not stop Hollywood from producing a cinematic look in the luxury lifestyles of the Asian one percent—and in “Crazy Rich Asian’s” case, Asians from a former British colony, Singapore.“Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy based on Kevin Kwan’s novel, centers on Chinese American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York University economics professor, who travels with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Rachel does not know that her boyfriend’s family is the wealthiest and most esteemed family in Singapore.

                  Image courtesy of variety.com

Excited about visiting Asia for the first time, Rachel is not prepared for the rigors of Singapore’s elite class and in particular the expectations of Nick’s disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh). Feeling out of place, Rachel reaches out to college roommate Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose family is a part of Singapore’s garish nouveau riche, for support and a quick lesson in the morays of Singapore’s elite class. What ensues is a layered romantic comedy that gives insight into the East meets West culture of Singapore and a universal love story about the clash of culture and class.Director Jon M. Chu gives audiences an inside peek into how very rich Asians live, outside of the US, and how Western culture has permeated Asian countries. And though this film is very funny, particularly the scenes with Awkwafina upstaging, in a good way, almost every actor in sight, Jon M. Chu touches on some very important elements of Asian culture that, in spite of Western assimilation, has not been uprooted. Michelle Yeoh represents those old world values; values that contradict Western attitudes toward individualism and personal achievement. Rachel, who was born in the US, is pitied against these old world standards and most find a way to adapt.

            Image courtesy of nymag.com

At first glance, “Crazy Rich Asians” is formulaic and could be about any wealthy ethnic group grappling with fading, old world values and the inchoate morays that can accompany great wealth. However, at closer examination, Chu is asking audiences to re-examine neo-liberal concepts of wealth and status. In this way, “Crazy Rich Asians” has more depth and texture than more recent films of this ilk.Interestingly, Jon M. Chu displays an excessive amount of the Western influences of decadence, greed, and individualism compared to his examination old world Asian values of family, saving face, and sacrifice. Perhaps, Chu is saying that these decadent Western influences don’t work so well outside of Western countries, making folks a little schizoid and crazy. Or, at a deeper level Chu is demonstrating that old social norms die a hard death or never really disappear.

           Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Whatever Chu’s motivation, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a lot of fun and a great addition to the end of summer blockbuster season. Standout performances, and there were many, include Awkwafina’s (Goh Peik Lin) over-the-top, hip hop–embellished portrayal of Rachel’s college roommate; Michelle Yeoh’s dogmatic, steely portrayal of Nick Young’s mother; Constance Wu as the Chinese-American girlfriend caught between two worlds; Lisa Lu as Nick’s stoic grandmother, and Ken Jeong as Goh Peik Lin’s nouveau riche dad.”Crazy Rich Asians” opens nationally on August 15.

—William S. Gooch

Boots Riley Gets it Frighteningly Right in “Sorry to Bother You”

                                              Image courtesy of nymag.com

What can be said about Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”? A lot can be said. There is humor in this film, a love story, juxtapositions of wealthy elites against the working class, and most of all a phantasmagorical surrealism. All these disparate elements and sub-stories are all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive story. Which is a testament to how good of a writer and storyteller writer/director Boots Riley is.Known mostly as a political activist and lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, Boots Riley in his directorial debut has spearheaded a film that is apt for our current, tumultuous political climate. “Sorry to Bother You,” though infused with humor, metaphor, and satirical commentary on the growing rift between economic elites and everyone else, is still entertaining in spite of the film’s harrowing message.

“Sorry to Bother You”—which some film critics might deem a science fiction comedy—follows the journey of a young African American telemarketer, Cassius Green, as he adopts a Caucasian-sounding sales pitch and rises to the top of the sales/marketing ladder. During his ascent Cassius Green is faced with choosing the wealth and creature comforts of his recently acquired success or helping his fellow workers organize a labor union. (Consider the play of words with Cassius “Cash” Green’s name that references money and sports icon Cassius Clay aka Mohammad Ali. And like Cassius Clay, Cassius Green has a ‘eureka’ moment that changes is ideology and life perspective.)

                                     Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

At first glance, “Sorry to Bother You” is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s attempt in the late 1980s and early 90s to make socially relevant films that commented on race, class, and social mobility. (Riley even uses some of Lee’s cinematic techniques.) Still, Riley’s foray into cinematic expression is different from Spike Lee because there is a lot more humor and Riley’s metaphorical, phantasmagorical images, though harrowing and rooted in science fiction, when examined more closely, those images reflect accurately the times we are living in. Which in some ways makes those metaphorical references tangibly eerie.There are some very strong performances and standout moments in “Sorry to Bother You.” Though Danny Glover has a small supporting role as a fellow telemarketer, he almost singlehandedly is the deus ex machina of this film, expertly providing the momentum to push the film forward. Omari Hardwicke as Mr. _________ is brilliant as a clandestine character that aids Cassius Green in his transition from worker drone to successful marketer. And LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green brings nuance and depth to Cassius Green nerdy, and ship-without-a-sail character. Stanfield also craftily navigates Cassius Green’s evolution from aimless worker drone to informed citizen.

                                         Image courtesy of syfy.com

Standout scenes include, but not are not limited to, the scene where nerdy Cassius satisfies his rap music thirsty white co-workers by shouting the N-word every two seconds; Cassius stumbling upon equine/humans in the men’s room, and Cassius becoming more sexually appealing after he becomes more successful, even though his physical appearance has not changed. And even more impressive is how strategically Riley handles crowd scenes, a real accomplishment for a first-time director.In this current political climate, one would wonder how “Sorry to Bother You” has achieved nationwide release. Perhaps, this film slipped through cracks because of its criticism of capitalist elites and big business and not the Trump Administration directly, even though they are one in the same. At any rate, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that must be seen.

                                       Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

In “Sorry to Bother You, we finally have a film with a strong people of color cast that makes you think. We need many more films just like this!!”Sorry to Bother You” is playing in cinemas nationwide.

—William S. Gooch

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The fashion industry is experiencing a retrospective glance back at 1980s street style and culture. This nostalgic reverie, if you call it that, plays out mostly in an reinterpretation of 80s street style evidenced in re-imaged track suits, big hoop earrings, an explosion of 80s–inspired sneakers, fanny packs, and a reinvention of glammed-up New Jack and Jill Swing.

Prior to urban culture becoming a part of the mainstream there were forces in play that gave seed and flower to a political and cultural movement that was the direct antithesis to white privilege. Jean-Michel Basquiat was at the epicenter of this shifting tide, putting his on stamp on the art world and what was to become hip-hop culture. Though his life was cut short by drugs and excessiveness, Basquiat’s impact on the art world urban culture is still felt thirty years after his untimely death. “Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” successfully examines Basquiat’s burgeoning talent before he took the art world by storm and New York City as the backdrop to Basquiat’s genius.

                                            Image courtesy of okplayer.com

As a 16-year old homeless youth Jean-Michel Basquiat’s New York City was a city that had been ripped apart by urban decay and blight and financial insecurity. White flight and the financial crisis of the late 1970s had left New York City bankrupt with few resources to buffer the growing tensions bubbling under the surface. Yet, this lack of resources served as a creative petri dish for a growing urban culture and style that would include rap music, changing fashion trends, and a new direction in art. Director Sara Driver brilliantly juxtaposing New York City’s declining infrastructure as an inspiring landscape for Basquiat’s nascent brilliance.

Images of Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, and Lee Quinones courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Starting with Basquiat’s minor dalliance into graffiti art with the street tag SAMO, Driver’s “Boom For Real” follows Basquiat’s evolution from a talented street teen to a young artist who combines mixed media to take the art world by storm in the early 80s. Driver ingeniously weaves in interviews from friends and collaborative artists like Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, Patricia Fields, Lee Quinones, Luc Sante, and others to paint, almost figuratively, a portrait of who Basquiat was and who he was going to become. Driver also brilliantly distilled how Basquiat moved between the worlds of urban culture, the downtown art and culture scenes, expertly absorbing and manipulating those worlds to his own best advantage. On the surface from this documentary, Driver almost concedes that Basquiat was an operator and hustler; yet, Basquiat exposed the insincere privileged art world of that time, where some artists were “making art on their parent’s dime.” Basquiat would have none of that, mainly because he was not that privileged. What he did do was demonstrate that there was relevance and beauty—though sometimes dystopian in nature—to what was going on in urban young people of color’s mind and experiences and that the larger world should take notice. Pat Fields, who carried some of Basquiat’s one-of-a-kind clothing in her store, said it best, “He came to conclusions based on his own philosophies. Most people just aimlessly walk around.”Basquiat represented the artist as an alienated, disenfranchised youth that had a strong point of view, making art based on their own terms. And the rest of the world be damned. This in your face, almost anachronistic approach to his art made Basquiat in odd character, but interesting to folks in NYC’s downtown culture scene. And once his art got the right focus and venue, it just took off.As one interview subject expanded toward the end of the documentary, “He did it. He gave it to them his way. He showed it’s possible!!””Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” is currently playing at the IFC Theater in NYC until May 23.

—William S. Gooch

Blockers: An Adult and Teenage Sex Comedy for the 21st Century

Anyone familiar with the teenage sex comedies of the 1980s understands that most of the 80s teen sex comedies—The Last American Virgin, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Private Lessons, and Little Darlings—where about getting laid or dealing with the virginity obstacle. It was formulaic, frequently low budget, oftentimes archetypal, depending on your age, very entertaining, and box-office gold until market saturation crept in.

Blockers seeks to take advantage of the continued teenage angst of what to do about unwanted sexual inexperience as seen through the eyes of three female senior high friends who make a pact to get rid of their virginity on prom night. What does differ in the 2018 version of formulaic teen sex movies is that the main characters in Blockers are the parents not the teenagers.

Parents sentimental super jock John Cena, overprotective Leslie Mann, and liberal, chilled out Ike Barinholtz form a posse to prevent, or ‘cock block’ their gal pal daughters from losing their virginity on senior prom night after discovering a text message on Mann’s daughter’s Katherine Newton’s laptop. Teaming up all three parents go through a series of high jinks, guffaws, and realizations has they attempt to foil the gal pal pact.

Though Blockers does differ from 80s teen sex comedies of its ilk, there are some obvious archetypes and story lines. There is the nerdy character that has a horny flip side. In this case it’s Cena’s daughter played by Geraldine Viswanathan. There is also the constant drinking and drunken stupors always found in 80s teen sex films. Lastly, there has to be one anal sex reference. (John Cena is comedy gold in this scene.) And there is the awkwardness of first-time intercourse similarly found in 80s teen flicks. Which is surprising with the current expanded liberal attitudes toward sex and sexual orientation.

Still, there are some differences from 80s teen sex comedies. Family composition in Blockers includes mixed marriages and relationships. We also witness kinky sexual games, not by teens, but from the adults. There is the deciphering of emojis and teenage guys with man buns. The introduction of same sex coupling is not so new, but the general liberal attitude toward gayness is.Blockers is not a movie to look to great screen performances, but teen sex comedies rarely are. However, but as an escape vehicle Blockers might just do the trick. And in these very uncertain times where absurdity is the order of the day and the emperor has no clothes, escape is a very good thing!!

                                            Images courtesy of Universal Studios

Blockers cast includes Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Katherine Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon, and is directed by Kay Cannon. Blockers opens nationwide on April 6.

—William S. Gooch

Everything Adds Up for Brianne Davis in “Six”

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

Some actors go from triumph to triumph. Brianne Davis is one such actress. Well, at least it seems that way.

If you reflect on Brianne Davis’ early success in “Dawson Creek,” that success was 16 years ago. Still, Brianne Davis has gone from one hit film or television series to the next. And with each new role her acting achieved more depth and nuance. From reoccurring roles in “Dawson Creek,” “Hollywood Heights” “True Blood,” and “If Loving You Is Wrong” to supporting roles in “Jarhead,” “Prom Night,” “American Virgin,” and “Magi,” Brianne Davis has proved that she is not going anywhere but up!!

Making the transition from adorable teen actress to acquiring more mature roles is a difficult challenge for any actress. In a culture that trades in young ingénues like a business man changes his shirts, Brianne has weathered the vicissitudes of  Tinseltown; in fact she has triumphed. And “Six” is her latest triumph.

In “Six” Brianne Davis plays Lena Graves, the wife of a Navy Seal serviceman who has recently loss her four-month old daughter. Brianne Davis talked with Fashion Reverie about her role in “Six,” her acting career and fashion.

Fashion Reverie: What first attracted you to your character Lena Graves in “Six”?

 Brianne Davis: Lena is such a strong, reserved, quiet and dignified character. I have never had an opportunity to play a character like her. She has stay strong for her husband to do his job. If she breaks, the family dynamic disintegrates. Her husband is a Navy seal and his job is very stressful. So, he needs the support of his whole family.

Lena is a schoolteacher at home while her husband is off on military duty. This is a very intense character. Lena and her husband were high school sweethearts and they lost their four-month old daughter. So, in this first season we deal a lot with the loss of their daughter.

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

FR: While your production team was shooting “Six” were you going back and forth between shooting combat scenes and Lena’s life back home in the States?

Brianne Davis: Yes, the Navy Seals are not like other military servicemen. Sometimes, they leave on a Thursday and come back the next week and have to readjust to civilian life until they are off on military duty again. The most difficult part is when the spouses leave, you don’t know where they are going, they cannot reveal their location and you don’t know when they will return. So, how do you navigate a relationship when there are so many unknowns? It is a huge challenge

FR: Your character is a military wife and your mom was a military wife. Did your experience with your Dad serving in Vietnam provide could source material for this role, and why?

Brianne Davis: Completely. My mom is a strong businesswoman. She really kept our family together when my father wasn’t able to. I definitely got a strong work ethic and independence from my mom. So, I did bring those childhood influences to my character on “Six.”

FR: Is this your first time playing a wife and mother?

Brianne Davis: I have played a wife before, but this is my first time playing a wife and mother, although my child is deceased in “Six.”

FR: What aspects of the character do you most identify with?

Brianne Davis: I probably most identified with Lena’s strength. She is a very strong individual. I least identified with how she expresses herself. When Lena speaks her words are very thought out; everything she says is for a reason. She is very contained. Lena also comes from a military background, so she knows how to communicate in a careful manner in certain situations, thus she chooses her words very wisely.

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

Images courtesy of the Anderson Group

FR: You garnered some tangible experience for this role by starring in “Jarhead” with Jake Gyllenhaal where you got to meet servicemen in Afghanistan. Could you talk about that?

Brianne Davis: William Broyles wrote the “Jarhead’s” is screenplay and is “Six’s” show runner and creator. When I came in to read for the part, he couldn’t believe how much I had grown up. (“Jarhead” was filmed in 2005.)

My character is different in “Six” compared to my character in “Jarhead;” however, I was informed by the army veterans I met in Afghanistan while filming “Jarhead.” “Jarhead” did give me some good source information.

FR: “Six” is on the History Channel. Why the History Channel than a more traditional network?

Brianne Davis: The History Channel is the perfect network for “Six” because in a sense this show is the history of what is going on military life right now.

FR: What do you hope audiences will get from this series?

Brianne Davis: I hope they see how much Navy Seals give up for our country. These families are sacrificing just as much as the Navy Seals themselves. Whether you agree or disagree politically with the military presence in certain countries, we should support the soldiers and their families. “Six” is a real, authentic look into the lives of military families and I hope audiences can feel the emotion, heartache, and joy of their experiences.

Brianne Davis in "ChromeSkull," "True Blood," and "Dawson Creek," respectively.

Brianne Davis in “ChromeSkull,” “True Blood,” and “Dawson Creek,” respectively.

FR: You have had reoccurring roles in “Hollywood Heights,” “Murder in the First,” “True Blood,” and “If Loving You Is Wrong.” What was your favorite reoccurring role, and why?

Brianne Davis: That is really hard, but if I had to pick, I would say “True Blood” because of the fantasy aspect of the show. Also, “Murder in the First” was fantastic because who would not want to be a part of a Stevhen Bochco show.

FR: Let’s look back at some of your earlier roles. Could you talk a little bit about “Dawson Creek”?  You were on that show while you were high school.

Brianne Davis: “Dawson Creek” was filmed in Wilmington, NC and I am from Georgia. So, the only way I was able to be a part of the cast while in high school is because I didn’t live that far away from the film location.

Being a part of the cast was amazing. First, I was star struck with all my cast mates. “Dawson Creek” was my first television series. James Van Der Beck was such a great person to work with. I was so knew to television and film and he was so encouraging.

FR: You are a great beauty and you started commercial modeling at the tender age of 12. What made you switch to acting?

Brianne Davis: I am naturally a very shy person and modeling didn’t really allow me to come out of my shell and express myself as much as acting did.  I love fashion and shooting editorials; however, in fashion I felt more like a prop instead of a person. And for me that was not fulfilling enough. The moment I took an acting class, I knew acting was for me. Acting brought me closer to myself and out of my shell.

Images courtesy of pinterest.com, zimbio.com, and amazoncom, respectively

Images courtesy of pinterest.com, zimbio.com, and amazoncom, respectively

FR: Who are some of your favorite designers?

Brianne Davis: I love Donna Karan and Calvin Klein because both of these designers have a minimalistic aesthetic that appeals to me. I am one of those consumers that could have an expensive bag from Philipp Plein and pair it with something from H&M and Zara. I love to mix and match; have one expensive item and everything else you could find a lower priced retail stores.

FR: If you had a fashion fantasy of wearing a particular designer to the Oscars, which designer would you wear?

Brianne Davis: I would wear vintage Donna Karan. However, you cannot go wrong with Tom Ford or Oscar de la Renta.

FR: You have segued into directing, has that made you a better actress?

Brianne Davis: Yes, it has because being on the other side of the camera you see how important continuity is. Continuity is doing something the same way every time in a scene. Being on the other side of the camera you recognize what is important to a scene, you began to understand the whole story and how all the elements must come together. Also, you understand more fully that any direction that the director gives an actor is not personal. The direction is to get the scene to work better. Sometimes actors can be very sensitive and emotional. Working on the other side of the camera you learn how direction is not personal

FR: What’s next for you?

Brianne Davis: We are waiting to hear about season two for “Six.” I just finished my application for the Warner Brothers directing program. If I get accepted, that would be amazing. I have a series that I created with my husband for our production company, Give and Take, and we are starting to pitch that. I have also been asked to direct the film, “The Place Apart.” And also I like most actors, I continue to audition.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Reverie’s 2016 Holiday Movie Picks

Just as diversity was front and center in a lot of fashion publications, so was 2016 a year of films that featured diverse casts and stories that put people of color front and center. This holiday season several holiday films feature strong performances by actors of color. From Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (“Fences”) to Taraji Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) to Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), 2016 has turned into a year where Hollywood embraced the wide swarth and tone of the African American narrative and voice.

"Fences" images courtesy of postgazette.com

“Fences” images courtesy of postgazette.com

Since opening on Broadway in 1984, there has been much talk about bringing this epic African-American story of love, strength, betrayal and forgiveness to the silver screen. Finally, August Wilson’s great American story has come to the big screen and Denzel Washington and Viola Davis do the late August Wilson pride in the pivotal roles of Troy Maxson and his wife.

Set in segregated Pittsburgh of the 1950s. Sanitation worker Troy Maxson, played with nuance, passion and strength by Denzel Washington denies his son’s chance at a football scholarship, opting for a trade career for his son. Maxson own career as a professional ballplayer was deferred due to his age.

The long-suffering wife, played magnificently by Viola Davis, as the tensions between the human triangle reveals raw wounds, witnesses the tension between father and son. Wilson’s “Fences” is in the great tradition of “Death of a Salesman,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” and with exquisite film adaptation global audiences can finally witness its glory.

"Moonlight" image courtesy of highlighthollywood.com

“Moonlight” image courtesy of highlighthollywood.com

In a somewhat opposite vein is “Moonlight.” Set during the ‘War on Drugs’ era in Miami, “Moonlight” centers on a young man dealing with his sexual proclivities while struggling with a dysfunctional family. Told in three stories as the protagonist Chiron moves through childhood to young adulthood.

This poignant film, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, not only examines the raw, sometimes violent life of drug communities in Miami, but also the emotions of abandonment, sexual ambivalence, and denial. Though dissimilar from “Fences” in many ways, the thread of deferred dreams also runs through “Moonlight.”

Amy Adams in "Nocturnal Animals." Image courtesy of variety.com

Amy Adams in “Nocturnal Animals.” Image courtesy of variety.com

Most people know Tom Ford from his stint at Gucci and later as the creative director of eponymous brand. With “Nocturnal Animals,” consumers will get to see Ford in a different light.

Based on 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, “Nocturnal Animals” is a neo-noir psychological thriller that looks at the dark truths that people run away from.  Haunted by a script by her first husband that arrives unexpectedly, Amy Adams is forced to look at her own deep past that has lots of secrets.

"Jackie" image courtesy of salemwebnetwork.com

“Jackie” image courtesy of salemwebnetwork.com

Jacqueline Kennedy was the epitome of classic style and regality. As the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy distinguished herself as the FLOTUS that brought style and sophistication to the White House. Jackie as the FLOTUS used luxury designers to dress her, namely Halston, Oleg Cassini, Coco Chanel, Givenchy and Dior.

In the biopic “Jackie” after John Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie’s (Natalie Portman) world comes apart. Over the course of the next week she must confront the unimaginable: consoling their two young children, vacating the White House and planning her husband’s funeral. Jackie quickly realizes that the next seven days will determine how history will define her husband’s legacy—and how she herself will be remembered.

"Hidden Figures" image courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

“Hidden Figures” image courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

Did you know that African-American women in the early 1960s played an important part in the development of NASA, putting the first American man into orbit? You probably didn’t know that fact, most people don’t.

“Hidden Figures” tells the untold story of three African-American women that played an indelible role in NASA’s early history. Taraji Henson, Olivia Spencer and Janelle Monae portray three African-American mathematicians who must deal with racism, sexism and bigotry as they build their careers and fight for the opportunity to play a significant role in launching the first American astronaut into space.

—William S. Gooch

A Ballerina’s Tale: Misty Copeland’s Unlikely Tale of Success

Image courtesy of blackfilm.com

Image courtesy of blackfilm.com

Something is afoot. And it is not the Presidential debates, a recovering economy or the latest salacious Kardashian tale of nudity, broken romance, or media overexposure. Some of the things may be important, but I am talking about something else.

The thing that is afoot is truth. And more and more documentaries are putting the truth, their truth, front and center. “A Ballerina’s Tale” is one such documentary about the truth, and more accurately Misty Copeland’s truth.

Socrates extolled, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And Nelson George’s truth-telling documentary “A Ballerina’s Tale,” examines the truth behind Misty Copeland’s rise to what some arts critics deem 21st Century breakout ballerina fame.

Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

We’ve all heard the stories about Copeland’s rise from abject poverty to her ascension to become the first African American principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre. Most folks have seen the Misty Copeland segments on “60 Minutes,” “The View,” and countless other talk shows and media outlets, not mention her internet-breaking “Under Amour” video. A lot of people are aware that she’s toured with Prince, had photo editorials in Italian Vogue, and recently starred as “Miss Turnstiles” on Broadway in “On the Town.”

All these accomplishments are worth noting, and for a ballerina, almost unheard of, especially in this age of short sound bites and 15-minute fame celebs that disappear almost as soon as they’re discovered. Still, George’s documentary goes way beyond Misty Copeland’s cross-pollinated media proliferation.

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

“A Ballerina’s Tale” is primarily a story about all the hard work that goes into becoming a world-class ballerina, particularly if that ballerina is a dancer of color. “A Ballerina’s Tale” is also about all the folks, especially the women of color, that have supported Misty Copeland in her groundbreaking rise to ballet stardom.

In “A Ballerina’s Tale” Nelson George brilliantly displays the daily grind of a ballet dancer’s life. From endless rehearsals, to the grueling touring schedule, to costume fittings, to performances, and in Copeland’s case her injured tibia rehabilitation. (Nelson’s capture of Copeland’s comeback from injury performance of “The Dying Swan” was especially poignant.)

For those unfamiliar with the constant pace of a ballet dancer’s life, this documentary leaves no stone unturned and details truthfully that the short moments of glamour and on-stage accolades are the result of an unbelievable amount of grit and hard work. Add the pressure of being a dancer of color in the isolating world of classical ballet and the obstacles seem almost insurmountable.

Image courtesy of img.com

Image courtesy of img.com

Still, this pivotal work goes beyond a dancer’s struggle and hard work. Several documentaries have expertly detailed this road less traveled before. Where “A Ballerina’s Tale” shines and in many ways is unique is in its connecting tissue of a ballerina’s daily grind—in this case, Misty Copeland—and all the women of color who coalesced around her in support of her dream.

From Filmmaker and Author Susan Fales Hill (board member of the Studio Museum of Harlem, and American Ballet Theatre), and Author and Magazine Editor Harriet Cole, to ballerinas Raven Wilkinson (Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), Victoria Rowell (ABT Studio Company), and Robin Gardenhire (ABT, Cleveland San Jose Ballet), to her manager Gilda Squire, Nelson George ingeniously demonstrates that it takes a village, and in this case some mentorship from accomplished and strong black women to assist Misty at a time in her career when she was floundering.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

Image courtesy of wsj.com

At the core of all the support and hard work is Misty Copeland who throughout the many setbacks and challenges is relentless in her quest and lights up the screen with her 40-watt smile. And, true to form, the dancing is revelatory. Isn’t all truth!!

“A Ballerina’s Tale” is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York City. For more information go to, aballerinastale.com.

—William S. Gooch

“Get On Up”: James Brown on the Real or a Hollywood Portrayal?

getonup53ebe071c6679.preview-620It’s been a couple of weeks since the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” opened in movie theaters across the country. But debate is still raging—from casual fans to music experts— about the ups and downs of “Get On Up.” And the range of critiques is like reading a critical tale of two cities.

In one corner there are those who wholeheartedly praise the film directed by Tate Taylor for its captivating portrayal of James Brown—the Godfather of Soul—by actor Chadwick Boseman. Those in this camp—and there are many—insist that Boseman’s performance, coupled with electrifying musical sequences and accurate depictions of Brown’s hard-driving style in business and in the studio with his musicians, compensate for, or at least balance out, the film’s problems. (It should be noted that even those who are highly critical of “Get On Up” have lauded Boseman’s performance.)

It should also be noted there is also universal acknowledgement, even among those who otherwise praise “Get On Up,” the screenplay by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth is problematic, chiefly the decision to bounce the film up and down Brown’s timeline.

getonup628x471The Chicago Tribune, for example, said, “But the Butterworths fracture the order, fruitfully. They’re more interested in making musical and dramatic connections across time and space—something in the ’70s triggering a childhood memory, for example—than in laying them out predictably.”

The New York Times, referred to that aspect of the film as a, “crude mash-up of past and present forces.” But, for those who have criticized “Get On Up,” the issues go far beyond this issue.

For many, the wide range of complaints included moments—like the film’s opening—where the portrayal of Brown bordered on caricature, numerous factual inaccuracies and a decision to water down certain aspects of Brown’s life. Adding to this is a suspicion among some critics that this was the result of “Get On Up” having an all-white creative team (screenplay, director, producers) including rock legend Mick Jagger.

Which group is right?

Both.

getonup1-articleLarge-v2“Get On Up” is indeed a thoroughly entertaining feature film. Boseman’s performances as Brown from age 16 to 60 are riveting, electric and, the actor literally dazzles when it comes to recreating Brown’s legendary footwork and stage dynamics. Some critics have even mentioned Boseman as a contender when awards season rolls around and that notion doesn’t sound completely ridiculous. Boseman is that good.

But the other side of the “Get On Up” conundrum is that the film itself features plenty of show business gloss with little explanation of Brown’s complicated and sometimes contradictory and confusing life. Yes, his childhood in poverty and away from his abusive and neglectful parents would certainly explain some of his actions and egomania, but the film never actually draws that connection—we’re left to make the link on our own. One can also see a link between the pragmatism of the aunt who raised him while running a whorehouse and Brown’s own pragmatic approach to the music business, but again, the film simplifies this part of the story.

getonupde3a5c487cd7a34a56e7846e90772f39_LThere’s a lot in Brown’s life that goes unexplained, from his legendary over the top taskmaster role with his band members, to his drug-fueled behavior, such as the opening scenes showing a shotgun-toting Brown confronting an employee for, um, ‘doing a number two,’ in his bathroom.

And then there are the things not shown in the movie at all. While some level of creative license is the norm with film biographies, there are major changes and omissions in the narrative in “Get On Up.” Some of these are relatively minor, such as when certain band members actually left. But other things, such as Brown’s pattern of battering his wives, abusing drugs and having run-ins with the police, are only barely hinted at in “Get on Up.”

The film also doesn’t delve into Brown’s musical legacy and how he laid the foundation for today’s hip-hop music.

The biggest transgression, critics maintain, is that “Get On Up” barely deals with Brown’s role as a revolutionary figure during the Black Power Movement. The film shows two moments where Brown’s activism came into play, but Brown’s role was far more extensive than his concert after the slaying of Martin Luther King, Jr. and recording the anthem, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

AP_get_on_up_sk_140801_16x9_992Of course, the film also doesn’t deal with the confusing complexities of Brown’s life. “Get On Up,” for example, doesn’t show that Brown refused to perform that famous concert unless he was paid up front. And it also doesn’t show that in real life, the kids chanting in “Say It Loud” were mostly white and Asian.

There’s also no mention in the film of Brown’s controversial endorsement of President Richard M. Nixon in 1972. The decision so angered the black community that there were pickets outside of his concerts, and black militant groups called for a nationwide boycott of Brown’s concerts. Brown also unabashedly supported the avowed segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, saying in interviews that Thurmond was like a grandfather to him.

Perhaps showing those realities would have required more explanation than the film had time to explore. This is, after all, a Hollywood feature film. The narrative that has been crafted, while not entirely true, is nice and tidy in a way that Brown’s real life never was. And, as most Hollywood feature films do, “Get On Up” clocks in around the average two- hour mark, a crucial necessity in the realities of feature films.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

There may yet be more of the realities of James Brown’s life to be seen in an upcoming documentary about Brown, also produced by Jagger.

But “Get On Up,” while thoroughly entertaining, never gets to the heart of who the real James Brown was.

—Karyn D. Collins

 

 

“A Hard Days Night” Hits Fifty

Image courtesy of onthisdayinfashion.com

Image courtesy of onthisdayinfashion.com

At the movies, this is the summer of the ‘60s.

The Clint Eastwood–directed version of the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” is celebrating the 60s a la Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The first of two films about designer Yves Saint Laurent is currently playing at indie houses across the country. And now there’s the re-release of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” The film stars the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, as well as British character actor Wilfrid Brambell.

The limited re-release of “A Hard Day’s Night” from July 4-14 in almost 100 cities across the country is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the film (July 6, 1964 in England; August 11, 1964 in the US). A newly restored version of the classic 1964 black and white film that includes a surround-sound mix is now in theaters and a Blu-Ray version of “A Hard Day’s Night” has also been issued and is now in stores.

Hard_Days_1

Photo still  from “A Hard Days Night”

So far, “A Hard Day’s Night” has been playing to full theaters (okay, so they’re small indie houses) like the screening I attended on the 4th of July. While a packed indie house is nothing like the rapturous reception the film received 50 years ago when fans not only packed movie theaters but stayed to watch the movie over and over again, the re-release is still generating plenty of buzz.

Why the excitement? Music historian Robert Santelli, who is executive director of the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, said it’s not just a matter of nostalgia. “A Hard Day’s Night’ is considered to be one of the greatest rock and roll movies of all time. It elevated what was then known as the rock and roll teen flicks,” Santelli said.

THE BEATLESSantelli noted that up until 1964, there had been a number of rock and roll movies made in the 1950s and early ‘60s, most notably the string of movies starring Elvis Presley and the beach-themed movies which featured rather corny rock and roll as a backdrop. “But none of those could compare to the quality and cleverness and genius of what director Richard Lester put together,” Santelli insisted. “It was a film that beautifully married music and the Beatles’ personalities and this thing called Beatlemania. And it showed Beatlemania up front and personal.”

Photo Still from "Hard Days Night"

Photo still from “A Hard Days Night”

While the movie was scripted, it was based largely on the realities of Beatlemania. The inane questions the Beatles faced and their clever retorts during press gatherings were recreated for the movie (Journalist: What do you call your hair? George: Arthur; Journalist: Are you a mod or a rocker? Ringo: I’m a mocker!). Unfortunately, a legendary real life incident in which a journalist cut off a piece of Ringo’s hair when he had his back turned, was not recreated for the film. Also recreated straight from reality was the group’s daily routine of being isolated in hotel rooms while on the road.

Hard_Days4

Photo still from “A Hard Days Night”

There is also, in hindsight, freshness to this version of the Beatles. This was the 1964 Beatles—fresh-faced, before the acid trips and the bitter bickering that would lead to the group’s breakup by 1970.

And then there were the songs. In addition to the title song—which was written in one night after the group decided they liked the line (an offhand joke made by Ringo), the hits included “Tell Me Why,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “She Loves You,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” And I Love Her,” and  “If I Fell.”

"Hard Days Night" album cover

“A Hard Days Night” album cover

“I remember sitting in the theater watching the movie when it first came out. I sat through the movie with my father and we watched it I think three times in a row,” Santelli recalled. “Now, I see other things about it and can appreciate it, the little jokes and bits. But back then it was just the Beatles talking and singing and being themselves. It was magic, pure magic.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

Forest Whitaker Speaks About What Is Special in “The Butler”

 

Forest Whitaker in "The Butler"

Forest Whitaker in “The Butler”

Finally, it’s here. After months of buzz, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” opens Friday nationwide.

The film, based loosely on the life of a real White House butler who served during eight Administrations, stars an astounding list of A-listers led by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. The movie was inspired by a Washington Post article written by Wil Haygood about the late Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler and maitre d’.

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in "The Butler"

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in “The Butler”

In addition to the supporting cast that includes David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, singer Lenny Kravitz and model/actress Yaya DeCosta, “The Butler” also features a lengthy list of A-listers making cameo appearances including Vanessa Redgrave, Mariah Carey, Jane Fonda (as Nancy Reagan), John Cusack (as President Nixon), James Marsden (President Kennedy) and Robin Williams (President Eisenhower). But the real news about “The Butler” is that the film, written by Danny Strong (“Game Change”) is about more than its all-star cast.

 

Oprah Winfrey in "The Butler"

Oprah Winfrey in “The Butler”

“The Butler” stars Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, whose service to seven Presidents serves as a backdrop to some of the biggest moments in American history and the impact history has on Gaines, his wife —played by Winfrey, and their sons and neighbors. Despite the setting, “The Butler” tells history form Gaines’ point of view, emphasizing his life and journey through social and personal upheaval, the most intense being his ongoing conflict with his oldest son who travels his own turbulent journey from Freedom Rider to a Black Panther.

Lee Daniels image courtesy of leedanielsentertainment.com

Lee Daniels image courtesy of leedanielsentertainment.com

“This is a love story and a story about a father and son,” said Daniels, during a post-screening interview session hosted earlier this month by the National Association of Black Journalists’ national convention in Orlando. “The White House just happened to be in the background of the story about a father and son. I think the father-son story is universal and that’s’ what really attracted me to the story.”

Whitaker said it was the focus on the butler’s real life drama that attracted him to the project. “This was a story dealing with the love between a man and his family. It had intimacy. It allowed us to see the love of this black family in a way that was very special,” he said.

Whitaker said he also was taken with the different styles of struggle waged by father and son. Though the father, to a younger generation, appeared passive and subservient, the audience sees him waging his own, quiet protest, repeatedly risking his job to ask that the black help receive the same pay as their white counterparts at the White House. The son, meanwhile, insists that he wants more than what his parents have achieved.

butlereisenhowerandbutler“I knew it was going to be very special,” Whitaker said, adding, “And I always wanted to work with Oprah, so I just accepted the blessings and the opportunity.”

While there are a number of peeks at well-known historic moments and White House gossip and legends (LBJ’s bowel issues, for example), a large part of the film is devoted to the realities of the Civil Rights movement as seen through the eyes of Louis, Cecil’s oldest son (played by Oyelowo) who goes from Freedom Rider and lunch counter sit in protester to a Black Panther. He ultimately runs for Congress and protests South African apartheid.

Images courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Images courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Daniels said the searing realities captured in some of the 1960s protest scenes were an intense experience for the cast as they endured some of what their real life counterparts had to endure.”We were on a bus that was not air conditioned, that traveled over a bridge where lynchings took place. I yell action and I look up and see all these Klansmen and swastikas coming, the cross is burning,” Daniels said, describing the filming of a scene depicting the Freedom Riders, volunteers who rode through the Jim Crow south  to rally support for the Civil Rights movement.

“Everybody in the bus is getting scared. They’re (the actors portraying Klansmen) are shaking the bus. They’re hurling obscenities and everything,” Daniels said. “I think that in that moment I knew what those kids had gone through (in real life) because there was nobody to yell ‘cut’ for them. I knew that they were heroes on the most profound level. They were willing to die. I don’t know that I could be on that bus.”

Daniels said he hopes “The Butler” serves as a tribute and reminder of those who endured the intense struggles for equality—whether working behind the scenes like the butler or in the heat of protests and marches like his son. “This is a way for me to speak to (a younger generation) about this,” he said. “I think this will rip off the scab of an ugly sore that’s affecting all of America.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

 

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