REVIEW: Beyond the Lights

9 08 2015

Beyond the LightsBeyond the Lights” features one of the more interesting dialogues about the suffocating pressures of fame and the stifling sexualization of our culture.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Noni Jean, a digital-age pop star with all the qualities of a true songbird, gets fed up with both and threatens to throw it all away by jumping off a balcony.  Thankfully, Nate Parker’s officer Kaz is there to keep her from making the leap.

What follows in writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film is partially a demonstration of what happens to women who rebel against the implicit contract that they must become objects of sexual desire first and bearers of talent second.  (Shocker: people, men especially, HATE it.)  But to keep Noni from another complete relapse, she needs some source of comfort; she finds that in Kaz.

A romantic subplot is hardly objectionable, yet it seems odd when it ultimately becomes the main storyline in a film that otherwise concerns itself with female empowerment.  Prince-Blythewood directs the scenes between Noni and Kaz with all the subtlety of a Hallmark movie.  They are drawn-out, sappy, and far too numerous.

The discussion “Beyond the Lights” wants to start is worth having.  But whether you want to endure some of the standard-issue syrupy adoration to join in is a decision you have to make for yourself.  B-/ 2stars

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REVIEW: Death at a Funeral

3 09 2010

It’s a funny thing, the remake of “Death at a Funeral.” The British original in 2007 turned the title, which implied the melancholy proceedings of a sacred ritual, into something totally unforeseen – a laugh riot.

There are those of us who think two decades is too soon for a remake, but Neil LaBute turns around the hilarious original for a Hollywood treatment in under three years. Essentially, there’s no reason for this remake to exist other than to make the script more digestible to a mainstream audience. Nothing new is brought to the table, no retooling or adding is done. It’s practically a shot-by-shot remake, claiming that swapping accents is enough to warrant the millions of dollars to produce the movie.

It’s a strange experience to watch these often funny stars, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan, running around doing a half-hearted version of the original movie.  In fact, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience as we watch them utter virtually the same lines and run through the same motions as the British actors did – but never come close to matching their comedic brilliance.  Surprisingly, the funniest member of the ensemble is James Marsden, who truly embraces the farcical nature of his character and plays it up to hilarity.  However, we only get to see glances of the zonked Marsden, never prolonged scenes.

I find there no reason to watch this movie when a clearly superior alternative exists.  Sure, this version has a few laughs and is hardly unfunny, but why choose chuckles over the howls that you can have watching the original?  If you had the choice between a rotting apple that looked nice and a fresh apple with a little bit of dust on top, which would you eat?  This “Death at a Funeral” looks nice on a poster, but at its core, the movie is pretty rotten.  There’s no reason NOT to go off the beaten path to watch the British version.  C /





F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 27, 2009)

27 11 2009

Before I went to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I wanted to get a taste of Wes Anderson’s distinct style.  So I took a friend’s recommendation and watched “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which is this week’s “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie).  I am now officially smitten by the quirky, off-beat humor that people love about Anderson.  He has a very cultish, niche audience, but “The Royal Tenenbaums” managed to make a blip on the mainstream radar.  It made a respectable $52 million (attendance comparable to “The Final Destination”), won a Golden Globe for Gene Hackman’s performance, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.  But for a large group of moviegoers who haven’t experienced Wes Anderson, might I suggest renting this?  You’re really missing out if you haven’t.

The film follows a dysfunctional family that has fallen apart, mainly due to the large egos of the three extremely bright children.  Chas (Ben Stiller) is a successful enterpreneur by his early teens, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a skilled playwright who is published by high school, and Ritchie (Luke Wilson) finds great success with the game of tennis.  But for different reasons, they all wind up miserable.  Surprisingly, it is their estranged father, Royal Tenebaum (Gene Hackman) who ends this unhappy spell.  With his eccentric and often manipulative ways, he often infuriates them.  But he has a certain charm that has the power to ease the pain of disappointment and fill the gap he has left in their lives with his absence.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about “The Royal Tenenbaums” is that I could sense Wes Anderson had as much fun making this movie as I did watching it.  He ornately concocts these bizarre characters that seem so far-fetched, yet they hit home in unexpected and delightful ways.  Anderson makes his presence felt throughout the entire movie.  You can feel it in the cinematography, consisting of deliberately framed geometric shots.  You can feel it in the soundtrack, a mix of folk and rock that really sets the atmosphere for his quirky work.  You can even feel it in the font he uses for the titles.  If you were like me, questioning what could possibly make Wes Anderson so special, watch “The Royal Tenenbaums” to be silenced and completely won over.