REVIEW: Dope

21 06 2015

DopeIf writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s movie “Dope” were one of your friends at a party, he would be the friend that thinks himself invincible when letting any mind-altering substance enter his bloodstream.  This is the guy that thinks every jumbled fragment that leaves his mouth is divinely inspired and merits inclusion in some kind of philosophical toe.  He is the guy that makes dangerous decisions, assuming they are perfectly reasonable, and somehow convinces you to go along with them.

“Dope” tries to subvert racial stereotypes by having a drug dealer who knows what the phrase “a slippery slope” means (yet does not recognize it as a fallacy) and a main character, Shameik Moore’s dorky Malcolm, who prefers the artistry of ’90s hip-hop as opposed to the commercialism of present-day rappers.  The film attempts to be a coming-of-age story, a romance, a drama that grapples with race, a comic drug caper like “Pineapple Express,” and ultimately a heist film.

In other words, Famuyiwa attempts a lot and completes a little; what he does complete does not feel entirely convincing.

I can let a film that does mediocre humor slide – and with tired gags involving a floozy, coked-out heiress, “Dope” has quite a bit to spare. Not every con film needs to reach the heights of “American Hustle,” either.  But blowing what could have served as a vital discussion about racial identity at a time when America really needs to talk about thee issues just left a really bitter taste in my mouth.

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REVIEW: For Colored Girls

22 07 2014

For Colored GirlsIf anyone thinks Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” was a feckless and bumbling adaptation of a theatrical show, let me direct you to Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” to see a real failure.  Granted, it’s a bird of a different color as Perry sets out to adapt Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” with the mouthful of a title “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”  But Shange’s bold and experimental work is transmuted into a set of clichés by Perry’s uninspired writing and direction.

To start, who thought Perry was a good choice to take on this work?  What qualifies the director of crude comedies like “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” to take on an iconoclastic work of theatre?  For all those who would argue that the quintessential Tyler Perry films have elements of drama, I raise the point that those sections are by far the weakest sections of his movies.  Perry’s movies play well with audiences because of the outrageous humor of Madea and his characters, not because of anything serious.

I am not familiar with the play, but there has to be some reason it has stuck around for decades.  I can only imagine Shange as a colored woman brought a certain amount of authenticity and urgency to the struggles of black women.  If what I suspect is true, Perry has turned the play’s strengths into unwatchable melodramatic mishmash.  The faux and unearned sympathy the movie tries to evoke fails on just about every level, and the two hours of “For Colored Girls” are thus miserable and interminable.

And I think Perry doesn’t even understand what the story is about in the first place.  He does less empowering of black women than he does evisceration of black men.  “For Colored Girls” should have been a celebration of the tenacity of African-American females and the community they always form during hardship.  Instead, it’s an opportunity for some of the best black actresses working in Hollywood to chew scenery in disconnected vignettes that Perry can’t make click.  D1star





“For Colored Girls” Poll Results

14 12 2010

My goodness, that was one heck of a turnout!

My poll asking which “For Colored Girls” actress had the best chance at scoring a nomination for Best Supporting Actress had an outstanding 29 votes, my highest total for a poll yet!  Thanks to everyone who voted … although I wish it was on a topic with a little more relevance.  With the critical panning and lackluster box office showing for the movie, it’s not looking like much of a contender.

But I should still assess the results to see if we are looking at a long shot.  The clear favorite is Kimberly Elise, who received 11 votes.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t really critique a performance or give any perspective.

Second was Janet Jackson with 7 votes.  There was a tie for third place between Thandie Newton and Macy Gray, who is not even being campaigned by Lionsgate for the movie.  Anika Noni Rose received two votes, and Kerry Washington received one vote.

Receiving no votes were Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, and Whoopi Goldberg.  Not that it matters at this point though.





Oscar Moment: “For Colored Girls”

26 10 2010

Tyler Perry has been finding great success making comedies for the past five years, yet with “For Colored Girls,” he tries something totally different.  It’s a project more similar to “Precious” than “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” dark, dramatic, and depressing in tone.  Based on an award-winning play and featuring an ensemble cast of eight headlining African-American women, this seems like a great awards contender on paper.

Yet it won’t be able to follow in the footsteps of “Precious.”  As Guy Lodge of In Contention put it back in August, “‘Precious’ entered the race on a wave of festival-acquired respectability; it’s doubtful whether voters would have sought it out without the prior approval of Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. ‘For Colored Girls’ will have no such advantage.”  It will surely get a crowd from Perry’s die-hard fan base that will see anything he makes; however, how many of them will flock to see a drama is fairly suspect.

For a Best Picture play, it needs the critics since it didn’t have the opportunity to garner buzz on the festival circuit.  Knowing the stakes, Perry decided to screen the movie in advance for critics despite a bad experience with pre-screening of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” that convinced him not to show his eight subsequent films.

And apparently, Perry should have stuck with his instincts because “For Colored Girls” is getting trashed out of the gate.  I’ll give you a sample of what the critics are saying.  BEWARE, it’s actually quite humorous.

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter:

“For once, Tyler Perry doesn’t put his name above the title, but perhaps he should with ‘For Colored Girls’ to distinguish this train wreck of a movie from the stunning theater piece of 36 years ago by Ntozake Shange … All Perry does is force conventional plots and characters — utter cliches without lives or souls — into the fabric of Shange’s literary work. The hackneyed melodramas get him from one poem to the next but run roughshod over the collective sense of who these women are.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety:

“While Perry’s craft has slowly but surely improved with each successive film, this latest project seems to fall beyond his reach. Just as the director was finding the organic quality that eluded him in ‘Diary’ and other early efforts, he’s confronted with a conceptual piece that calls for an entirely different approach. Yet he can’t resist turning ‘For Colored Girls’ into a Tyler Perry Movie, which means imposing diva worship where nuance is called for and a pleasure-punishing Christian worldview where a certain moral ambiguity might have been more appropriate.”

The last Tyler Perry movie to get an Oscar nomination was — oh wait, none of his movies have ever received an Oscar nomination!  If it comes off as melodramatic to audiences, word of mouth could be toxic and all chances for the movie could be sunk.  There’s only one hope I see for the movie in the big category: the fact that it is the only movie about minorities in the hunt.  The Los Angeles Times made this observation: “For the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony.”  The same goes for Best Picture which, at the moment, looks to be about as white as bleach.

Sasha Stone of Awards Daily suggests that the movie could take “The Blind Side” slot, but I think it has too narrow appeal and too depressing subject matter to be that movie.  In my mind, the best chance “For Colored Girls” has is in the acting categories.  With so many actresses, there are so many possibilities.  The question, though, is how to pick which one?  Or two?  Unless there is a clear standout, the actresses will cancel each other out.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere quotes an Academy source who says there are three levels of performances offered in the movie: Janet Jackson and Loretta Devine are good; Phylicia Rashad and Thandie Newton are great; Kimberly Elise and Macy Gray are masterful.  Interestingly, the two mentioned as being the best are probably the least well-known of the group.  Apparently Elise came up short in 1998 for a critically acclaimed turn in “Beloved,” so maybe this nomination could be redemption.  Gray, however, has shown up in few movies, but her work here as a back-door abortionist could be shocking and gripping.

Katey Rich of Cinema Blend offers another candidate for consideration, Anika Noni Rose.  She says of Rose, “she has one of the film’s strongest monologues, plays a character who undergoes significant changes over the course of the film, and never oversells it.”  She also brings up the fact that Rose has been solid in other awards movies like “Dreamgirls.”

For me, the only certain thing about “For Colored Girls” is that nothing is certain.  The success (or lack thereof) of the movie itself makes it a risky call for Best Picture, and the fact that no female has emerged as the movie’s dominant force makes it difficult to get much buzz going for Best Supporting Actress.  Even though it’s a weak field and the movie may have a strong showing, one or two women need broad support if the movie hopes to get a nomination.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Rose, Elise)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Gray, Jackson, Newton)