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





REVIEW: Being Elmo

18 03 2012

In a year that saw nostalgia being wielded in various powerful ways, “Being Elmo” was able to wield it in one of the most powerful ways – at least for those of us lucky to grow up with “Sesame Street.”  Constance Marks’ emotionally potent documentary achieves the unusual, shining the light on one person while also shining a light on the audience.  It tells the story of a man living out the American Dream but brings to life our dream of returning, for however brief a time, to the bliss of childhood innocence.

I had never fallen out of love with Elmo and the rest of Jim Henson’s puppets, but I had forgotten that for many years of my life, I was so madly in love with them.  I’m what you would have called a “Sesame Street” junkie.  I watched it all the time growing up whether it was on PBS or one of my many VHS tapes.

Big Bird, Snuffy, Grover, and Elmo weren’t just characters; they were my friends.  They taught and reinforced solid moral values, showing how to be kind and decent.  For all those who decry television replacing institutions as a primary agent of socialization and dissemination of acceptable social behaviors, I’m sorry the kids you know didn’t grow up watching “Sesame Street.”

“Being Elmo” follows Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brought Elmo to life, from his childhood in tough economic conditions to traveling across the world with his creation.  From the very beginning, it is evident that Clash is absolutely in love with the craft of puppetry, and it is this passion that allows him to triumph over his upbringing.  This joy also makes him the perfect Elmo, who is the most pure expression of love on television.

In experiencing Clash’s exuberance making Elmo move, we are reminded of why Jim Henson’s felt-covered humanity has resonated with the entire world for decades.  We are treated to falling in love with Elmo all over again through “Being Elmo.”  The movie is so great at showing how the unfettered positivity made the character the most recognizable on “Sesame Street.”  It made me gush tears when this joy is shown at its most extreme – Clash visiting Make-a-Wish patients whose request to meet Elmo before dying.

I love Elmo.  I love “Being Elmo.”  And I love that now it makes me want to watch “Elmo’s Song” every time I feel really happy or really sad.  A-





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)





Random Factoid #221

6 03 2010

The first Oscars I remember watching were in March 1999.

Whoopi Goldberg was the host.  She came out in a giant Shakespearean costume and said “I am the African Queen.”  I don’t remember what I found so funny about that, but I can trace my love of the awards back to that moment.