Posts Tagged ‘Common’

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

“ALL ABOUT NINA” My rating: B-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: *

Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been on the brink of stardom for a long time.

She’s delivered some terrific TV work (“Braindead,” “Fargo”), sometimes in lead performances, but most of her movie roles have fallen into the supporting category.

“All About Nina” should change that. Written and directed by Eva Vives, “Nina” provides Winstead with perhaps her juiciest role to date.

Nina Geld is a standup comic whose fiercely rude act (menstruation, noncommittal sex) reflects her own angry essence.  She’s perennially pissed because comedy is such a boy’s club; in her private life she avoids intimacy.

Emotional intimacy, anyway. Sex is something else…Nina’s a tart-tongued man-eater who picks up strangers and leaves them whimpering for more.

Despite her tough talk and swagger, Nina is weirdly vulnerable.  After a set — even a wildly successful one — she stumbles offstage and invariably pukes in an ice bucket or other suitable receptacle.  On some level her art hurts.

“All About Nina” follows her from NYC to Los Angeles, where her agent has wrangled her an audition for a TV show. But at the film’s real core is her relationship with Rafe (Common), a contractor who senses the pain beneath Nina’s rough exterior and decides to go slow. (It may be one of the movies’ rare instances of a guy turning down sex.)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common

Vives’ screenplay has its ups and downs. The depiction of the comedy world — especially backstage at a showcase where woman comics are competing for the same gig — feels absolutely right.

And the slow-burning Nina/Rafe relationship is sweet and sexy despite the landmines with which Nina’s past is littered.

But there’s a big reveal here about our  heroine’s childhood that will shock many viewers (though it retrospect it probably shouldn’t)…it’s not that the film shouldn’t have gone there so much as Vives hasn’t quite figured out how to finesse it.

“All About Nina” is a minor film but as a showcase for Winstead it delivers in spades.

More, please.

| Robert W. Butler

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Amandla Stenberg (center)

“THE HATE U GIVE” My rating: B

132 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Hate U Give” begins with an African American father swallowing his rage and giving his children “the talk,” instructing them how to behave if they’re ever pulled over by the cops. For starters, don’t argue. Put both hands on the dashboard and don’t remove them until told to do so.

The film ends with a race riot of the kind seen in Ferguson MO in 2014.

Between those cringeworthy moments this movie — based on Angie Thomas young adult novel and brought to the screen by director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “Soul Food,” “Men of Honor”) — explores the world of Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg in a star-making perf), one of the few black students at her mostly white private school.

Starr is our narrator and she points out from the get-go that she’s living a dual life.  Evenings and weekends she’s a resident of a mostly-black neighborhood, where she can just be one of the girls.

Miles away at school, though, she’s got to be whiter than the white kids (who are free to appropriate gangsta manners while Starr must cling to the straight and narrow). She’s got a white boyfriend (K.J. Aha), who seems a decent enough guy, even if he is making noises about taking their relationship up a step (nudge, nudge).

“The Hate U Give” (the title references one of Tupac’s raps) is set in motion by the death of one of  Starr’s childhood friends, Khalil (Algee Smith) in a police confrontation to which she is the only witness.

The authorities expect Starr to testify about the incident, including her knowledge that Khalil was peddling dope for local drug lord King (Anthony Mackie).  King wants to stop her from talking and will threaten Starr’s family to do so.  It doesn’t help that there’s bad blood between King and Starr’s father, Mav (Russell Hornsby), a grocery owner who broke away from the  gang years before.


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“CHASING TRANE” My rating: B

99 minutes |No MPAA rating

Most practitioners of the arts seek a compromise between vision and commerce.  Your art may be pure, but what does that matter if it doesn’t sell?

The saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-’67) seems not to have been concerned by matters of money or of popularity. As the new documentary “Chasing Trane” makes clear, he followed his muse wherever it took him, sometimes into aural landscapes that continue t0 perplex even his biggest fans.

John Scheinfeld’s “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” wastes no time making its case that the legendary jazz man was an artist of the first order, comparable to Beethoven or Shakespeare.

A staggering array of fellow musicians (Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson…just for starters), Coltrane biographers, his children and stepchildren, even a former Presdient of the United States testify not only to his talents but to the spirituality which fueled Coltrane’s musical adventurousness. He was so adept at channelling his emotions into his playing that listeners report being moved to tears without understanding how or why.

The facts of Coltrane’s career are cleanly laid out before us:  His childhood as the grandson of a minister, his work in the 1950s with the Miles Davis Quintet during its most productive period (his playing on the classic album “Kind of Blue” made him a household name among jazz fans) and later with Dizzy Gillespie.  His heroin addiction, which threatened to derail his career until he heroically kicked the habit cold turkey.

In 1961 Coltrane had a Top 40 hit with his instrumental take on “My Favorite Things” from the white-bread Broadway musical “The Sound of Music.”

In response to the 1963 bombing of a black Birmingham church in which four little girls died, Coltrane wrote and recorded the tune “Alabama,” described by former president and part time saxophonist Bill Clinton as a prime example of  Coltrane’s creativity and depth. It is, Clinton says with uncharacteristic poetry, a work “screaming with pain, undergirded by love.” (more…)

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