Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Janelle Monae’

Steve Carell

“WELCOME TO MARWEN” My rating: C-

116 minutes | MPAA rating:PG-13

In 2000 cross-dressing artist Mark Hogancamp suffered a barroom beating that left him in a  coma.  When he awoke he  could remember little of his previous life and could no longer draw.

Unable to afford therapy, he found an artistic and healing outlet by building a 1/6-size World War II Belgian village in his yard, populating it with G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls, and telling elaborate melodramas of Nazis and freedom fighters captured in striking photographic images.

Sounds like a story ripe for cinematic adaptation…and, indeed, Hogancamp was the subject of the excellent 2010 documentary “Marwencol” (that was the name of his miniature town).

Now writer/director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” the “Back to the Future” series) has given us a feature film with Steve Carell as Hogancamp…and it proves one movie too many.

“Welcome to Marwen” has its heart in the right place, but it just doesn’t work.

If Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride”) had simply stuck to Hogancamp’s day-to-day life they might have had something.

Instead they devote half the film to animated fantasy sequences set in Marwen.  Here Hogancamp’s toy alter ego — a downed American pilot named Hogie — and his all-woman crew of resistance fighters take on nasty Germans.

There are violent shootouts and unsettling scenes of torture. Our knowledge that these are dolls being blown apart makes it a bit more  bearable, while their dialogue — thick with Saturday matinee cliches — is initially  amusing.

In the real world the traumatized Hogancamp must deal with all sorts of issues.  He’s expected to attend the sentencing hearing for the five men convicted of beating him. He has a big photographic show planned in NYC, but may be too rocky to attend. And he’s always having to explain his obsession with women’s footwear (he has more than 200 pairs of ladies’ shoes in his closet) and his need to drag behind him a toy jeep containing the Hogie and girl gang dolls (think of them as a sort of service dog).

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Octavia Spencer, Taranji P. Henson, Janelle Monae

Octavia Spencer, Taranji P. Henson, Janelle Monae

“HIDDEN FIGURES” My rating: B+

127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

A piece of  fact-based historical uplift that flirts with sappiness but never succumbs, “Hidden Figures” is a late addition to the 2016 awards race.

The story it tells — largely unknown until the film’s publicity drive kicked in a few weeks ago — is kinda jaw dropping. And the three lead performances instantly land on the list of Oscar contenders.

During the early days of the American space program — back when a mechanical computer took up an entire floor of an office building — NASA hired two dozen mathematically gifted African American women to perform  complex calculations using nothing more than their brains and slide rules.

These women were referred to as “computers” — that was their official job designation.

Despite being second-class citizens both on and off the job, they made possible John Glenn’s breakthrough orbital flight and gave the U.S.A. a fighting chance in the space race.

Writer/director Theodore Melfi (he was behind the sublimely funny Bill Murray starrer “St. Vincent”) balances the private stories of three of these women against the grand historic sweep of those years. The film works equally well as a satisfying celebration of personal triumph and as a symbol of national pride.

The screenplay (with Allison Schroeder) wastes no time in illustrating the times.  Three “computers” are on their long daily commute to their jobs in north Virginia when their car breaks down.  The white highway patrolman who investigates their stalled vehicle at first exhibits the overt racism of the times.  Only when he learns that the three are helping Uncle Sam beat the Commies to the stars does he drop the attitude and ensure they are sent safely on their way.

Once at work, the women must put up with more crap.  The space program (it wouldn’t take the name NASA for several years) and its white management practice what might be called “racism with a tight smile.”

The African American women work in their own building separate from everyone else. There is minimal interaction between them and the engineers and scientists who daily shower them with mathematical problems.  Like the field hands of a Southern plantation, they produce the wealth but get none of the credit.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

20s

Trevante Rhodes as the twenty something Chiron

“MOONLIGHT” My rating: B+ 

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Think of  Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” as an African-American variation on Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” It is an epic chronicle of childhood giving way to adolescence, and adolescence becoming a lonely adulthood.

The difference is that “Boyhood” was pretty much straightforward storytelling, while “Moonlight” is pure poetry. It is, in short, a genuine black art film, filled with beauty and horror, small comforts and big challenges.

Through the character of Chiron, a young Floridian played by three actors of different ages, writer/director Bennett gives us a deeply personal story which, without belaboring the point, can stand for the experiences of hundreds of thousands of young black men.

It’s not about drugs or poverty or gang life per se, and there’s no obviously political agenda (in fact white people are almost never seen), but “Moonlight” cannot help folding those socially relevant topics into its narrative.

At the same time the movie is less about facts (it’s filled with unanswered questions) than about feelings. It’s about a few seconds of blessed respite during a suffocatingly tense day, about water and sand and tropical heat, about activity fearfully captured out of the corner of one’s eye.

In one sense it’s practically documentary without the usual big dramatic speeches (the film’s protagonist is incapable of verbal grandstanding), but captured in a swirling riot of camera movement, color and conflicting sounds.

When we first meet Chiron (Alex Hibbert), or Little as he’s called by just about everyone, he’s hiding in an abandoned apartment building, having been pursued by schoolyard bullies. As his name suggests, Little is small. Also shy, withdrawn, mistrustful and uncommunicative.

He’s rescued by Juan (Mahershala Ali), the neighborhood drug lord, who provides safe escort and takes the boy to his apartment and his nurturing girlfriend Teresa (KCK native Janelle Monae, making a seemingly effortless transition from pop stardom to film acting).

Over the course of weeks and months the cocaine slinger and his woman will become Little’s surrogate parents, providing food, shelter and — as weird as it may sound — examples of more-or-less responsible adulthood…something painfully lacking in Little’s relationship with his  increasingly drug dependent mother (Naomie Harris).

Ali (sure to be honored as a supporting actor Oscar nominee) makes of Juan a deeply complex figure. He’s a criminal, but his relationship with Little is one of selfless nurturing.  Countless films have prepared us for Ali to use the kid as part of his drug business, but that never happens.

Instead he takes the boy to the beach and gently coaxes him into learning to float on the rocking waves. When Little asks, “Am I a faggot?” Juan answers with profound sincerity that Little may be gay, but he’s no faggot.

Other life lessons follow.  “No place in this world ain’t got black people,” Juan declares.  “We were the first people here.”

And especially:  “At some point you gotta decide for yoursdrelf who you gonna be.” (more…)

Read Full Post »