Saturday, October 31, 2009

SKIN (2009)


Written by Helen Crawley, Jessie Keyt & Helena Kriel



Directed by Anthony Fabian



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. October 30, 2009, 5:00PM



I am still in disbelief after seeing "Skin". I know that this film is based on a true story yet it 's still truly an unbelievable story. Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie (Alice Krige) Laing give birth to a healthy baby girl they named Sandra in 1955. The problem is that they are both Caucasian and their daughter appears to be Black. The bigger problem is that Sandra was born in South Africa during apartheid.

Abraham believes with all his heart and soul that his wife has been faithful to him, so that means that their daughter is white and they raise her as a white child. Unfortunately, the rest of the country does not agree with the Laings. As far as the government is concerned, because of her appearance, Sandra (Ella Ramangwane) is labeled "colored".

The Laings are having to battle the schools and go to court over Sandra's racial identity. Abraham uses the media to help and get Sandra's story out all over the newspapers. The family have an older son, Leon and he looks Caucasian. Later, Mrs Laing becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy. He is not as dark as Sandra but he also doesn't look exactly white either.

To say that Sandra, now played by Sophie Okonedo, has some difficulty fitting in with her community is an understatement and things become even more difficult for her when she becomes a teenager. Sandra's parents make her go on dates with some local white boys and they treat her very badly and one boy almost rapes her.

Sandra finds herself attracted to Petrus, (Tony Kgoroge) a Black African who sells vegetables to her father's store. They begin an affair but her father finds out and forbids her to see him anymore or he will kill him. She runs off with Petrus but her father tracks her down and has her arrested. After her father decides to get her out of prison, Sandra informs him that she is pregnant. She refuses to give up Petrus or the baby so her father disowns her. Abraham goes as far as burning all of Sandra's pictures and things. He insists that the family act like she never existed.

Sandra starts a new life with Petrus but she has some difficulty relating to other Africans and how they live. Sandra has another child and Petrus starts his own business selling food which is successful. One day, The government claims the land and force the Africans off. They demolish every one's homes without even giving them an opportunity to collect their belongings. The people move to another area to rebuild and start over.

Sandra writes to her family for years but her letters come back unopened. Her writing causes friction between her and Petrus because he wants her to forget about her past. Petrus drinks more heavily and they fight more often and soon, Sandra has had enough. She takes her children one night and they run off to Johannesburg.

Apartheid ends in 1994 and reporters seek out Sandra to get her reaction. Sandra desperately wants to reconnect with her family and uses the media to help her try and track them down but can she find them? Will they want to see her? All of the performances are top notch with special mention to both of the actresses who played Sandra at different points of her life.

I have to say that after leaving "Skin", I felt such great sadness and anger because of how people's hatred and fears can destroy an innocent person's life. It's not an easy film to watch but it is an important film to see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GOOD HAIR (2009)



Directed by Jeff Stilson


Where & When: Beverly Center 13, West Hollywood, CA. October 25, 2009 12:15PM


I remember as a young boy being told by someone, most likely a relative, that I had good hair because it was straight when cut really close. Even then, I thought it was strange that my hair was considered "good" but I also was very proud of being told this. I didn't know why but I was sure this was a good thing to have.

What exactly is "good hair"? It is African-American hair that is straight and flowing and "bad hair" is considered to be hair that is nappy or very curly. The documentary, "Good Hair" has helped expose a subject that is not discussed much in the African-American community but it is just as much of a divisive issue as skin color and interracial dating.

Chris Rock narrates and interviews an assortment of celebrated African-American women (and a few men) who discuss the importance, the extensive choices and the outrageous expense of maintaining their hair. Some of the people who expressed their opinions on hair were Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Raven-Symone, Ice T and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

We follow some colorful contestants of the Bonner Bros. Hair show that is held every year in Atlanta. Hair stylists from all over the world compete against each other to show off their skills in cutting hair in an elaborate production number where there is no such thing as "over the top".

Mr. Rock also takes us on a tour of the factory that makes the chemical that straightens black hair and then proceeds to show us how dangerous this stuff really is. These chemicals can disintegrate a soda can and on a human being, this relaxer can cause scalp irritation, breakage and even hair loss but it appears to be worth it for many as the price of beauty.

I was raised with my mother and three sisters, so I know first hand about all that is involved in making sure that their hair was just "right". I remember the many tears my sisters' cried after being burned by a hot comb. I also remember having to spend hours waiting impatiently in a beauty shop while my family was getting their hair did. I was so glad when I was old enough to stay home while they were out getting their hair straightened.

I really enjoyed "Good Hair" and found it brought to light some disturbing ideas. It is amazing to me how to this day, African-American hair in it's natural state is still considered not right by not only by Caucasians but also by some African-Americans. This was very telling when Mr. Rock was interviewing some recent college graduates. He asked them if someone came to a job interview with dreadlocks or an Afro, would they hire them? They said that they might not because it didn't look "professional".

Mr. Rock was the perfect person to present the subject with the right amount of humor, history as well as some food for thought. "Good Hair" is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009)


Written and Directed by Anne Fontaine


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2009 5:05PM




Audrey Tautou stars as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the French fashion designer who was one of the most influential people of the last century, in "Coco Before Chanel". She was responsible for breaking down the social restraints of what respectable women should wear. Chanel helped get them out of corsets, long skirts and impractical hats and into sailor inspired shirts, shorter shirts and comfortable, loose fitting jackets.

The film begins as her father drops her off at an orphanage after her mother has passed away. Gabrielle waits for her father to return for her but he does not appear. This leaves the little girl hardened and bitterly disappointed.

Gabrielle is now a young woman who is employed as a seamstress but she dreams of becoming a singer. She sings in a local saloon at night with her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain). After a performance, she meets Baron Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) who is smitten by Gabrielle but she is not initially interested in him. He was also the one who was responsible for giving her the nickname "Coco". He called her that after hearing her sing a song and not liking her given name. She later finds out he is a very wealthy man which makes him more appealing to Miss Chanel.

After being fired from her job at the saloon and fed up with life in her small town, Gabrielle visits Baron Balsan's immaculate home intending to stay for only a few days but she ends up extending her visit indefinitely while keeping him company in bed. This is where she learned to appreciate the beautiful objects and the lavish lifestyle of the Baron and to disdain the wealthy, vacuous people that populated his parties. It is also here where Gabrielle begins to create a fictionalized past for herself which she did just as well as she created her clothing.

Miss Chanel begins by taking the Baron's clothing and altering them to create a new wardrobe for herself. She also made created hats that were different from what other women were wearing at the time. People didn't know what to make of this eccentric person but they were also intrigued by her as well. One friend of the Baron's, Emilienne d'Alencon, (Emmanuelle Devos) an actress wants Gabrielle to make a hat for her. People love the hat and want one for themselves.

Later at one of the parties, she meets another friend of the Baron's, Arthur "Boy" Capel, (Alessandro Nivola) an English industrialist. They are attracted to each other and soon they begin an affair. She soon finds herself in love with him. He helps her open a boutique and introduces her to potential new clients but "Boy" is keeping a secret from Gabrielle which puts their relationship in jeopardy.

I'm sure that Ms Chanel lived an exciting and fascinating life but this film chooses to focus only on the very beginning of it and in fact, the film actually ends when Chanel first achieves significant success as a designer. This part of her life, while it was slightly interesting, did not require almost two hours to tell.

While I found the performances good and it is beautifully shot, "Coco Before Chanel" moves sluggishly. It feels very drawn out, filled with too many unnecessary and insignificant details of Ms Chanel's life. I am still waiting to see a definitive film version on the life of Coco Chanel. This film is certainly not it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

ZOMBIELAND (2009)




Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick


Directed by Ruben Fleischer


Where & When: Emigine Cinemas, Canton, MI. October 5, 2009 4:30PM



I have to admit I would not have gone to see this film on my own. I am not a big fan of Woody Harrelson and even less of a fan of graphic horror films but I was back in Michigan visiting my mother and sister for the week. "Zombieland" was the movie they wanted to see. I try to be a team player so off we went.

When we were kids, my mother took us to the movies quite regularly. I think that is why I still believe that movies must be seen properly in a movie theater. I think seeing a film with an audience with a giant screen is part of the whole experience. Like myself, my mother goes to see almost everything. In a movie theater. In fact, she gets upset when certain films she wants to see (mostly independent) do not play in a theater near her. She also luvs movies but she doesn't want to have to travel too far to see them.

The story is being told by an unnamed, nerdy young college student in Texas who ultimately will be known by the nickname, "Columbus" (Jesse Eisenberg). He explains that most people in the world has been transformed into flesh eating zombies and he rattles off his list of rules to survive against being turned into one. Walking in route to Ohio to find his family, Columbus runs into another non-zombie driving an Escalade. He goes by the name, "Tallahassee" (Woody Harrelson) and he is an intense, no nonsense type of fella who is in desperate pursuit of the now rare, sweet treat: the Twinkie.

Tallahassee is on his way to Florida so he reluctantly agrees to let Columbus hitch a ride half way across the country so Columbus can get to Ohio. On the way, they stop at a grocery store where they meet two young girls, "Wichita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin). Little Rock claims to have been bitten by a zombie and wants one of the guys to shoot her and put her out of potential misery. Unfortunately for the guys, the girls have just tricked them so they can steal their car to get to Los Angeles. The guys are stranded but don't worry. . . they manage to find another truck that is fully loaded with a wide assortment of guns.

Tallahassee and Columbus are back on the freeway. Tallahassee is heading west to track down the girls. They soon find their Escalade abandoned at the side of the road and no sign of the girls. While investigating, the guys are ambushed again by the young ladies but this time the guys are able to get the upper hand. They are at a stand off. They decide to stop fighting each other and travel together. The girls want to get to LA because there is an amusement park there that is supposed to be zombie-free.

Once in Los Angeles, they use a star map to get to the house of a surprise guest star. I guess I won't spoil it and say who but I will give a clue: He was one of the original cast members of "Saturday Night Live" and later became a movie star. Later, after a few drinks, Columbus and Wichita find themselves attracted to each other and almost kiss but are interrupted.

The next morning, the girls take off for the amusement park. When they get there, it appears to be deserted, so they decide to turn on the rides and have some fun. The lights and the noise attract surrounding zombies and they head to the park. Columbus wants to go after the girls but Tallahassee wants to forget them and head to Mexico. Will Columbus be able to find the girls on his own and will he make it in time before they become a meal for ravenous zombies?

This film is a part of the current trend of horror-comedy fusions. "Zombieland" doesn't really work in either genre although it's slightly better as a comedy. There were a few funny moments in the film but the whole part with the surprise guest star was awful. It seemed to go on and on and I was actually embarrassed for the actor. He doesn't work too often these days, so either he lost a bet or he was very hard up for the cash. I also didn't find too much humor in splattering blood and gore. I thought the film was dumb and mindless but I have to admit I was entertained and I wasn't bored.

The part of "Zombieland" I really liked was the opening credits, which was actually the perfect blend of humor, horror and visual effects and it set up an ideal tone for the film. Too bad it didn't continue up till the closing credits.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

FAME (2009)


Written by Allison Burnett


Directed by Kevin Tancharoen


Where & When: Emagine Cinemas, Canton, MI, October 6, 2009 4:30PM


Debbie Allen has come full circle. She started off in a supporting role as a dance instructor in the original film, "Fame" (1980), then she advanced to a starring role in the television series and now she is back in a supporting role, this time as the school principal in this current remake of the film. She would have been better off leaving that circle incomplete. I remember going to see "Fame" as a teenager, living a somewhat sheltered existence in the suburbs and I was really impressed. These kids were around my age, doing and saying things I could never have imagined. They were living lives that were edgy, gritty and exciting and I loved it. It made me realize that I needed to leave suburbia behind and get to the big city for some real living.

The 2009 re-imaging of "Fame" is an unnecessary, watered down, sugar-coated, politically correct version of the original film. Who wants to see that? I know I didn't and apparently very few others did as well. Why did the filmmakers feel that it was it necessary to remove the edge and real human beings to make this accessible for today's audiences? Adding hip-hop, slick choreography and modern camera moves has not improved this new version or made it relevant.

Like the original, this film follows a select group of students from the New York High School of Performing Arts from auditions to graduation. This is the only similarity that the two films share. All of the kids are too polished, pretty and perfect to be believable as students. Hardly anyone is seen having to really struggle, let alone sweat, to get through each school year. None of the students are particularly interesting or realistic. One student, Denise ( Naturi Naughton), an African-American, is training to become a classical pianist like her parents wanted but what she secretly wants to be is a hip-hop singer which her father forbids her to do or he will pull her out of the school. I might have bought this and it would have been more interesting if this character was Caucasian but as done in this film, it was just ridiculous.

The film is also littered with cameos from well known television actors, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth and Charles S. Dutton as instructors. What a waste of their time. I still play the soundtrack from "Fame" from time to time and this version wisely used two of the strongest songs, "Fame" and "Out Here On My Own" but the original songs are awful and forgettable. If you are a fan of the original film, this version is an insult. After sitting through another disastrous remake, I just want to scream at Hollywood: "For God's sakes---- STOP ALREADY!!". There is absolutely no need to remake or re-imagine a perfectly good film.