Tag Archives: Taraji P. Henson

The Best of Enemies

Picture it: Durham, North Carolina. 1971. Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) is a civil rights activist. C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) is the Exalted Cyclops of the KKK (the KKK should clearly not be allowed to make up their own titles). The two are about to clash over school integration.

City council is far from unbiased. Some will physically turn their backs on a person of colour, others will call on their friends in the klan to bolster their numbers. It’s not exactly the kind of town ripe for integration, and it likely wouldn’t have occurred to them had the black school not burned down, forcing some drastic decisions. Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) is given the unenviable, perhaps insurmountable task of mediating the two sides to negotiate a compromise, one city council will abide. A charrette, he calls it, though no one’s ever heard of the thing. or a collaborative, intensive community planning session. Riddick is a black man who has the magical ability to earn concessions from either side, but the “sides” aren’t exactly fairly drawn. If black vs white is enough to make your skin crawl, imagine black vs racists, men in hoods who won’t even concede that people of colour are people, who would wish the people sitting beside them dead, and in fact have taken shots at them.

1971 isn’t that long ago. It’s during Henson’s lifetime, and Rockwell’s.

The costume and makeup department have had a whole job of de-sexualizing Taraji P. Henson for this role. Her face is unadorned, her boobs are down to her belt. But her strength and presence are as keenly felt as ever.

The charrette ends up being a fascinating glimpse into a community – in 1971, as an attempt at a solution, and in 2019 as a reflection of the time. It’s a great reminder that it’s much harder to hate people you know. Humanizing the other side is always an eye-opener. These select community representatives spent a week together, discussing the issue, but also eating lunch side by side and taking field trips, sitting knee to knee on a yellow bus.

As interesting as I find the topic, the film itself is a little uneven, and thus, a little difficult to like without reservation. Writer-director Robin Bissell sympathizes with KKK president Ellis enough to give him a full backstory: a disabled son, a struggling business, an ambivalent wife. Meanwhile, Atwater, a real-life grassroots activist who fought the war on poverty, is given much, much less. Still, the two become…friends? Perhaps too strong a word. But familiarity reduces contempt. They are no longer just stereotypes to each other. And the fact is: perhaps this de-segregation thing is better for poor white folks than city council wants them to know.

This is how barriers are broken: regular people just listening to each other as best they can. That’s a lesson that still needs learning. That we have the power to influence each other, not by arguing, but by trying to understand. Sure it takes courage to stand up to your enemies, but it takes far more to stand up to your friends when you see that they are wrong.

What Men Want

Ali is a hard-working sports agent at her firm, where she is overdue to make partner but keeps getting passed over in favour of more bro-ey types. It’s a real boy’s club in there, but she’s motivated to join their ranks.

So that accounts for why she’s a bit down in the dumps at her best friend’s bachelorette party. A fortune teller come to entertain the women “sees” that she’s having trouble connecting with men, and has just the tea for that. And wouldn’t you know it, the next day Ali (Taraji P. Henson) wakes up with the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts, plus or minus a head injury.

Yes, this is a remake of the Mel Gibson vehicle What Women Want, though no one seems to have noted that neither men nor women wanted either of these films. And to be honest, Taraji P. Henson is eminently more watchable than Gibson and Helen Hunt combined (great Darwin’s ghost, what was 2001 thinking?), so the 2019 edition has a MV5BMTIxODZhYmEtYzM4MC00YzE5LWJhMDQtMmQyOTE4MDcwMDU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzEwODIxNzE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_slight edge. However, women really are a mystery and Mel Gibson really is an idiot, so at least that version made sense. Taraji P. Henson clearly knows how to handle men. Ali is a confidant, competent, sexy woman. So let’s not sit around pretending that she’s the problem in search of a mind-reading solution. What this movie should have been is How Not To Be A Misogynistic Asshole At Work (Or Ever!). And also: How Not To Group All Men Into One Disgusting Category. What’s that you say? Men like sports and cars and not talking about their feelings? How very 1958 of you.I mean, sure, those things describe Sean rather perfectly. But he also farts and eats a lot! I mean, that’s not ALL he’s good for. He also carries heavy bags and holds my credit card and orders for me in restaurants. Wait. What? The onslaught of unadulterated sexism in this movie has jumbled my brain. If only a man was around to write this review for me!

You know what women want? Better roles for Taraji P. Henson. And I bet men want that too.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

For the life of me I cannot get the title of this movie right.  I’m so used to Wreck-It Ralph wrecking stuff, not breaking it.  So I’m trying to adjust to this relatively small change, but it’s been tough, and that must mean I’m getting old.

In related news, my knee started hurting this week for no reason at all.  Granted, it worked out just fine because I used my knee pain as a convenient excuse to storalph-breaks-the-internet5p cleaning the kitchen and start playing Red Dead Redemption 2, but still.  Making me feel even older is that I just learned it has been six full years since Wreck-It Ralph was released and I never would have guessed it had been so long.

Just like in the real world, six years have passed for Ralph (John C. Reilly), Princess Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and the rest of the gaming gang, who have all settled into comfortable routines inside Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade.  Sure, the routine may be a little boring, but Ralph is happy with his predictable days and nights, wrecking (sorry, breaking) Fix-It Felix’s building by day, and hanging out with Vanellope at night.  Vanellope, on the other hand, feels trapped by her routine, having mastered the three available race tracks in her game.  When Ralph tries to alleviate Vanellope’s boredom by building a new track, things get both wrecked and broken, and Ralph and Vanellope are forced to explore the arcade’s newly-installed internet in search of a new steering wheel for Vanellope’s game.

Of all the things in the world besides my knee (which is feeling much better, thanks for asking, though if Jay asks tell her I need a few more days off to fully recover), there is probably nothing that makes me feel older than not knowing any of the memes that have come out in the last decade, except for the select few that Jay has taught me about after realizing I had no idea that (insert hilarious meme) was a thing.  And, as you may have guessed, there are a lot of memes referenced in Ralph Breaks the Internet.  The nice thing is, I felt like Ralph (with some minor help from the creative team) went out of his way to ensure I didn’t feel old for not knowing that (bee puns) were a thing.  Ralph simply made me laugh at his bee pun, and at all of his aprincesses4ttempts to help Vanellope get her new steering wheel.

Ralph’s antics would have made for a decent sequel just on their own, but Ralph wasn’t alone.  Every one of the supporting players in Ralph Breaks the Internet make their own contribution to the comedy.   I was particularly impressed at how the Disney princesses were incorporated, not (just) as a shameless product placement but as a way to teach Vanellope about her hidden princess talents.

The only criticism I might make is that the movie probably included a few too many characters and references, and ends up a bit long as a result.   But don’t ask me what I would have cut out, because everything that’s here is consistently good and often great.  Ralph Breaks the Internet is a very clever and accessible comedy that will provide plenty of laughs for everyone, regardless of age and regardless of whether you’ve ever heard of a screaming goat.  What a wonderfully comforting thing that is (the accessible comedy, not the goat’s screams).  It made me feel young again, a feeling that should last until my next random ache.  Meaning I may need to see this one again very soon.

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glenn’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.