Tag Archives: Zoe Saldana

Nina

Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was a tour de force. She was a classically trained pianist who studied at Julliard. She applied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was rejected despite an excellent audition because of the colour of her skin. Never intending to sing, she was forced to in order to make a living being a musician of the non-classical variety, the only option open to a woman of colour. She played a blend of jazz and blues, folk and gospel, and probably more besides. She changed her name to avoid embarrassing her family now that she played “the devil’s music.” And she became an activist, an outspoken proponent of the Civil Rights movement. Her music had always spoken to her roots, but soon she incorporated political themes there as well. A beautifully angry song “Mississippi Goddam” written in response to the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama (that killed 4 little girls) particularly comes to mind, because how could it not? It’s spectacular and heart breaking. There was a great documentary made about her life not too long ago, but Nina is not a documentary, which means someone had to step into her shoes.

MV5BODk1NDY2MjcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzkzNzM2ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_Mary J Blige was originally cast but had to drop out. Nina herself had hoped that it would be Whoopi who’d portray her on screen. Instead director Cynthia Mort went with Zoe Saldana, and thus created a furor. With Dominican and Cuban ancestry, Saldana identifies as a black woman, but critics felt she was not black enough. Not black enough? The notion makes me queasy. But when Saldana said she was honoured to play Simone, the Nina Simone Foundation nastily replied “Dear Zoe, please keep Nina’s name out of your mouth for the rest of your life.”

Saldana’s talent is bigger than the criticism. She has a great voice, which you may have heard in The Book of Life, but no, she doesn’t sound like Simone. No one does. But she brings a lot of strength and dignity to the role, a mean feat considering the film focuses on the latter years of Simone’s life, which were turbulent to say the least. Mentally and financially unstable, Simone was committed to a psych ward, where she met a nurse she would later make her assistant, and then her manager. David Oyelowo plays the nurse. Biopics generally benefit from a narrow focus, but this one is perhaps unfair to her memory since Simone was so much more than just her struggles. See the documentary for a clearer picture of her life, but to see Saldana shine, this is one good role among many.

 

 

Two days before she died, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed granted Simone an honorary degree.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-wallpaperI have avoided writing this review since Thursday.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 left me entirely uninspired. Was it the mediocre 70s music? The laughable indestructibility of the heroes and villains that only disappeared when convenient to a plot point? That we have seen this movie before, a thousand times? Or that these heroes, who seemed so fresh the first time around, had nothing new to offer?  Whatever the reason, this movie was missing the spark that made the first Guardians of the Galaxy so much fun.

“More of the same” is generally something that necessarily is tied to a sequel; after all, the reason the sequel exists is because we liked the first one and asked for more. But the sequels I most enjoy are those that could stand alone if the first one was somehow wiped from memory. I don’t think Guardians Vol. 2 passes that test. It starts strongly (as Jay said to me afterward, she would have preferred it if Groot had danced his way through the whole movie) but loses its way, sacrificing action scenes and momentum to rehash the first movie’s tale of outcasts forced together to save the galaxy.

Strangely, for a movie that I don’t think could stand on its own, Guardians Vol. 2 also does not really do anything to advance things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. If it had, I might have felt better about the movie as then it would have had a purpose. Without that, and without any real progress from the first film, Guardians Vol. 2 felt like a throwaway franchise episode, another The Fate of the Furious, another blockbuster that will have been forgotten in six months. In other words, the polar opposite of how I felt after seeing Guardians Vol. 1.

As always, my hopes were definitely too high for this sequel but I think the main reason I was so underwhelmed by this movie is because what I liked so much about the first film was its originality, and this is a carbon copy of #1 in practically every way.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gets a score of five dancing Groots out of ten.

 

Guess Who

Matt was excited to watch Ellen last week, a particular episode celebrating the 20th anniversary of her sitcom’s coming out episode. He and I reminisced on the episode and how very 90s it was in its approach to homosexuality. Last year we saw a movie at an LGBTQ film festival that felt very 90s in its approach, which really disappointed us. You would hope by this day in age that we no longer have to assure people that gay isn’t something you can catch, and that it doesn’t make you queer to support someone who is, and “tolerating” someone else’s sexuality is really pretty basic.

I just watched the equivalent in a movie about race, a film that feels miles out of date beyond its 2005 release. Guess Who is the inverse remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but without any of the thought or the grace.

Theresa (Zoe Saldana) brings her boyfriend home to meet the parents. She hasn’t told them that Simon (Ashton Kutcher) is white – and that turns out to be a bad gamble when 536_m1225688364dad Percy (Bernie Mac) goes ballistic. Not to say that there’s not friction about interracial relationships anymore; that’s clearly not the case. Jordan Peele had a thing or two to say about them in this year’s Get Out. But Guess Who is a dinosaur, an anachronistic way of looking at the world that’s cringe-worthy in its assumptions (it also manages to be misogynist and homophobic in its first 10 minutes). The only good thing to come out of it was Zoe Saldana, who has had a successful (and redeeming) career – and no one who’s seen this would say she hasn’t paid her dues. She’s paid in full.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is a lot to live up to, and you don’t begin to do it with the likes of Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, whose red kabbalah bracelet had to be digitally edited out of the movie to the tune of $100K. Starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner struck a nerve in America. Miscegenation laws were literally just being struck down (thanks to Loving!), and the film was still being shown in theatres when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated (which necessitated a quick edit of the film – one scene mentions him by name).

Compared to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was groundbreaking in its time, Guess Who lacks social relevance. It’s a dead fish. And it’s not even funny.

Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

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It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Star Trek Beyond

vag96xveob5rjf34m2mqWe were treated tonight to a marathon of the new trilogy of Star Trek movies, including a screening of Star Trek Beyond. Seeing the first two reminded me how good Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness are, and seeing them all in a row made me all the more sure that Star Trek Beyond is my favourite of the three.

The most difficult part about the movie is how it reminds us that we’ve lost both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek family. Nimoy was a larger part of the first two than I remembered, and his presence served as a nice reminder that there’s a whole alternate universe of adventures waiting to be rediscovered. He receives a nice tribute in this movie, which I was glad to see.

8_-_nurovgqYelchin, having died so tragically after filming was complete, is a key cast member in all three and is excellent in Star Trek Beyond (as always). But it’s bittersweet to watch, as his posthumous presence is harder to take than his absence would have been. Every one of his scenes serves as a reminder that there will be no more Chekov in the instalments to come.  He will be sincerely missed but it feels right that his role will not be recast. May he rest in peace.

A lesser movie would have been overshadowed by those real-life lossses. Star Trek Beyond is instead comforting and uplifting in their face, providing a classic trip to a strange new world, plenty of humanoid aliens (some good, some bad, almost all English-speaking), and some fantastic interplay between the series’ seven main characters. This time, Bones and Spock are the standouts, getting a ton of one-on-one time and delivering banter that is consistently hilarious and completely fitting for this odd couple. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung do a Star-Trek-Beyond-photo-11wonderful job of capturing the sarcastic Bones and the quiet pleasure Spock takes in driving Bones crazy, while letting us see that underneath it all there is nothing but love and respect between them.

That is the way all these beloved characters get treated – with love and respect. I just wish Sulu’s coming-out moment had not been such a source of controversy leading up to the movie’s release, because in the movie it comes off as another nice nod to the original cast that also fits with the diversity that is the series’ staple.

I cannot say enough good things about Star Trek Beyond. It provides a massive amount of fan service while remaining accessible and enjoyable to all. Star Trek Beyond is a welcome and worthy addition to this classic franchise and a fitting sendoff to two absent friends.

 

Sean & Jay enjoyed the Starfleet Academy Experience – hear about it in our podcast:

 

Infinitely Polar Bear

Jordan over at Epileptic Moondancer wrote about this great film he saw, and he made me want to see it too, only, it never came. Well, not quite never, since it’s here now, only it’s just playing at our local art-house theatre (shout out, Bytowne, we love you!) and as far as I can tell, didn’t get much in the way of a release.

And that’s too bad because Mark Ruffalo, whom I normally loathe, does a bang-up job of portraying a husband and father who struggles with the mental illness that is now known as bi-polar (not so much in the 70s, when this film is set). His wife (a strong Zoe Saldana) married him optimistically and learns about his disease the hard way. In the throes of a manic phase he’s erratic at best, and scares his wife and two young daughters. They lose him to a psychiatric ward, and a FIPHD1iOek65hl6LdUL2HQhalfway house, and to loads of mood-altering medications, and in his quest to come back to them, he agrees to care for his girls while his wife goes off to NYC to get a business degree and a real shot at a job. She’s putting an awful lot of faith in a man who, most days, doesn’t seem capable of caring even for himself, but this is what he needs, and what their family needs, and needs must.

It’s easy to applaud this intimate and sympathetic look at a challenging illness. Writer-director Maya Forbes cast her own daughter in the fictionalized version of herself, a young girl caught between a father she dearly loves and a disease she doesn’t fully understand. This is clearly a deeply personal movie, stemming from a deeply personal place. And if this is how she experienced her father’s mental illness, then good for her. The movie makes it seem more like a quirky inconvenience than the devastating illness I know it to be, but if you ever have the misfortune of this diagnosis, then I fully hope that you get the bi-polar that Forbes lived with, and not the one I did.

Coming out of the theatre, Sean asked what I thought. And I genuinely thought it was a brilliant kq-infinitely-polar-bear-videothumbmovie, so well-acted by all involved. I also think it makes bi-polar look kind of fun. And the thing is, like any mental illness, and like many illnesses period, I suppose, the symptoms and severity and experience will vary from person to person. So while some may enjoy riding bicycles in bathing suits as their low, when I lived with someone who was bi-polar, I spent long months in a sad, scary, violent, life-shattering space. It’s not always as fun as it looks in the movies.

But Mark Ruffalo does an excellent job of hitting both highs and lows with some subtlety, playing each note, finding the heartbreak. Saldana is vulnerable, and even though I never stopped asking myself how she could leave her kids alone with this man, I still felt warmth toward her for trying so hard to make bi-polar just another thing to live with. I’m still queasy about movies that romanticize mental illness, but I’m also blown away by some fantastic performances that thrive and come alive despite a saccharine script.