Tag: tyler perry

Nobody’s Fool


Nobody’s Fool (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Having to sit through “Nobody’s Fool,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, should be considered a form of punishment. For a comedy in general, it is deeply unfunny, lacking comic rhythm, and filled with empty silences simply added to take up time. (This brand of torture lasts for nearly two interminable hours.) For a romantic comedy, there is minimal chemistry between the man and woman with whom we are supposed to want to get together. And for a female empowerment picture, its contradictory messages are not only confusing, they are downright offensive at times. Here is an example of a comedy that is dead on arrival.

I felt embarrassed for the performers who chose to participate in this disaster because they are not without talent, from the highly energetic Tiffany Haddish who plays the motormouth hood sister who has been just released from prison, Whoopi Goldberg as the pothead mother with wise-sounding lines to impart during dire times, to Tika Sumpter as the financially successful sister struggling to find the perfect man. There are individual scenes that showcase the star power of these women, but the poor writing consistently lets them down.

Nearly every scene, for instance, must end with an exclamation point even when it is completely inappropriate. Observe closely as the Sumpter’s character, for example, begins to realize late in the picture that perhaps she is to blame for her own impossible expectations when it comes to romance. (She has a list of what a man must offer her in order to be considered boyfriend-worthy.) The moment of self-assessment is almost immediately eradicated by a desperate attempt at comedy. Observant viewers will be quick to catch that the writer-director is not interested, or even remotely curious, of the human condition that his project attempts to tackle.

Instead, Perry proves to excel in regurgitating appallingly familiar scenarios: sisters with opposite personalities having to live together, a romantic interest overhearing a private telephone conversation and feelings getting hurt, one’s career being in danger because her love life is in turmoil. It is all so tired. One gets the impression that the filmmaker could not be bothered to create intelligent characters with something real to say, do, or fight for just as long as there are images moving on screen. I found its pessimism to be quite insulting. What results is a limp piece of work that is not even worth showing on cable. Or even on the Lifetime channel. Yes, given that it is a Perry picture, you can bet there are melodramatic turns that are both ludicrous and unearned.

With at least ten films under his belt prior to this movie, Perry should be further along now when it comes to delivering entertainment that works even in the most elementary level. While I appreciate that he casts mostly black actors to tell black stories and thereby selling black entertainment, must he be reminded that his target audience deserves better? I could not help but feel angry while watching “Nobody’s Fool” because he treats the audience exactly like one.

Why Did I Get Married Too?


Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Several years after the four couple’s retreat to Colorado which rocked each of their marriages, they are back on continuing their ritual of going away every year for two days, this time to the Bahamas where they hope to catch some sun, drink wine, and relax by the beach. Things are starting to look up until Mike (Richard T. Jones), the former husband of Sheila (Jill Scott), shows up with claims of wanting to set things right. Everyone has a good reason to doubt.

“Why Did I Get Married Too?,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is not a necessary sequel but it does offer some entertainment value. Angela (Tasha Smith), the loudest among her girlfriends, with her unending suspicion that her husband, Marcus (Michael Jai White), now a sportscaster on television, is having an affair is so darn funny, she deserves her own movie. It’s difficult not to appreciate the performance behind the character because in every scene Smith is heard yelling and screaming. Yes, her voice can break glass (and push buttons) but there’s a joy to her acting, almost like she’s poking fun of a very exaggerated version of herself, which makes me want to know what really bothers the character. Angela’s lack of trust, though played through a comedic angle, is relatable.

On a much darker note, Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba) have decided to get a divorce which is a turning point for the couples because their marriage is seen as a beacon. The fact the screenplay allows the two of them to really fight it out, not being afraid to show physical violence that comes with arguments so intense that it’s draining and heartbreaking. When the camera tightens on the faces and highlights the animosity that the characters feel toward one another, whether it be a twitch around the mouth or a glisten in the eye, it creates great drama. I commend Jackson for not being shy to look and act ugly which is a requirement for us to believe that Patricia’s life has reached its nadir.

Since the Bahamas is such an exciting place to be in, it’s disappointing that the picture does not take full advantage of its beauty. It’s quite bizarre that at times the photography looks flat. For instance, when the characters are hanging out at the beach, the camera is quite static, very ordinary in that it doesn’t pull toward or away from its subjects with any sort of rhythm and only consistently cutting to the person who is about talk which gives the impression that actors are being fed their lines. Because of this flatness, a few scenes that are supposed to be funny or insightful come off muted.

The film is missing a third act. The way the problems are solved, rather quickly if I may add, is overshadowed by a momentous event. It does not fit the theme of the material, one being that healthy relationships, at the very least, require an open communication and sticking together through the bad times. Sometimes unexpected events that are supposed to be taken seriously can come across quite silly and falter under poor execution.

Acrimony


Acrimony (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite the melodrama that unfolds for the majority of the picture, “Acrimony,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is almost effective because it is tethered so tightly around Taraji P. Henson’s performance. Henson plays a woman so filled with unconsolable rage that those closest to her are afraid she will hurt those who she feels did her wrong. Told in flashback, beginning when Melinda (Henson) meets Robert (Lyriq Bent) in college (the younger couple played by Ajiona Alexus and Antonio Madison), the material is able to generate a slow but powerful forward momentum only to fall apart during the final thirty minutes.

Dramatic thrillers rest so much on the payoff, the catharsis the audience must feel in their bones or the reward for having the patience to try and understand the perspective of the key characters, even though some of them are not written as sharply as should be so that they come across as living, breathing people rather than mere pawns to be moved in and around the plot. Melinda’s madness is not as interesting as her suffering as a girlfriend and eventual wife who invests everything she has—money, time, energy, emotional and physical support—on her husband’s dream of inventing a battery capable of recharging itself. (Because many of Perry screenplays are notorious for being heavy-handed, this work not being an exception, yes, the battery is a metaphor for the state of the couple’s marriage.)

The first half is strong because we are made to understand why Melinda feels betrayed. I enjoyed that the screenplay shows she is capable of empathy, making huge sacrifices, and having the patience when it is extremely difficult to remain in control of a situation. At the same time, the material is willing to show us her flaws apart from her disturbing anger issues. For instance, she has a habit of taking certain actions or words so personally when there really is no malicious intent. Those who look beyond the anger will be able to recognize a person who feels so much that she ends up latching onto those who make her feel important or valued—even to the point when she is no longer treated as important or valued.

There are some fresh choices in photography. Although Perry employs a darker lighting in order to pummel viewers over the head that what they are seeing is, in fact, a thriller, particularly surprising are instances when the writer-director subjects Henson under particularly harsh lighting to the point where it is unflattering. And I admire Henson for being willing to look so unappealing because the material demands that her character be as ugly or as monstrous as possible at a given time. While some may consider this as a misstep, I applaud it because, unless a movie is supposed to be a contender for major awards toward the end of the year, directors usually do not wish to show their actors in unfavorable frames.

It does not dispel the fact that the last act requires major revisions, perhaps even reshoots. The violence is cartoonish, the slow motions command no effect, and the dialogue sounds as though it were written by a teenager who has seen one too many reality shows and not read enough books (or at least seen a good number of quality movies). During this time, I could not help but feel robbed because I know the filmmakers and actors involved are so much better than the cheesy and ridiculous confrontation on a boat—proven by the solid ninety minutes that just came before.

Brain on Fire


Brain on Fire (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Beware: those who expect a high-class medical drama are likely to be disappointed with “Brain on Fire,” based on a true story of a healthy young woman who finds herself suddenly plagued with an enchilada of terrifying symptoms, from auditory and visual hallucinations to intense seizures and huge gaps of memory loss. But those with a penchant for disease-of-the-week television shows are equally likely to be engaged with the mysterious case at hand.

One might argue that the film’s greatest limitation is a barebones screenplay which makes the story feel rather non-cinematic. In its attempt to trim the fat completely and focus on the rare disease, it excises nearly everything else, particularly the complexities of the subject’s work life (Tyler Perry, Jenny Slate), love life (Thomas Mann), and family life (Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Armitage). In a story like this, personalization is most critical because extra details lead to substance which helps to put a face on a particular disease.

Despite its occasional lack of subtlety, a few cringe-inducing dialogue, and familiar beats inherent to medical dramas, I found the work to be thoroughly engaging otherwise. While I craved to look closely at the medical charts and X-rays, especially exchanges filled with medical jargon, the screenplay by writer-director Gerard Barrett breezes through them because it is not his goal to create a first-class medical drama. And that is perfectly fine. I think the point of the project is two-fold: to make an easily digestible work for the more casual viewers and to shed light on a rare disease, and perhaps others like it, that is often misdiagnosed by the brightest professionals. On this level, it works.

Chloë Grace Moretz plays twenty-one-year-old Susannah Cahalan, a journalist for the New York Post. Her debilitation from a very lively woman to a catatonic vegetable is convincing and, at some point, genuinely touching. Perhaps the strongest moments are instances when the camera takes its time to show the subject’s pallid limbs, how her fingers liken that of old branches, how she can barely stand let alone put one foot in front of the other. Showing the effects of a disease is so important not just because it is frightening or sad but because it underlines the fact that every human disease has a cause and therefore an effect. We forget this fact sometimes, especially groups that choose to turn a blind eye on science.

While Moretz is front and center nearly throughout the film, it is Slate who steals the spotlight every time the two performers share a scene. Slate is known mostly as a comedian, but she proves once again that she can be equally effective in dramatic roles (“Obvious Child,” “Landline”). Look closely when Margo, played by Slate, visits her co-worker at the hospital. Margo is not used to seeing Susannah in such a vulnerable, wilted state and it devastates her. Notice the way Slate starts the scene with a comic weapon compared to how she ends it with a completely different technique. It’s impressive.

“Brain on Fire” can be criticized for being formulaic, but there is a reason why formulas exist. It is because when a formula works, it gets the job done. Such is the case in this curious picture. As someone who works in the field of science, it never ceases to amaze me how much we’ve learned in the past fifty to a hundred years—and also how much we have yet to learn. Imagine diseases out there with no correct answers yet—but are given “answers” anyway because some pieces, not all, seem to fit. It goes to show that our knowledge is still limited and we have work to do. Keep in mind, too, that certain diseases evolve over time.

For Colored Girls


For Colored Girls (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a play by Ntozake Shange, the film attempts to balance seven interconnecting stories of African-American women, from a talented sixteen-year-old dancer with a good chance of going to college (Tessa Thompson) to a very successful but emotionally cold editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine (Janet Jackson). Despite a wealth of dramatic elements in the script, Tyler Perry, the director and the screenwriter, fails to minimize certain aspects in order for the work to exude a cinematic texture rather than that of of a stage play.

The seven actresses in focus are divine. Kimberly Elise stands out as Crystal, a woman with two young children who chooses to endure physical abuse from her husband. It is a smart decision to give Crystal the most screen time because out of all the subjects, her struggle, in my opinion, is most common. Loretta Devine as Juanita, leading a non-profit organization who educates women about healthy choices when it comes to sex, and Thandie Newton as Tangie, obsessed with bringing home a different man each night, are not far behind in capturing our attention.

Although the performers do what they can and are able to shine at times, the script seems at a loss on how to deal with characters representing extremes. Most painful to watch is Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), an extremely devout woman who is angry and worried that her children fail to match her level of faith. The character is written as if she were a crazy person, always going on about everybody going to hell. Everyone else is so human except for her. On the other side of the spectrum, Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) is written too much like a saint. Everything she does is so tender, her personality is too sweet, and her decisions are always perfect. Whenever Alice and Gilda are in front of the camera, we do not connect with them fully because they do not act or feel like actual people.

There is a lack of steady rhythm as the film jumps from one strand to another. For example, just as a grim scene is about to reach its climax, it cuts to another story that is sweet, and then onto another that is somewhat amusing. Finally, when it returns to one that feels most urgent, it is no longer as exciting or as interesting. It feels like a chore when we are forced to orient ourselves in a zone of gloom.

The picture is sabotaged by long, poetic speeches. While it might have worked in the play because the experience is first-hand, they do not translate well on screen. The poetic words strung together offer a wealth of wisdom but I was not convinced that the realizations, when expressed through speeches, ring true. It comes off trying too hard. It falls completely flat when an actress tries to push the words to create a semblance of strength when laying back or speaking softly might have been a better choice to match the message being delivered.

“For Colored Girls” might have been a stronger work if it were helmed by someone who has a more focused vision when it comes to which elements from a play should make it on screen as they are and which should be modified in order to preserve the essence of the material’s integrity. I am sure that the intention is not to make certain characters appear cartoonish or ridiculous, but that is exactly what happens when someone does not stop and ask whether something would work through a specific medium.

Boo 2! A Madea Halloween


Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (2017)
★ / ★★★★

One way to elevate a goofy slapstick comedy is to inject it with so much enthusiasm to the point of overdose. While “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is not short on zeal, the sequel is limp and uninspired exactly because it suffers from a shortage of ideas. Clearly, another way to surpass a predecessor is to take the first idea, now familiar to us, and either turn it into something else entirely or elaborate upon it so the viewers are provided insight or new perspective. Here is a film that rests on its laurels.

This time around, bratty Tiffany (Diamond White) has turned eighteen and so she believes she is now an adult and therefore capable of doing whatever she wants. So, her first order of business is to repair relationships with sleazy frat brothers (Andre Hall, Tito Ortiz, Brock O’Hurn) whom Madea (Perry) had taught a lesson exactly a year ago which involves making sure that they do not mess around with underaged girls. Tiffany’s ulterior motive is to get invited to the frat party in Lake Derrick, a place where fourteen murders have occurred and no suspect was apprehended. Hanging out in a mass murder zone is something cool to do these days. Madea, of course, learns about the party.

The plot is as useless as a fork in a bowl of soup, but plot is an afterthought in a movie like this. It must be evaluated on the basis of how successful it is when it comes to delivering upon the level of comedy with a few horror elements. It is, after all, Halloween-themed. Taking this into account, there is not much to recommend here other than the occasionally amusing banter among Madea, Joe (also played by Perry), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). They may be elderly but they are capable of pulling off dumb, dirty, sassy jokes. The performers are game to do whatever is necessary to wring laughter out of the audience.

I found the horror elements to be a bore for the most part. It alludes to villains like Leatherface (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series), Samara (“The Ring” series), and The Miner (“My Bloody Valentine”), but the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh about these antagonists. The formula is simple: they appear out of the corner of the screen, render teenagers screaming for their lives, and disappear into the night. The so-called scares between threat and lascivious teens are the least entertaining parts of the picture because we can predict what is going to happen exactly from the moment the scene begins. Much more tolerable to sit through are interactions between Madea’s group and these modern classic villains.

Tyler Perry movies tend to reveal lessons about the importance of family and tough love—not subtle lessons but the kind that pounds the viewers into submission just so everybody gets the point. It is disappointing then that the journey to get to the lesson is not executed even in a mildly clever way, certainly not like in the predecessor where it somewhat sneaks up on the viewer because there are so many parts of the story moving at once. This film takes a more straightforward, predictable, boring approach. It is a cash grab to the bone.

Boo! A Madea Halloween


Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Tyler Perry’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is neither an inspired nor an inspiring comedy, but it tries very hard—with energy to spare—to wring out every bit of laughter out of the audience, for better or worse. Sometimes less is more and if the writer-director wishes to continue to get better at his craft, he would take this common saying to heart and actually lead with it. Thus, what results here is a mixed bag—uproariously funny in spots, amusing during certain stretches, and sometimes when jokes fall flat, the silence awkward and deafening.

The plot is simple and straightforward—necessary characteristics of a mainstream comedy where the story is rather negligible but the performances usually make or break the material. Brian (played by Perry) has a teenager named Tiffany (Diamond White) who does not listen to him and has an attitude that raises eyebrows. She intends to attend a Halloween party at a fraternity house—even though she’s still a minor. Her father is needed to work the same night of the party and so to ensure that Tiffany does not sneak out of the house and put herself in danger, Brian calls Madea (also played by Perry) and asks that she stay overnight. Expectedly, Tiffany finds a way to the college party anyway and, just as expectedly, she had underestimated Madea’s authority.

The banters among characters, three played by the same actor, is what holds the picture together. The camera placement in the living room might be a bit off or the lighting could be too dim or too bright to the extent in which one could see the imperfections of a character’s heavy makeup, but once the firecracker dialogue is front and center, the technical aspects matter less… so long as the script is at least equal to the enthusiasm of the performers.

Therein lies the problem. There are a handful of scenes, particularly ones that take place in a living room, that become repetitive eventually to the point where the writing does not feel or sound as sharp nor as quick-witted compared to the moment when the four characters (Perry playing two of them and the others played by Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely) had just settled in their chairs. Notice that when these four are in another room or leave the house for a couple of minutes, the material comes alive once again. Perry should have played around with more locations because the old folks are funnier when on their feet and moving around.

There are sudden changes in tone that work and changes that fall completely flat. When comedy and horror are in hand-in-hand, laughter turning into anticipation and gasps of terror, the picture commands a sense of purpose. We realize we really are watching a Halloween-themed comedy, not just a comedy that just so happens to take place during Halloween. Would-be horror-comedies could actually learn a thing or two from some of the scenes here, particularly the bathroom and attic scenes. One of the most important elements horror films and comedies have in common in order for them to work is timing. Perfect timing turns laughter into gasps of horror, vice-versa. Get the timing off and the audience is mired in uncomfortable silence.

Most ineffective is the final fifteen minutes. “Madea” movies tend to suffer from an uncontrollable need to preach to the audience. While it offers lessons for young people and adults alike, they need not be hammered into our heads so forcefully and repetitively that it eventually takes some of the power from the statements it wishes to make. Perry, as a writer and filmmaker, needs to work on subtlety in order to pave the way for positive lasting impressions.