Tag: whoopi goldberg

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.

The Player

The Player (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a movie studio executive, has received seven threatening postcards in two weeks and he has reason to believe that they are being sent by a writer with whom he promised to get back to but never did. Griffin has too much on his plate: there is word going around that Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) is out for his position, too many writers are pitching terrible ideas in his office, and his superiors consistently put on the pressure–though in an off-handed way. Everyone wants a piece of his time that his job has turned into a sickness. He needs a solution real quick and the strand that he thinks he has control over is finding the man with the postcards.

Though the setting takes place in the star-studded underworld that is Hollywood, with the satirical punch to boot, “The Player,” based on the novel of the same name by Michael Tolkin, is most compelling during its simple moments of the studio executive, superbly played by Robbins, expressing to another through words or actions how his occupation has inevitably shaped him into a person he might not necessarily like. Because the lead character is allowed by the script to express his inner machinations without asking us to pity him, almost everything else that unravels around him fascinates.

The story involves a murder and Griffin is a suspect. We know whether this man is innocent or guilty and yet there is tension because, killer or not, the screenplay does not lose track of his humanity. For instance, I think that people who are under a lot of stress can look at Griffin and say to themselves, “I know how that feels like.” Notice that we never see Griffin at home. We never learn his hobbies or see what he likes to do on weekends. As much as it is a satire of people who green light movies, it works as a cautionary tale. It is a story of a workaholic in mental shambles.

Robert Altman, the director, is very confident behind the camera. There are jokes about long tracking shots in classic movies, especially early on in the picture, and it is amusing that the tracking shots in this film are very noticeable but never distracting. The technique enhances a handful of scenes especially when the camera starts off very far from the people of interest engaged in conversation and slowly zooming in on them. We get a sense that we are paparazzi in Hollywood and we want that perfect shot of celebrities sitting in an outdoor restaurant, eating lunch, and talking business.

Whoopi Goldberg who plays one of the detectives investigating the murder does not get enough screen time. She is such a ray of sunshine because she plays her character almost like a Venus flytrap. She reels us in with her easygoing personality and the moment we get too close, we realize how Detective Avery got to where she is. I wished she was given more to do because she is the most interesting character next to our protagonist.

The cameos did not make much impression on me because many of the people in the business back then, the early nineties, are not necessarily in the business now (or not as visible). Still, I caught myself smiling at the sight of big names like Jeff Goldblum, Nick Nolte, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Andie MacDowell, and Malcolm McDowell—including a joke that involves the last two.

“The Player” is a picture that demands to be seen more than once not only for the hidden jokes in the dialogue, the strength of Robbins’ performance, or the cameos, but also in the way the camera moves so freely and yet in control. These days, many movies do not move the camera that it verges on boredom or shakes so unrelentingly that it induces migraines. This film offers a happy, creative medium.

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.

Teenage Paparazzo

Teenage Paparazzo (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

While out in Los Angeles, Adrian Grenier, who directed the film, noticed a thirteen-year-old paparazzo trying to get his attention in order to get the perfect picture. His name was Austin Visschedyk and it seemed like he had been a pop-stalkerazzi, a term he despised, for quite some time. Intrigued with Visschedyk, Grenier decided to contact the teen and make a movie about him and the fame he tried to capture using his expensive camera. “Teenage Paparazzo” had some interesting tidbits to say, some involving the ethics of paparazzi and privacy, but its vision wasn’t always clear. The first half of the picture was Visschedyk’s almost obsessive nature in capturing images of celebrities. He claimed it was fun, easy, and one great shot could get him a thousand dollars. And while he acknowledged that there were dangers in being a part of the paparazzi (he carried pepper spray), he turned a blind eye most of the time. He wasn’t the only one in denial. His parents allowed him to stay out past 3:00 A.M. (including school nights) to follow celebrities in downtown Hollywood. I’ve been in downtown Hollywood around that time of night and to say that the area is “unsafe” is an extreme understatement. The parents’ defense was they wanted to encourage him to pursue his passion. However, most of us can say that it’s simply a case of bad parenting. The second half, while backed with research about teens and how important fame was to them, it felt unfocused because it moved away from Visschedyk’s story. The documentary eventually became more about young people craving to become famous in any way, shape, or form. There was a survey given to middle school students which showed that they would rather become assistant to celebrities instead of being a CEO of a company, presidents of Ivy League institutions, and other prestigious positions. While it was a shocking result, it did not fit the thesis of the movie. I enjoyed the film best when Grenier and Paris Hilton showed the ridiculousness of trashy gossip magazines and television shows like TMZ. The duo informed Visschedyk and his paparazzi friends that they would be at a certain place and time and the rumors created from the pictures were amusing. It was great to look at things from behind the scenes. All the more disappointing was the fact that there were nice insights from great actors like Matt Damon and Whoopi Goldberg as well as intellectuals like Noam Chomsky. It wouldn’t have been a missed opportunity if the connection between the teenage paparazzo’s story and fame was stronger. Visschedyk’s admission that he wanted to be famous was not enough. I’ve seen his website and I have no doubt that Visschedyk has a gift for photography. In the end, I’m happy there was a glimmer of hope that he could channel his talent to something he could actually be proud of.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple (1985)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Based on Alice Walker’s novel and directed by Steven Spielberg, “The Color Purple” stars Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson who endured years of suffering in the hands of a very abusive husband (Danny Glover). Celie lost everyone she loved–her son, daughter and sister (Akosua Busia)–and since she was so used to being treated as less than human, she learned to shut herself down and live as though she was a ghost. But when her husband’s kind mistress (Margaret Avery) came into her life, Celie learned to not hide her smile and then everything else fell into place. Most importantly, she learned to fight for her freedom. Watching the lead character struggle physically and emotionally touched me in so many ways to the point where I wanted to cry or yell or scream for her. I admired her because she was so strong–she didn’t break when everyone else told her that she was useless, ugly, unloved, and dumb. She took all of it because she had nowhere else to go. I liked that although the picture was primarily Celie’s story, it was also about the bond between strong women. The bond between Celie and her sister was so powerful and I loved watching them interact, especially the scene when Celie’s sister taught her how to read. It was a huge catharsis when Celie realized that her sister had been writing to her for years but she never received any of it. The bond between Celie and Shug–the mistress–was just as heartbreaking, notably the scenes when Shug would give Celie a boost of self-esteem. There was also a bond between Celie and Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), a strong charismatic woman who everybody wanted to talk to and get to know. Celie looked up to the three women not only because they were strong but also because they were free. The film didn’t take any shortcuts. It tackled the complex issues head-on whether it was about sexuality, race, gender and societal norms. Even “evil” characters like the husband were not one-dimensional. One of the many lines that stood out to me was “Even sinners have souls, too.” Despite the picture being two hours and thirty minutes long, I thought its pacing was exemplary. The passing of the years as the characters we came to love (and hate) growing considerably older was painful to see because one minute they were at their primes and the next they were shriveled up and almost defeated. I think it’s a shame that this picture was nominated for eleven Oscars but did not win a single one. I’m at a loss because the performances were all excellent, the soundtrack tugged at my heartstrings, the cinematography was absolutely breathtaking, and the writing was multidimensional.