MMT Quick Review of ALMOST CHRISTMAS

Almost Christmas

For some of us, the holidays are a great time to not only gather with the loved ones, but to delight in the festive themed entertainment that the season has to offer – be it via songs/carols, television shows or films. And the new Will Packer (Ride Along, This Christmas) produced, David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) written/directed ALMOST CHRISTMAS is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the latter medium.

“Almost Christmas” tells the story of a widower named Walter Meyer (Danny Glover) who brings his four children – Rachel, Cheryl, Christian, and Evan – together at the family home for the first Christmas holiday since his wife’s passing. Knowing that there is some tension when the crew gathers, especially amongst Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), Walter has hope that he can re-create the Christmas magic – via his late wife’s coveted recipes and a little help from his quick-witted sister-in law May (Monique) – that has previously filled his home.  What the patriarch doesn’t factor in are the discord and hidden secrets that almost destroy the chances everyone has of getting along during the five-day holiday break.

With an all-star cast that includes the aforementioned, as well as Romany Malco (Christian), JB Smoove (Cheryl’s husband Lonnie), Jessie T. Usher (Evan) and Omar Epps (as Rachel’s admirer Malachi), their chemistry worked well on-screen and gave off authentic, and comical, family dynamic. I do believe, however, that Nicole Ari Parker was really underused as Christian’s wife Sonya.

And the young people who portrayed the grandchildren – Nadej Bailey, Alkoya Brunson, and Marley Taylor – are adorbs and little comedic acting gems in the making. Also cool were the cameos from the legendary Gladys Knight and songbird Keri Hilson, who did a fine job as the unwitting, vixen Jasmine – a character that brings much drama, to say the least, to the Meyer’s home.

Although the film is a bit formulaic – the requisite fighting siblings, especially the rivaling sisters, the tragic undertone, the unrequited (maybe) love story – it is extremely entertaining, credited in part to Monique’s outrageous and spot-on humor. Yeah, she was given a script, but Mr. Talbert must’ve added, “Make it do what ‘YOU’ do!”

One thing I dislike doesn’t have as much to do with the movie, as it does the traditional Hollywood trope to cast curvy/heavier women as older characters. I would have very much enjoyed the hilarious and engaging Monique as one of Glover’s daughters – a la Kimberly Elise or Gabrielle Union – rather than his sister-in-law, whose character I estimated to be at least seven years younger than his. And who can forget the time the plus size beauty was cast as Countess Vaughn’s mother in “The Parkers,” when in reality she is only eleven years older than Vaughn.

Even with the predictability, a descriptor I also used in my review of Talbert’s “Baggage Claim,” the movie is engaging and fun – with vibes reminiscent of Soul Food, This Christmas and Best Man Holiday. Unlike “Baggage Claim,” which I believed was funny but mostly forgettable, I am looking forward to watching this film again, and adding it to my holiday film collection.

With a 1:52 minute running time, and a PG-13 rating, the movie is a solid comedic pick for the pre-teen and up audience at your next family gathering. ALMOST CHRISTMAS is out in theaters nationwide today, November 11.

Until next thought, Thomasena

GIVEAWAY: advanced screening of ALMOST CHRISTMAS on Thursday, November 3 (Philly, PA)

ALMOST CHRISTMAS

Happy Tuesday MMT Fam! We’ve acquired 20 admit-two passes to the Philly première screening of ALMOST CHRISTMAS this Thursday, November 3. And in the spirit of Christmas giving, we’re requesting all winners bring a canned good item to donate to Philabundance – whose mission is to end and help those who are battling hunger in our region.

So, are you ready to be a blessing AND win one of those admit-two passes? You must be subscribed to this website and send an email to contests@musicmoviesthoughts.com with the subject line “Philabundance” and your full name in the body. Twenty subscribers will be picked at random and notified via email on Wednesday evening.

You can watch the trailer and read the synopsis below, and get additional info about the film at the official website here. ALMOST CHRISTMAS opens nationwide on November 11.

Good Luck!

ALMOST CHRISTMAS synopsis

A new comedy from writer/director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) and producer Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like a Man series, This Christmas), Almost Christmas tells the festive story of a beloved patriarch who asks his family for one gift this holiday season: to get along. If they can honor that wish and spend five days under the same roof without killing one another, it will be a Christmas miracle.

The all-star cast of Almost Christmas is led by Kimberly Elise, Danny Glover, John Michael Higgins, Romany Malco, Mo’Nique, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Omar Epps, Nicole Ari Parker, Jessie T. Usher and DC Young Fly.

 

MMT November 2015 Netflix Picks

Happy Saturday MMT Fam! I know it’s the end of the month, but it’s two days left – so you can still consider these November picks! 🙂

My first pick – the Array release Mississippi Damned – is a powerful example of great story-telling – although I will admit it was a bit heavy for me during the first viewing (trigger warning for anyone who’s experienced any sexual or domestic violence).

The 2009 début film – based on the life of writer/director Tina Mabry – follows three sisters and their children through various courses of poverty, heartbreak, betrayal, addiction and abuse. Yet it depicts hope and opportunity via a character named Kari – portrayed beautifully by Tessa Thompson (Creed, Selma, Dear White People).

The performances in this film are amazing, and I dare you to watch it without tearing or becoming angry at least once. I had to watch it twice, because it was so much happening I thought I’d missed something the first time – yes I went through various emotions, it was that deep. But I loved that it ended with a note of hope, and could appreciate the story it took to get there.

My second Netflix selection is an absolute fave – Night Catches Us – starring Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington (Scandal, Peeples, Django Unchained). Brilliantly shot in my hometown of Philly, this 2010 début film  – by writer/director Tanya Hamilton – tells the story of  ex-Black Panther Marcus (Mackie)  who returns to Philadelphia for his father’s funeral. Marcus knows it’s not going to be an easy visit as many people still hold him responsible for the death of a Panther leader right before he left town. While trying to convince everyone he’s not, Marcus reignites his relationship with Patricia (Washington) – who happens to be the widow of the slain leader.

Anthony Mackie in this role “gives me life.”  I think I fell in love with a fictional character watching this film! And I know it’s apparent, but yes I do love shouting out my hometown! However, it’s far from bias with this movie, because the cinematography is gorgeous and the storytelling is highly exceptional.

One more thing: the soundtrack was done by homegrown music legends “The Roots” – with Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter multi-tasking by portraying Marcus’ brother Bostic as well.

My last pick today is a movie I gave a great review to last year –  and still enjoyed when I watched the second time around – Beyond The Lights. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood created a gem with this one, and it “burns me up” to think about how under-appreciated this drama/love story is. Here’s a link to my full review of the film, and I’ve added the original trailer below, but I encourage you to add this one to your Netflix list if you haven’t seen it!

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle), Nate Parker (Red Tails, The Great Debaters), Minnie Driver (The Red Tent, Ella Enchanted, Good Will Hunting), and Danny Glover (LUV, Mooz-lum, The Color Purple)  star – and that’s all I would need to hear to get me to watch – but if that doesn’t grab you, know that Mbatha-Raw’s performance as a pop-star battling depression and familial struggle is outstanding. And does Nate Parker do any wrong? I haven’t seen it!

Alright family you know the drill, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts if you’ve seen any of these films – or plan on taking my recommendations. I enjoy getting your feedback!

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MMT Quick Review: ‘Beyond The Lights’

Beyond The Lights (photo: Relativity Media)

Happy Friday MMT Family!  I hope that some of you are already out tonight at the theaters in support of Gina Prince Bythewood’s latest gem Beyond The Lights.  Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and Minnie Driver, Beyond The Lights is a film with abundant layers, so much so that I dare not simply label it a “love story.”

The film depicts the story of a fictional singer Noni (Mbatha-Raw) who’s dealing with the pressures of fame and – through a desperate, life-threatening act – begins a journey towards self-awareness and true self-acceptance. Accompanying her is Kaz (Parker) a police officer with a bright future in politics ahead of him – who also has to accept some truths about his own journey.

Now if you’ve seen any of the trailers, it’s easy to surmise that Noni’s “mom-ager” Macy, a role delivered skillfully by Minnie Driver, plays a huge part in the pressures experienced by the her daughter. However, the layers of this film!  You know I won’t spoil, but I will say that Mrs. Bythewood is a master at drawing you into each character’s experience and coupled with Driver’s performance – the audience does come to relate a bit more to Macy’s choices and actions towards her daughter.

Okay, so many of you are going to hear from your less emotive friends that they don’t want to see a so-called “chick flick” or something similar.  I urge you to share with them this beautiful comment from a woman, named Stephanie, posted on the film’s Facebook page:

“Saw this in Denver on Wednesday, with my teen son. Exceptionally well-crafted, tastefully shot, great story, and excellent soundtrack. Teen boy said “Kind of a chick flick, but not too much…I liked it!” And we talked about it for an hour after! Not a film I would have prioritized attending, based on title/poster/IMDB – but definitely a “don’t miss” – it’s hard to find a PG-13 with substance!”

Another highlight for me?  The legendary Danny Glover, who plays Kaz’s father Captain Nicol.  Y’all know I love Mr. Glover and would watch him recite phone book entries – I’m not even kidding! 🙂  But seriously, with a standout cast, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s dynamic turn as a pop star – doing some of her own singing,  including an a capella version of  Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” – this is not a film to miss in theaters.  And to my fellow “emotives,” don’t fret. This movie will tear you down at some parts, but don’t worry – you’ll rejoice in the end.

Check out the trailer below and come back and leave a thought or two in the comments section when you see the movie. And all of my giveaway winners, you’re not off the hook! Leave some comments too. 🙂

Until next thought family, Thomasena

 

 

A Quick Review of LUV

luv-LUVCommonMichaelRaineyJrCredit_BillGray_rgb

Hey there Music Movie fam!  How is 2013 treating you so far?  I have to tell you, I’ve been very blessed by it and we are only two weeks in, so I can’t wait to see what else this year has to offer :). Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of viewing a film that comes out this Friday, January 18th, called LUV starring actor, rapper Common (Just Wright, American Gangster) and newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.  With both of the aforementioned delivering powerful performances, the film also features standout performances from Charles S. Dutton (The Obama Effect, Fame), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Mooz-lum), Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire, Brooklyn’s Finest) and the incomparable, insurance selling voice himself Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24).  LUV also has a cameo by the talented Meagan Good (Think Like A Man, Deception), and I know my fellow “Sparklelites” will appreciate seeing veteran actor Lonette McKee (Sparkle – 1976, Malcolm X) on the big screen delivering a solid performance as Common’s mother.

luv-LUVDennisHaysbertCredit_BillGray_rgbLUV tells the story of 11-year-old Woody Watson who, with his mother in rehab and his father out of the picture, lives with his grandmother (Lonette McKee) in suburban Baltimore and longs for his family to be reunited. His charismatic Uncle Vincent (Common) has recently returned home after eight years in prison, determined to straighten out his life by opening a high-end crab shack that will establish him as a solid citizen with a legitimate future.

One day, instead of dropping Woody off at school, Vincent decides to give the boy a tutorial on how a man gets things done. After a trip to a tailor to get Woody a custom-fitted suit, the pair heads to the bank to sign off on the loan Vincent needs to fulfill his dreams. But when his meeting with a bank officer puts the brakes on his plans, Vincent has no one to turn to for help but his former associates, including Baltimore crime boss Mr. Fish (Dennis Haysbert) and his brother Arthur (Danny Glover). A day that begins with a parking- lot driving lesson and Woody’s first oyster takes a desperate turn when Fish insists Vincent run one more drug deal to demonstrate his loyalty. Soon Vincent finds himself pulled back into the violent world he is trying to escape—and Woody has to decide whether to follow his hero…or become his own man. luv-Common-Danny_rgb
LUV is the début feature film by director Sheldon Candis, from a script by Candis and Justin Wilson, and is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen in a long time.  Mr. Candis was brilliant in his depiction of his native Baltimore, drawing the viewer in to the point of eerie familiarity; I swore at times I was looking at Philly streets.  The movie also moves well with a 1 hour 34 minute running time, and keeps your attention until its climactic ending. You know I don’t do spoilers, but I will say there are some gritty and violent parts, with adult language, hence an R rating.  I would highly recommend this movie for mature pre-teens and teens, as there are definitely some honest lessons to be shared.  And for the weeping willows, like myself, you may want to bring tissue (that’s all :P).

Now remember, this is an independent film and that means…you guessed it, support it opening weekend!  And make sure to do it Friday, Saturday or a matinée on Sunday so those numbers can make the most impact :).  You can check out the trailer below, and stop back by and let me know your thoughts after you see the film.

Until next thought family, Thomasena