MMT Quick Review of ‘SOUTHPAW’

Southpaw (The Weinstein Company)

Happy Thursday MMT Family!  I screened the new Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) film SOUTHPAW last week and I don’t know how I’m going to get through this quick review with no spoilers – but I’m committed, so I’ll try!  Let me just start with this, I went in to the movie without reading anything, synopsis or otherwise, and only knew who the main players were and it was about boxing – of which I’m an avid fan. So I was NOT ready when the pivotal moment came  – which I won’t spoil here, since I can’t find reference of it in any of the trailers released.  And since I was the only person of color at a morning press screening,  I stopped myself from fulfilling any version of the movie stereotype by talking out loud – so instead this was me literally:

Cry meme

Yes, both emotions shown were me, simultaneously!

In short, SOUTHPAW tells the story of Billy “The Great” Hope (Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal), a former Hell’s Kitchen, raised “in the system,” foster kid who made good on the American dream – marrying the love of his life (Rachel McAdams), starting a family, and becoming the reigning lightweight boxing champion of the world. Hope’s world gets interrupted by a tragic event, that triggers an immediate downward life spiral. Abandoned by many closest to him, including his business manager – portrayed by Curtis “50” Cent Jackson – Billy is forced to confront his own demons and manage his actions in order to take back his life – which includes requesting help from a retired fighter/trainer named Tick (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker).

Now I must be honest, the script is formulaic. You have the average kid who’s expected to do nothing with his life, does great despite his flaws, has life-altering experience, loses much, fights back with the help of a mentor, and finds redemption. And at times, I saw some parallels to other films – especially with Hope’s boxing nemesis, whose lines are reminiscent of Mr. T’s in Rocky III. However, the story definitely grabbed my attention after the pivot, and I couldn’t help but root for the main character to find his way back. Gyllenhaal really dug deep for this role, and his performance is certainly believable – can we talk just one minute about how cut he became for this role!? Yasss, Jake! 😉

And I don’t know about you, but I believe Curtis Jackson – aka “50 Cent” –  has grown into a really good actor. Did anyone catch him in 2011’s All Things Fall Apart? You certainly need to find and watch that one if you haven’t.

I also mentioned that this is an Antoine Fuqua directed film, so expect it to be real, rough, and raw at times – especially with the fight scenes.  Fuqua never pulls any punches, pun intended, when it comes to telling a story – so know that this one is not for the faint of heart, and takes you through a variety of emotions.

And as someone from the social work field, I have to say I nearly screamed during a court scene – but again I was the only POC in the theater so this was me (speaking in my head):

oprah 2

I’m down to offer any scriptwriter/director my consulting services when it comes to portraying kids in courtrooms – okay, that’s all I’ll say…no spoilers, I remember!

All-in-all, SOUTHPAW is an entertaining film with some great performances. It will feel familiar, because some things have been done before, but I still enjoyed it. You can watch a trailer for the film below and get additional info at the official website here.

Stop back and let me know your thoughts after you see the film! Until next thought, Thomasena

MMT Quick Review: DOPE

dope

Happy Friday MMT Family!  I am so excited to finally write about Open Road films’ DOPE – which so far is my absolute favorite film of 2015! If you’ve heard anything about it, I highly doubt that it was bad as writer/director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Brown Sugar) has truly changed the game on the “high school dramedy” – with a proper dose of social commentary thrown in for good measure. The film – produced by actor/director Forest Whitaker – was also a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

DOPE follows the journey of high school senior Malcom (Shameik Moore) and his fellow misfit friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) – from their unknowing entry into a drug scenario (slight spoiler) through their clever attempt to beat the odds and the drug dealers at their own game. Famuyiwa focuses once more on his beloved Inglewood, as with his critically acclaimed feature The Wood, which works brilliantly with the commentary on race, stereotypes and identity in the film.

I really enjoyed the star cameos – which included Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls, John Q) and Roger Guenveur Smith (Cover, American Gangster). As well as rapper A$AP Rocky in a very comical screen début, and a performance by the extremely talented Zoe Kravitz (Insurgent, Yelling to the Sky) who really has shined in several films in recent years – and come into her own nicely (her band Lolawolf included) outside of her famous parents’ (Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz) notoriety. It was also great to see actor D’aundre Bonds (Gangster Squad, The Wood) – who had a couple of pretty funny moments as a high school security guard.

Add to that the 90’s hip-hop score curated by executive producer Pharrell Williams – who also created four original songs for the film – and DOPE conjures up feel-good nostalgic memories interspersed with laughs that are plentiful for the taking.

And you know we don’t do too much spoiling on this site, but just know that social media and technology is ingeniously highlighted in DOPE, including the online currency site Bitcoin, so it is fitting that this is the first film to accept Bitcoin payment for ticket purchases.

Alright MMT Fam, if I keep writing I will start giving spoilers – I enjoyed the film that much!  I need to come up with a rating system for the MMT site!  Any suggestions for symbols? Let me know in the comments when you share your thoughts on the film!

Until next thought family, Thomasena

PS – the trailer below is uncensored, so be careful (NSFW) 🙂

GIVEAWAY: advanced screening for DOPE on Tuesday, June 16 (Philly, PA)

DOPE (photo: Open Road Films)

Happy Sunday MMT Family!  If you didn’t get a chance to screen DOPE last time around, here’s a second chance at it – but you’ve got to be quick! We’ve been given additional passes for the screening happening this Tuesday, June 16. This giveaway is an open one, so go and claim tickets asap – until they’re gone!

You can go to Gofobo and enter code DOPEPHL or click here to go directly to our giveaway page and select the “get my passes” prompt.  Tickets, like theater seating, are not guaranteed and are on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can read the synopsis and watch the below trailer for DOPE, and get additional information about the film at the official movie website here.

Good Luck! Until next thought, Thomasena

DOPE synopsis

A critical hit and audience favorite out of the Sundance Film Festival, in DOPE, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.

A Quick Review of Black Nativity

Black Nativity (courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Happy Thanksgiving MMT Family!  Also wishing a happy holiday to those celebrating Hanukkah!  I am very thankful always for family, friends and faith, and for the exciting interviews and movie screenings I’ve been able to experience this past year.  I was able to screen the holiday film Black Nativity last week, and although it was a bit clichéd I did enjoy the movie.

The Kasi Lemmon’s directed/written (screenplay) Black Nativity is a contemporary adaptation of an original play written by the great poet/writer/activist Langston Hughes. The story follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), a stubborn teen from Baltimore who has been raised by a single mother (Jennifer Hudson), as he travels to New York City and spends Christmas with his estranged grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett).  Themes of revelation, healing and forgiveness abound, and although several moments are predictable, these themes keep the audience invested through the ending.

With both Whitaker and Bassett on board, you know the film has some performance power; although I must tell you this film was in one of my faves, Jennifer Hudson’s, lane.  She stole the show with her musical numbers.  And there were some great moments with actor/singer Tyrese Gibson, singer Luke James, rapper Nasir Jones (NAS) and the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” herself Mary J. Blige.

With a PG rating and 93 minute running time, Black Nativity is a great pick for the family Thanksgiving outing.  You can get more info about the film and get ticket/showtime info here.

Alright family, I know this was a super short one but I gotta go check on my macaroni and cheese! 🙂

Until next thought, Thomasena

GIVEAWAY: win passes to screen ‘Black Nativity’ (Philly, PA)

Black Nativity (courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

MMT Family, do I have another giveaway for you!  We’ve partnered with Allied-THA for your chance to screen Fox Searchlight’s Black Nativity , which has an all-star cast including Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Hudson. The movie opens Thanksgiving Day nationwide, and I haven’t seen yet but am hearing it is a great one for family viewing.

The screening will take place next Wednesday, November 20 in Philadelphia.  To put your name in the hat to screen “Black Nativity” you should:

  1. make sure you’ve signed up/subscribed to follow this site or the sister Facebook page.  If you’re a new subscriber to this site, make sure you check for the confirmation email and click the link inside to verify (this is our way to ensure you’re not a robot/spammer) AND
  2. send an email with the subject line “Black Nativity” to thinkmusicmovies@aol.com and your full name in the body.                    

Winners will be notified by Monday, November 18.  You can read a synopsis of Black Nativity below and check out the trailer at the official website here.

Alright family, good luck!  Until next thought, Thomasena

Black Nativity synopsis

In a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ celebrated play, the holiday musical drama BLACK NATIVITY follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother, as he journeys to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Unwilling to live by the imposing Reverend Cobbs’ rules, a frustrated Langston is determined to return home to his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson). Langston embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey and along with new friends, and a little divine intervention, he discovers the true meaning of faith, healing, and family.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: a quick review and discussion with Lee Daniels and Cuba Gooding Jr.

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Back in July I had the distinct privilege of sitting at a round-table interview with Academy Award nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious, Monster’s Ball) and Academy Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr (Jerry Maguire, Red Tails), who were in town to promote the upcoming movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  This “inspired by a true story” film has been widely received and garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.  I’ve personally received several emails, from last night’s screening giveaway winners, and each one of them was filled with emotionally charged statements that sang praises for this film.

As I was preparing to screen the movie a few weeks ago, I was still coping with the recent Zimmerman verdict, and the racially charged reactions that ensued, and appreciating the timeliness of a movie like Fruitvale Station being released.  And my spirit was still in “fighting mad” mode. How appropriate it was for me then to view the story of Cecil Gaines; who in the Daniels’ film is portrayed by Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland).  Cecil Gaines is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House under seven presidential administrations as a butler.  His position, and its corresponding demeanor, puts him at odds with his eldest son, portrayed in the movie by actor David Oyelowo (Red Tails, Middle of Nowhere); and his commitment to his job/role helps to introduce conflict into the Gaines family dynamic in more ways than one.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler serves as a pertinent reminder of those whose contributions to the struggle aren’t as frequently discussed or highly regarded.  The film is powerful in its display of the quiet resiliency of the main character, and in Daniels’ remarkable ability to help the audience connect to each character’s truth.  I can’t readily name one film, of recent memory, that took me through various emotions while viewing, and this film accomplished that feat with ease.  There were several persons who left the press screening I attended with tear-filled eyes; some joyful, some with pride.  It is definitely that kind of film.

(l to r, standing) Lee Daniels, Alex Gibson, Le Anne Lindsay, Thomasena Farrar, (l to r, seated) Cuba Gooding Jr., Yaya Alafia
(l to r, standing) Lee Daniels, Alex Gibson, Le Anne Lindsay, Thomasena Farrar, (l to r, seated) Cuba Gooding Jr., Yaya Alafia. Photo courtesy: Le Anne Lindsay (Tinsel & Tine)

What a pleasure it was then to sit with both director (Daniels) and one of the stars of the film (Gooding Jr.),  who were also joined by talented co-star Yaya Alafia (see her full interview in August 13 post), at the posh Rittenhouse Hotel to ask a couple of signature questions.  When you’re part of a round-table time is of the essence, we were only given approximately 15 minutes combined, hence the couple of questions! So listen to the audio below (warning some profanity), and take note of Lee Daniels’ response to my sharing my favorite Lee Daniels’ film!  Shout out to my co-panel Le Anne Lindsay of Tinsel & Tine, and Alex Gibson of the Philadelphia Film Society, and to Brian Chacon for helping with the audio edit.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler opens this Friday, August 16 nationwide.  The film is rated PG-13 and I highly recommend it for ages teen and above (and maybe those tweens who can process mature language and violence).  Stop back and share your thoughts after you see it.

Until next thought family,  Thomasena

A chat with ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ co-star Yaya Alafia

Yaya Alafia at "Lee Daniels' The Butler" Philadelphia Red Carpet Premiere (photo: Monica Lyons at Sista Pics Photography)
Yaya Alafia at “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” Philadelphia red carpet premiere (photo: Monica Lyons at Sista Pics Photography)

Back in July, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Yaya Alafia, formerly DaCosta, whom faithful reality television viewers may remember as first runner-up from season 3 of America’s Next Top Model (2003).  Since then, the talented actress has been seen in various films and projects, from 2006’s Take the Lead to this year’s breakout independent hit Neil Drumming’s Big Words with actor Dorian Missick. Ms. Alafia was in Philadelphia to promote the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in which she portrays Carol, a Fisk University student, turned Freedom Rider, turned Black Panther during the tumultuous Civil Rights movement.  We discussed everything from her preparation for her role in the film, to her musical preferences.  Coincidentally, I’d viewed “Big Words” the day before I screened the Daniels’ film, so there was an unexpected (on my part) question that I needed to ask first:

MMT: One of the things that surprised me watching “Big Words” was that you sing!  Is that something you enjoy showcasing or will we see that again on the screen?

YA: It’s not something that I have focused on until this point, so we’ll see.

MMT: Have you trained at all or are you just naturally gifted in that way?

YA:  I am not naturally gifted in that way, it just sounded really good in the movie! (laughs)

MMT: Your character in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” goes from peaceful, protesting Freedom Rider to a more militant character.  Was there a different level of preparation for each?

YA:  I was just with Carol the whole time.  I’ve had experiences where there was that transition, from a more innocent to a more fierce outrage.  And I make choices everyday, (meaning) there is a situation, there’s something that needs to be checked but how do I do it.  And so the earlier Carol was more naïve, maybe more graceful, and the latter was “I’ve had enough” and she was justified. All I had to do was tap into that outrage and there are a lot of opportunities everyday, both in the news and the world, for a person of color (to use).

MMT: This movie has such a large ensemble cast, was it intimidating to share screen time with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo?

YA: I wouldn’t say intimidating, I would say exciting and inspiring!  I’ve been super blessed from the beginning of my professional career. My first job was with Alfre Woodard and Antonio Banderas (Take the Lead), and then I was on a TV show with Vanessa Williams…

MMT: Which I loved you in Ugly Betty, have to mention that!

YA: Thank you (smiles).  And I’m not going down this list to brag, but to (acknowledge) I’ve been nurtured, in my young career, in the company of all these amazing people.  I did theater with Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Leslie Uggams, so just feeling welcomed and having these stars tell me special things that boost your confidence as a young actor.  At the beginning of my career, I didn’t even call myself an actor.  I was a young person who finished college and was trying lots of different jobs, but acting was always my passion.  To be encouraged to own it and, as one of these (actors) said, “take your seat at our table”  was wonderful.  So when I was cast, I was like this is huge.  Even though I’m not in scenes with Clarence Williams III or Robin Williams, to be in the same film is amazing.  It’s humbling, but it was very inspiring.

MMT: Okay, I’m going to switch gears a bit.  I always ask something for my music fans, so if you could portray any artist/musician, past or present, who would it be and why?

YA: I don’t know if this is the ultimate answer but the first person that comes to mind because of the timing, and the fact that everybody keeps saying I should because of what I look like, is Whitney Houston.   We thought about that before she passed; but after people were anxious wanting to honor her legacy and make a film.  I don’t know if anyone’s doing it, but that’s definitely something other people have told me, and it’s now in my head like “yeah, I could do that.”

The beautiful Ms. Alafia also mentioned that she has a love for older music, including standards, and admires singers from the likes of Sarah Vaughn to Chaka Khan.  Like her versatility in song, she has been multifaceted in the projects she’s carefully chosen.  It is the mark of a woman who stands completely confident in and is aware of her gift, and its social impact.  As a fan, I look forward to continuing to watch her light shine.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” opens nationwide this Friday, August 16.  Yaya Alafia can also be seen in “Big Words,” currently in limited release (go to official movie website here or AFFRM.com) and in the upcoming film by director Andrew Dosunmu “Mother of George,” which is set to open on September 13.

Check back Wednesday for my interview with director Lee Daniels and star Cuba Gooding Jr. 🙂

Until next thought family, Thomasena

GIVEAWAY: win passes to screen Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Philly, PA)

Lee Daniels' The Butler (courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

MMT Family, you knew I was going to hook you up with this one right?  Allied-THA has granted passes to screen The Weinstein Company’s “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” here in Philly, PA next Tuesday night (August 13).  I know you’ve seen the trailer and read the synopsis if you follow this site, and trust me you do not want to miss this film!  With a magnificent ensemble cast, the movie stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr. and the list goes on.

To put your name in the hat, send an email to thinkmusicmovies@aol.com with the subject line ‘The Butler’ and your full name in the body.  All winners will be notified by this Saturday.  Want to increase you chances of winning?  Then make sure you are signed up to follow this site (see sign up on the right) or have liked our sister Facebook page here.

I’ve added the trailer again below, just because I think it’s great, and for your convenience. 🙂  Okay family, good luck!

Until next thought, Thomasena

FRUITVALE STATION: a review and Q & A with writer/director Ryan Coogler

MICHAEL B. JORDAN, OCTAVIA SPENCER, RYAN COOGLER behind the scenes in FRUITVALE STATION (courtesy of The Weinstein Company)
MICHAEL B. JORDAN, OCTAVIA SPENCER, RYAN COOGLER behind the scenes in FRUITVALE STATION
(courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

I can remember, back in January of 2009, starting the New Year as many do with new goals set, new expectations for myself, and the feeling of a fresh start. Then several days later, I was one of many persons who viewed a terrible tragedy on a YouTube video. It was a haunting and poignant reminder of how precious life is and how sudden it can be taken. I’m of course referring to the death of 22-years-old Oscar Grant III, who was murdered on January 1st, 2009 by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit District) police officer at the now infamous Fruitvale subway stop in Oakland, CA. Oscar was removed from the train by BART officers, after he fought with rivals, and was shot in the back while lying face down on the train platform.

Among those persons who viewed the video was then 22-year-old film student Ryan Coogler, who explained in promotional materials that the event itself and the subsequent aftermath inspired him to make FRUITVALE STATION. “During the trial I saw how the situation became politicized: depending on which side of the political fence people stood on, Oscar was either cast as a saint who had never done anything wrong in his life, or he was painted as a monster who got what he deserved that night. I felt that in that process, Oscar’s humanity was lost. When anyone’s life is lost, the true nature of the tragedy lies in who they were to the people that knew him or her the best.”

Spawned by Coogler’s passion to share Oscar’s story with humanity, and with Academy-award winners Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) signed on as producers (with Spencer also portraying Grant’s mother in the film), “Fruitvale Station” has taken audiences and critics by storm, winning awards at both the Cannes and Sundance festivals. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with, the now 27-year-old, Ryan Coogler who visited Philadelphia with his beautiful fiancée, Zinzi, for a press tour back in June.

I know you are a counselor at Juvenile Hall (in San Francisco). If you were watching the film with the kids you work with, what is the one thing you would want them to take from the story?

The fact that they, and people like them, have something to live for. And the idea that if their lives are cut short, their loved ones feel the consequences, as well as others that they may not know or those that they may have had conflict.

I was one of the persons who viewed one of the videotapes not long after the tragedy occurred. And I was amazed at how much I wanted Oscar to succeed in this journey (you explored in the film) even though I knew he wouldn’t. What has been the most surprising, or gratifying, reaction you’ve received to the movie so far?

It is two things. When audience members share they’ve never heard of the case, and I think it’s amazing that you can do some work and it enlightens even one person about an event. And the other is when people come up to me, usually people of different backgrounds, and say that they will never look at a case or headline about somebody like Oscar the same again.

I was curious about the scenes with the woman (Katie) at the fish market, and the web designer (Pete) he met. Were those characters representatives of people he met or actual people?

They are representatives. The character Katie is a combo of two real people. The fish market scene really happened. And there was a white woman Oscar had met earlier that day (New Year’s Eve), who was at BART and recognized him before the fight. She taped the altercation on the train platform, took the video immediately to the family at the hospital, and also testified in court about what she saw.

Coogler’s story of Oscar Grant and Grant’s journey on what would be his last day is nothing short of amazing storytelling. The film captures the audience at the shocking first scene; and yes I will go off script with this spoiler: the opening scene is one of the videotapes from January 1st, 2009 so be prepared. And the film leaves you breathless through the ending scene, which is nothing if not heartbreaking. Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails, Friday Night Lights) gives a riveting performance as Oscar Grant III, and I cannot see him or Coogler nomination-less next award season. And Octavia Spencer is just dramatic gold in her on-screen portrayal of Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson.

“Fruitvale Station” opened last Friday in select theaters in both NY and LA, is being released in additional theaters (including Philadelphia) this Friday, July 19, and will open nationwide on Friday, July 26. On the heels of the Zimmerman verdict, and simply on its own merit, Fruitvale is a MUST SEE. To find showtimes and theaters in an area near you, click here. You can also get additional information about Oscar Grant and the Oscar Grant Foundation by clicking here.

I am really looking forward to reading your comments after you see this magnificent film. Until next thought family, Thomasena