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.

 

TV Thoughts: Is BEING MARY JANE in Jeopardy? Gabrielle Union Suing BET over breach of contract

Gabrielle Union

Over the past three years, there have been several shows to which I became addicted – Empire (MMT live tweet every Wednesday @musicfilmdiva), Power, American Crime, Daredevil, Atlanta, Queen Sugar, Luke Cage and – the show that premiered on BET as a movie with a subsequent half-year wait before its episodic début – BEING MARY JANE. Now Deadline Hollywood has broken the story that star of the latter, Gabrielle Union, has filed a lawsuit against the BET network for breach of contract.

According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court by the actress’s attorney Marty Singer,

“Although BET represented and assured Ms. Union before she agreed to perform in Being Mary Jane that it would never produce more than thirteen (13) episodes per season of the series,” the suit says, “BET now wants to shoot twenty (20) episodes of the series back-to-back and cram all of the episodes into a single season in order to fraudulently extend the term of Ms. Union’s contract, with no additional consideration, and to deprive Ms. Union of her agreed-upon compensation for the next two seasons of Being Mary Jane. It is outrageous that BET would treat one of its biggest stars in this manner after all she has done to support the network and contribute to its success.”

The actress is seeking damages to the tune of three million dollars, and a declaration that the network cannot request over 13 episodes per season.

This news comes just days after the welcome announcement of actor Michael Ealy joining the cast, opposite Union, for the upcoming fourth season. It also coincides with anticipated changes following the transition of showrunner Mara Brock Akil and husband/director Salim Akil – who left BET network after signing a deal with Warner Bros. TV. The Akils will retain executive producer credit, along with additions Will Packer and new show head Erica Shelton Kodish.

Let’s pray that “Being Mary Jane” not only makes it past this legal brouhaha, but that it continues successfully through seasons four and five – because let’s face it, The Following (add that to the above addiction list), Almost Human, Common Law, and Sleeper Cell were all cursed with cancellation, and the one common denominator was Ealy!

No shade towards Michael Ealy, I believe he was great in each role – especially my faves The Following and Sleeper Cell, where he played a serial killer/sociopath and an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a terrorist cell respectively. (Side note: I joked with Mr. Ealy about missing Sleeper Cell in a previous interview here).

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

MMT Quick Review: THE BIRTH OF A NATION by contributor Darryl King

The Birth of a Nation

We all fall short of the Glory of God…

How does one separate the message from the messenger? Is that possible or realistic? With the fallibility of mankind, does it become necessary to be able to separate what’s been created from its creator without endorsing the actions and deeds of the individual? And if one can, is that what makes him/her most human? 

Well that’s where I found myself as it pertains to the new movie THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The film depicts the life and times of revolutionary preacher Nat Turner – who in the early eighteen hundreds led a slave insurrection against the oppressive systems and people of the times that was America… that was slavery.

This film was written, directed and stars Nate Parker, a mercurial artist that used his talent to tell a very important story/work. But there is an ominous cloud hovering over the life of Parker – a court case from 1999 where he was accused of rape, but later acquitted.  

His friend Jean Celestin (and co-writer of “The Birth of a Nation”) was also involved, found guilty, served time and then had his charges overturned. Unfortunately, the woman involved committed suicide in 2012. Without knowing all the answers, most questions have since been answered by the actions/attitude of Nate Parker.

Why am I discussing this? Because there are many who won’t be able to move beyond the 1999 case, and will form opinions based upon Parker’s seemingly callous attitude towards the woman and her family.  His insistence of innocence often comes across as antagonistic – causing the sympathy or support to be gained for Parker and his work by some to slowly dissipate. 

So, if the weight of this tragedy and Parker’s past hinders your ability to see and support “The Birth of a Nation” that is understandable. Yet, I believe we owe it to ourselves to explore and dissect this incredible film, based on the merits of its content. “The Birth of a Nation” delves into the life of an important figure in Black history during a time that requires examination.

So, as I sat after viewing the press screening, I felt frozen in time.  For me, it had been a long time since I found myself like a deer in headlights after watching a powerful movie. “Good Will Hunting” was such a film. 

Because this story is historical, and if you know the story of Nat Turner, the power in it lies not in the final battle but in the journey towards the inevitable. The insurrection led to many deaths and on the surface wasn’t successful, but inside the movement started a revolution amongst enslaved people to fight against their oppressors.

“Birth of a Nation” is a beautiful work of art, strong in storytelling and filmmaking. Starting with the direction, Nate Parker does a wonderful job with exquisite and symbolic establishing shots. The storytelling is slow-paced, and for some could be deemed boring, but it needed to be to be effective in crafting a story without gratuitous violence or sex. 

Many slave narratives and shows believe that the emotionality of slavery is found by displaying physical degradation, but a good film can carry the same power within the context of a good script. We don’t need to see the physical manifestation of slavery to know how deplorable it is.

There isn’t much to say about the supporting cast like Gabrielle Union, Aja Naomi King and Armie Hammer because, although they are good in their respective roles, this movie is driven by the main character of Nat Turner, and it his screen time that captivates your soul.

Overall, “The Birth of a Nation” will emotionally move your heart and mind. It will leave you asking questions and seeking answers. Answers that are greater than the movie and the life of Nate Parker. Flawed or not, the artistic creation of this important movie is all the ammunition needed to give birth… to a new nation.

Darryl King (photo courtesy of Darryl King)Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. In addition to his popular comic book movie reviews, you can check out his reviews of Deepwater Horizon and The Magnificent Seven right here on MMT.

MMT June 2016 Netflix Picks

 

Happy Sunday MMT Fam! I know it’s the last weekend of the month, but we’re still in June so this list qualifies! Plus for those who get a three-day July 4th holiday next weekend, this may come in handy. 😉 There have been some great additions to Netflix in the past couple of months, and I was really excited about the inclusion of this first choice. BEING MARY JANE is one of my favorite cable shows/guilty pleasures and the third season is now available for streaming.

Featuring Gabrielle Union in the leading role, “Being Mary Jane” follows Mary Jane Paul- a successful and wealthy journalist/tv personality who (by all outside appearances) seems to have it all together – but does she really? The series explores Mary Jane’s struggles with relationships – intimate, familial, and work – career highs/lows, and highlights some heavy issues along the way – including substance abuse, mental illness, suicide, racial and gender disparities and much more.

I fell in love with “Being Mary Jane” during its 2013 première, and it hasn’t let me down since. Created by phenom Mara Brock Akil, who is turning over the reigns with the upcoming fourth season, the show also stars heavyweights Margaret Avery as Mary Jane’s mother Helen and Richard Roundtree as her father Patrick. Now for those who haven’t seen any the first two seasons, just know that it is well worth the binge – if you’re so inclined. And for those, like myself, that like to re-watch favorite episodes, grab those snacks and get into it!

My next pick is one from ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series entitled 30 FOR 30: THIS MAGIC MOMENT, which chronicles the formation and ultimate dissolution of the mid-1990’s Orlando Magic basketball “dream team,” which never quite became the cohesive and dominant unit the franchise expected. The story is related by several key players, including basketball greats Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

And remember last month when I told you about “Ip Man” and its two sequels? Well IP MAN 3 is currently streaming and it is a fun watch – especially for those who enjoy martial arts films. Donnie Yen as Master Ip never ceases to amaze me during fights scenes, and Ip’s rival Cheung Tin-Chi (portrayed by Jin Zhang) also performs the fight choreography as a thing of beauty. And that Mike Tyson scene? Actually worked so much better than I’d expected in the overall story.

This final pick is a heavy-themed one, but the acting is impeccable and it was one of my favorite films from 2015. I’m speaking of the Academy-award nominated movie SPOTLIGHT, which featured an all-star cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian D’arcy James.

“Spotlight” tells the story of the Pulitzer prize-winning Boston Globe news team that broke the Catholic church sex abuse scandal. As I stated in my review last year, I appreciated how this film highlighted the amount of effort and sacrifice these journalists made – and though I’m sure it doesn’t compare to what the actual spotlight team members went through, it gives some insight into what the cost may have been for each.

And though there are no sex scenes displayed, it is important that I give a trigger warning – as there are moments where activity is described by fictional victims.

Okay, that’s it for now MMT Fam. Ooh, and don’t forget the BET Awards are airing tonight at 8P/7C. I can’t wait to see its Prince Tribute!

Until next thought, Thomasena

UPDATED: IP Man: The Final Fight is not a part of the original Ip Man series. This post and May 2016 Netflix Picks has been updated to reflect that error.

 

 

GIVEAWAY: special advanced screening of TOP FIVE on Tuesday, December 9 (Philly, PA area)

 

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What’s new MMT Family?  We have a very special giveaway this evening!  We’ve partnered with Allied-THA to give away a pair of “reserved-seating” passes to the advanced screening of TOP FIVE next Tuesday night in King of Prussia – and I hear writer, director and star Chris Rock is scheduled to appear – so you won’t want to miss this!

Want to put your name in the hat?  You have to work for this one family!  Keeping with the theme “Top Five,”  I’ve listed my top movie soundtracks in the above gallery.  It was very hard for me to only list five because I have eight other films that I can rattle of as honorable mentions – and then I’m still not finished listing! But maybe some of my omissions will end up on the lists you send!  That’s right, to enter I’m asking for your “Top Five” movie soundtrack lists emailed to thinkmusicmovies@gmail.com.  I will select a winner at random and notify he or she by Sunday night.  To be eligible to win, you must be a follower of this website.

You can read the synopsis and watch the trailer for TOP FIVE below, and get additional information at the official website here.

Let me know your thoughts about my “top five” family in the comments and good luck!

Until next thought, Thomasena

SYNOPSIS:
Written, directed , and starring Chris Rock, TOP FIVE tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist (Rosario Dawson) forces him to confront the comedy career—and the past—that he’s left behind.  Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union,  Cedric The Entertainer, JB Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart,  Anders Holm, Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, Sherri Shepherd,  Leslie Jones.  The film is produced by Scott Rudin and Eli Bush.  The Co-Producers are Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Kanye West; the Executive Music Producer is Questlove.

 

 

GIVEAWAY: advanced screening for ‘Think Like A Man Too’ Thursday, June 12 (Philly, PA)

TLAM2_DOM_TSR_1SHT (1)

What’s up MMT Family? So, who’s been waiting for Sony Pictures’ Think Like a Man Too to hit theaters?  Yeah, I didn’t think it was just me! And some of you are in luck, because MMT is giving away passes to the advanced screening this Thursday in Philly.

To try your luck at passes, click here and enter code MMTTLAM if asked.  Both passes and Thursday night seating are on a first come-first served basis, so try to arrive at the theater early!

You can check out the trailer and synopsis below of “Think Like A Man Too” and make sure to stop back and leave a comment or two if you screen it.  Good Luck Family!

Until next thought, Thomasena

THINK LIKE A MAN TOO synopsis

In the highly anticipated sequel, which was inspired by Steve Harvey’s best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man, all the couples are back for a wedding in Las Vegas.  But plans for a romantic weekend go awry when their various misadventures get them into some compromising situations that threaten to derail the big event.

 In Theaters June 20, 2014