MMT February 2017 Netflix Picks

Happy Oscar Sunday MMT Fam! I must admit, since I’ve only posted an award schedule previously this year, that I’m a bit disinterested in the Academy Award area – but not for lack of something to celebrate! I am very much aware, and proud to say, that this year we’ll witness a record six black actors – Denzel Washington, Ruth Negga, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis – represented throughout each acting category, and Dev Patel as only the third actor of Indian descent and 13th of Asian descent to receive a nomination (Best Supporting for Lion).

It’s also worth noting that the Best Supporting Actress nominations of Viola Davis, Naomie Harris and Octavia Spencer is the first time multiple black nominees have been in that category since 1985 – when both Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey were nominated for The Color Purple. And the nomination of Ms. Viola also makes her the most nominated black actress in the history of the Oscars!

There are a couple of other areas that I’ll be noting, like the Best Documentary Feature category – where first time nominee Ava DuVernay  is being recognized for her work 13th – the first African American female director nominated for feature film – along with directors Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated), Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) and Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America) – and the one I’m most anticipating, Best Cinematography, where Bradford Young is the first African-American to receive the nomination for Arrival.

If you’re not familiar with Young’s cinematography, and you have a Netflix account, you’re in luck because there are several listed on the service. I’ve reviewed a few of them on this site previously, so I will put up trailers and hyperlink titles (if there’s a prior post) below for convenience. There are also two of his works – Mother of George and A Most Violent Year – that are no longer streaming on Netflix, but are available if you have the DVD plan.  But if you can find them somewhere else, and haven’t viewed already, they’re worth the find. I’ll never forget watching Mother of George at Blackstar one year, and the collective gasp the audience gave at the twist! It was truly a gut-punch moment.

Let me know if you’ll be watching the Oscars tonight, and what you’re most interested in seeing in the comments below. And let me know if you’ve seen any of the recommended films!

PS – you know I wouldn’t mind seeing Davis, and Mr. Washington especially as writer/director/actor, take the gold for Fences! If you missed it, check out the MMT chat with stars Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo from the film here.

Until next thought, Thomasena

Middle of Nowhere

Mississippi Damned

Pariah

 

MMT Quick Review of SELMA

Selma (photo: Paramount)

Merry Christmas MMT Family!  I am so excited to this share this review for SELMA, which opens Christmas Day limited release in NY, LA, ATL and D.C. – and nationwide on January 9. I am not exaggerating when I say I believe this film to be the best film of 2014.

For me it is cinematic perfection from start to finish – the story well-written, the acting superb, a wonderful all-star cast, and the film itself visually stunning. The latter adjective courtesy of cinematographer Bradford Young, who also worked with “Selma” director Ava DuVernay on her highly acclaimed film “Middle of Nowhere.” Both DuVernay and Young’s names are in the running as early award season favorites – DuVernay being the first female African-American director to receive the Golden Globe Best Director nomination, with “Selma” receiving three additional Globe nods, and two films Young worked this year “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year” getting AFI Best Film listed and named National Board Review’s Best Picture respectively.

For those not familiar, Selma is the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the historic marches to secure voting rights for African-Americans – a dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. DuVernay also serves as an uncredited writer, and executive producer along with Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey also appears in the film as civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper.

Two of the many things I enjoyed very much about Selma were the film’s depiction of the female involvement in the civil rights movement and the nuances displayed in King’s personal relationships. DuVernay does not shy away from the documented extra-marital affairs that plagued King’s marriage to wife Coretta, and chooses instead to show Dr. King in his first big-screen depiction exactly as he was – both a flawed and selfless human being who achieved and sacrificed greatly for the sake of the masses. To read more about DuVernay’s choice to depict King in a nuanced fashion, and what some of the King family members thought about the film, check out my Celebrity Examiner article here.

And with the aforementioned Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Lorraine Toussaint,Tessa Thompson, and a great cameo with actress/comedienne Niecy Nash, the female power in this film was outstanding.

My favorite cameo in film was the vocal powerhouse Ledisi, who depicts gospel great Mahalia Jackson. DuVernay was involved in selecting the entire cast and described to MMT how she came to offer Ledisi the role, “I’m just a huge Ledisi fan! I saw her at a party in LA and asked if she ever acted. She hadn’t, but stated she would be interested. I told her I might have (a role), and about a month later we called her.”

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t take time mention David Oyelowo (pronounced o-yellow-o) in the lead as Dr. King. To say he is mesmerizing would most certainly be an understatement. While she discussed her taking on the challenge of re-writing some of King’s speeches for the script, I shared with DuVernay how powerful I believed the speech in a eulogy scene was – with Oyelowo delivering words that paralleled the calls to action with current civil rights/police protests. Ava quickly responded, “David Oyelowo is 90% why the speeches worked. He is incredible, and people must learn his name – it’s just yellow with two O’s!”

If you live in or near NY, LA, ATL, D.C., I urge you to support this film over the Christmas holiday this weekend. For everyone else, the film will open January 9 – 10 days before the national observed King holiday. Selma’s 2015 release also occurs in the same 50th anniversary year of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – serving as a timely reminder of how far we have and have not come collectively as a nation within the past half of a century.

You can watch the trailer for SELMA below, and checkout the official website here for additional info and ticket sales.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

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