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Entries in Loretta Devine (2)

Friday
Nov052010

For Colored Girls

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that Tyler Perry is marketable. With two successful televisions shows and many profitable movies under his belt, he has a track record of excellence, at least in the monetary sense. The quality of his work can be debated (all but one of his movies are rotten at the popular critic review aggregator site, Rotten Tomatoes), but not by me. I had yet to see a Tyler Perry movie before stepping in the theater to see For Colored Girls and, frankly, it doesn’t make me want to rush out to see another one.

Based on the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” the film is a collection of mini-stories about what it’s like to be a woman of color dealing with issues of rape, abortion, infidelity and more. Within those stories, there’s Crystal (Kimberly Elise), a woman who battles with her abusive boyfriend (Michael Ealy) and tries to keep her two children safe from his violent, alcohol fueled rampages. Coming into her life is Kelly (Kerry Washington), who works for child services and is making sure Crystal’s kids are living in a safe environment. She has problems of her own and can’t conceive with her boyfriend (Hill Harper) thanks to a damaged uterus brought on by an event she’d rather forget. Also in Crystal’s life is her boss, Jo (Janet Jackson), who takes her frustration from home out on her because she thinks her husband may be gay.

Meanwhile, Juanita (Loretta Devine), working through a non-profit organization, is trying to get a donation from Jo while wondering in the back of her mind if her husband Frank (Richard Lawson) is cheating on her. Elsewhere, Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) is falling head over heels for a man she barely knows, though he’s about to do something to her that is unforgivable. She teaches a ballet class where one of her students, Nyla (Tessa Thompson), has just discovered she’s pregnant after recently losing her virginity. Nyla’s mother, (Whoopi Goldberg) is an overly religious woman who shuns that type of thing, so she visits her slutty sister, Tangie (Thandie Newton) to borrow some money to pay for a back alley abortionist (Macy Gray) in the hopes of keeping it all quiet.

Did I get them all? It seems like a lot, but I’m sure I’m missing somebody. For Colored Girls suffers from the same main affliction as this year’s abominable Twelve. It has way too many characters and keeping track of them proves difficult. As a critic, I take notes during screenings to ensure I can come home and properly convey how I felt while watching a movie, but for this, I mostly wrote down character names, what they were doing, who they were related to and how their lives intersected with each other. Despite that, I’m still not positive I’ve fully wrapped my head around it all.

For Colored Girls also suffers from over-the-top theatrics that come off as laughable, despite the heavy handed subject matter. I'm well aware that this movie is adapted from a stage play, but watching Whoopi Goldberg forcefully pound on a door while she screams at her trampy daughter to repent for her sins is a bit much.

The exaggerated mannerisms can be distracting, but it’s the dialogue that suffers most. The characters all speak in long winded, metaphor filled soliloquies that feel like they were taken verbatim from the play. While this probably works on the stage, it doesn't translate well to the screen. People simply do not talk like that and any type of message on race, ethnicity and the hardships that accompany girls of color are lost in a sea of daft discourse.

Although For Colored Girls is a truly wretched film, it has its heart in the right place and you’ll feel for the girls as these terrible things begin to happen for them. The post-trauma emotional breakdowns are difficult to watch because they hit hard. The actresses, specifically Anika Noni Rose, who does hers all in one take, really bring out the anger, pain and sadness one would feel after going through such events.

However, those breakdowns all follow one after the other. With no downtime, it becomes emotional overload. That there’s any emotion to pull from a movie so ludicrous is nothing short of a miracle itself and its rapid fire discharge strips it away of whatever tiny morsel of feeling it may have had otherwise.

The best thing For Colored Girls has going for it is its style. It looks good, but even that proves to be a burden on the film. In a late scene, footage of a beautiful opera is intercut with footage of a brutal rape, romanticizing the appalling deed in a way that is rather distasteful. Take into account, however, that the following scene drew unintentional laughter and you should have an indication of everything that is wrong with For Colored Girls.

For Colored Girls receives 1/5

Friday
Aug202010

Lottery Ticket

I have no idea what I’d do if I won the lottery. I suppose I’d share the money with friends and family, buy a few nice things and give some to charity, which is essentially what happens in Lottery Ticket, the new star vehicle for the rapper Bow Wow, but I doubt my experience would be as hackneyed, clichéd and stereotypical. With an amateurish script from first time screenwriter Abdul Williams and bland direction from Erik White, known mostly for his video music work, Lottery Ticket fails to do much other than exist, despite the slight charm and occasional chuckle.

The story revolves around Kevin (Bow Wow), a shoe enthusiast. Scribbled drawings of them line the walls of his room, his closet is all shoe boxes, he works at Foot Locker and, yes, he even irons his shoestrings. On his way to work one day, passing through his crummy Georgia neighborhood strewn with drug dealers, thieves and morons, he runs into his pal Benny (Brandon T. Jackson) and explains to him that his grandmother (Loretta Devine) wants him to buy her a lottery ticket. Before he does, however, he meets with best lady friend and soon-to-be-love-interest Stacie (Naturi Naughton) for lunch, where she urges him to keep the fortune from the post meal cookie. He does and upon arriving at the convenience store, he buys two tickets, one for his grandma and one for him, using the so called “lucky” numbers from his fortune. The next thing he knows, he has won the lottery, which is upwards of $370 million. Unfortunately, the lottery headquarters is closed for the Fourth of July weekend, which means he has to keep his ticket safe for three days, but soon the neighborhood hears of Kevin’s win and he finds himself in more trouble than he expected.

Lottery Ticket is like the unholy marriage of Do the Right Thing and Friday, two vastly superior movies. While this and Friday are similar in their comedic tones (even going so far as to emulate Chris Tucker’s look in that film), it’s akin to Do the Right Thing in its portrayal of racism and stereotypes. The difference, however, is that Spike Lee’s seminal film was a study on how they can affect individuals and society as a whole. Lottery Ticket is just ignorant.

The negative, disrespectful and damaging stereotypes seep out of Lottery Ticket like water through cracks. From the greedy preacher to the gold digging hussy to the plethora of opprobrious observations of African Americans, the film treats its characters more like things than people.

But perhaps most offensive is the generic storyline told with the wit of a first time stand-up comic who mistakes laughter at him for laughter with him. Lottery Ticket floats by nonchalantly, rarely taking notice of its misuse of comedy. Instead of writing jokes, the filmmakers merely insert well known faces in minor roles or as cameos. T-Pain, Bill Bellamy and Charlie Murphy all appear in the film, the latter of which garnered laughs from the audience assumedly because of his work on “Chappelle’s Show” despite not spouting a single funny line here.

It all leads to an appropriately predictable and clumsy conclusion that seems a better fit for a feel good television movie than a big screen event. While the acting is decent—Bow Wow is surprisingly good, though his versatility is still up in the air since he is given little more to do here than shake his head and look rattled—there’s really not much to recommend.

Millions of lottery tickets are sold each week. Only a small percentage of those who buy one will win, but you can bet on this. Play this Lottery Ticket and you’re bound to lose.

Lottery Ticket receives 1.5/5