Tuesday, April 17, 2018

She Directed TALK TO ME

You know may not know her name but I'm sure millions of moviegoers remember her face.  Did you see 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?  In that classic, Jodie Foster played the outstanding FBI cadet, Clarice Starling.  In the academy and in the field as she's on the case to capture a serial killer, she is constantly surrounded by men. She's often the only woman in the room, under the male gaze, and she works to prove her extraordinary smarts.  In the academy while she's training, there's one fellow female cadet who is Clarice's good buddy.  Her buddy was played by African American actress, Kasi Lemmons.  (Her first name is pronounced "Casey.")
Well...just like Jodie Foster...Kasi went on to become a film director after THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  I thought of her work recently.  This month marked the 50th year since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was shot and killed on April 4th, 1968, in Memphis.  Kasi Lemmons directed a very good, very funny biopic that accurately incorporates turbulence of that tragic day into the story.  I have seen her 2007 movie, TALK TO ME, a few times.  Each time I watch it, I say to myself, "Seriously?  Don Cheadle has only one Oscar nomination to his credit?  Oh, that is a major oversight."  Cheadle is one gifted and versatile actor.  He should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for playing a cold-blooded hood in 1995's DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, a crime thriller starring Denzel Washington.  I know that Denzel is the most Oscar-nominated Black actor in Oscar history with 8 nominations and 2 wins to his credit.  But, unlike Denzel, Don Cheadle shows a fabulous flexibility when it comes to doing comedy and even musical scenes.  Look at Don Cheadle as the part-time porn star in BOOGIE NIGHTS. He makes you laugh with his vulnerability in that role.  He was terrific dancing as Sammy Davis, Jr. in the HBO biopic, THE RAT PACK.  He was amazing as Mile Davis in MILES AHEAD, touching in the Best Picture Oscar winner CRASH and he deserved his Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing the African hotel manager during military atrocities and genocide horrors in HOTEL RWANDA.

Director Kasi Lemmons has him pull out his comic acting skills for TALK TO ME.  In the film, he plays the real-life Washington, DC radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene.  Before there was a Howard Stern getting national attention, there was outrageous, outspoken and hilarious Petey Greene on radio in DC.  Petey was so popular with his call-in program that he was booked to be a guest on the TONIGHT Show with Johnny Carson.  Petey was a hot mess of an ex-con who took that radio station from the basement to the top floor in ratings.
TALK TO ME co-stars Martin Sheen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson and Cedric the Entertainer.  Yes, it is very funny. And then comes the horrible news of April 4th.  Radio host Petey Greene helped curbed some of the destructive uprisings that broke out in anger in the Black community.  From then on, social activism became a part of his life.  This movie is a must-see for Don Cheadle fans.  He's on his A-game in it.
TALK TO ME was not the first film directed by Kasi Lemmons.  Her first film was the impressive and fascinating EVE'S BAYOU.  This 1997 drama focuses on a Black middle class Louisiana family in the 1950s or early 60s.  We can tell that this Black family is comfortable. The father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is a doctor and their house has more than one bathroom.  They weren't rich, but for Black folks, they were doing pretty well.  One of the two daughters witnesses something in their youth that fractures family feelings. We wait to see if the truth will be revealed.  One of the things that strikes you about EVE'S BAYOU is the gorgeous production design of it and the fluidity of Kasi Lemmons' direction.  Joining Samuel L. Jackson are Lynn Whitfield and Diahann Carroll.
If EVE'S BAYOU had been the directorial debut of a white male like a Ron Howard or Quentin Tarantino. he would have been booked for a bunch of Hollywood meetings to discuss future feature opportunities.  This indie film is that good.  I saw it last week on cable's Encore channel.  Check for it or rent it.

Actress/director Kasi Lemmons.  Add her to the list of women filmmakers.

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