Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Eddie Murphy in YOU PEOPLE

 I have a longtime dear friend (Mary in Jacksonville Beach, Florida) who had a great comment about Eddie Murphy in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR years ago. A comment that I feel was and is quite accurate. She said, "If Robert De Niro had done THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and played all those parts, he'd have gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Actor." I know Murphy is famous for being a comedian, but he's also a good actor. Yes, he got a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for playing the self-destructive singer in DREAMGIRLS, but his acting depth still feels overlooked by Hollywood in my opinion. Did you see him on Netflix in 2019's comedy/drama biopic, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME? Fabulous! I watched it three times and belly-laughed with each viewing. The Oscars totally ignored that cast -- and that cast deserved some Oscar nomination recognition.

Eddie Murphy plays a strict Muslim father in Los Angeles whose daughter is engaged to a white guy described as "...a Jew from West L.A." He's the White co-host of a podcast about Black culture. His parents live in Brentwood and shop at Gelson's supermarket in Century City. His fianceé is from the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw area. This new Netflix comedy is YOU PEOPLE. It co-stars Jonah Hill who co-wrote and co-produced the movie with its director, Kenya Barris. Barris created ABC's BLACK-ish  sitcom that ran for several seasons. This marks the directorial debut of Barris. For Warner Bros,, he's slated to write and direct of remake of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Barris says it will be "a modern reimagining."

Yes, YOU PEOPLE has some "politically incorrect" language, nonetheless is had me laughing in the first five minutes. Jonah Hill's character trading whispered insults with his sister at a Yom Kippur service broke me up. He's good and so is Murphy as the strict, reserved Afro-centric dad who always speaks in a low register as he remains frosty towards his possible future son-in-law. 

I grew up near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw area. My parents shopped at FedCo when it was there. (You Angelenos reading this may remember FedCo which, by the way, got a very funny mention in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME). YOU PEOPLE shows the L.A. that I know and miss.

About Jonah Hill as Ezra. Do you watch MSNBC weekday afternoons? Ever see THE BEAT with Ari Melber? You know how Melber can be reporting on a serious and complicated national news story, yet he'll go out of his way to quote some hip hop rap lyrics done by, say, Flava Flav or Salt-N-Pepa to keep it real? You sit there and go "Oh, Lord, Ari. Can't you drop in some Edward R. Murrow or James Baldwin occasionally?" Well, that's kinda like Ezra.

The highly entertaining cast includes Lauren London as the hip and independent fianceé, David Duchovny, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Nia Long and Mike Epps with special appearances by Hal Linden, Elliott Gould, Richard Benjamin and Rhea Perlman. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and David Duchovny as Ezra's overly-liberal parents trying too hard to embrace Black culture are a hoot. 


There are laughs and, in the last act, some truths and lots of heart.  YOU PEOPLE is on Netflix and runs a little under 2 hours. I had a lot o' fun watching it. Murphy's THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and DOLEMITE IS MY NAME are also on Netflix.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Joy of Hearing SAMARA JOY

Treat yo' self. She will hear her name read as a nominee during the upcoming Grammy Awards show. She's 23. She studied jazz in New York, She got her first booking at a club in the West Village. Her smooth voice and silky style call to mind great jazz vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae. Her name is Samara Joy -- and I hope she's a Grammy winner this coming Sunday. Take some time and listen to this sensational new singer do "Can't Get Out of This Mood.

Let's keep the jazz session going. Here is Sarah Vaughan's recording of "Can't Get Out of This Mood."


Here is Ella Fitzgerald doing Irving Berlin's "It's a Lovely Day Today."

Here is Carmen McRae singing a Cole Porter song that Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell danced to in the classic MGM musical, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940. It's "I Concentrate on You."


Thanks for sharing this jazz joy -- especially Ms. Samara Joy.

Monday, January 30, 2023

On WAKANDA FOREVER

 My previous post is about the current box office blockbuster sequel, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. It's made billions of dollars worldwide and is the 4th highest-grossing film in our box office history. James Cameron directed the visually stunning sci-fi fantasy with animated blue characters interacting with human actors. The story was pretty predictable and, to me, some action scenes with the blue natives went on too long -- basically to draw "oohs" and "ahhs" from Cameron's amazing filmmaking technology. I dozed off a couple of times during Cameron's epic fantasy that clocks in at 3 hours and 15 minutes. AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

I would take AVATAR 2 out of the Best Picture Oscar race and replace it with BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER directed and co-written by the wonderful Ryan Coogler. I streamed it over the weekend. Wow. What a movie. That's a movie I wish I could have seen on the big screen. This sequel has a lot of action, a lot of heart and a lot of good acting. It's a sci-fi fantasy too. However, Mr. Coogler brings out a complicated humanity in the story. It surprises you. Also, he brilliantly blends in the death of BLACK PANTHER star Chadwick Boseman into the story. The loss of his character causes a deep grief that motivates surviving characters to make certain choices. We can emotionally connect to their heartbreak and challenges and also be awed by the special effects and action scenes. The movie is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman.

Angela Bassett is the heartbroken Queen drawn into a battle. Bassett totally deserves the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination she got. She commands the screen. This is a gorgeous production in set design, costume design and cinematography.  It runs 2 hour and 40 minutes. Did I doze off? No. If there was a cineplex near me, would I pay to see it again -- only, this time, on a big screen? Yes. In a heartbeat. Ryan Coogler is one of the most gifted directors currently working. 


Coogler gave us the critically acclaimed 2013 independent feature, FRUITVALE STATION and the groundbreaking international box office blockbuster, BLACK PANTHER, in 2018.  And now BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.

I repeat: Director, writer, producer Ryan Coogler is wonderful and BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER should be an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

About AVATAR 2

 It's called AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. It's an epic sci-fi fantasy sequel that combines live actors interacting with animated figures. When I was a kid, I thought live actors acting opposite animated characters was the height of new technology when I saw Disney's MARY POPPINS at the Academy Theater in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Well, this feature, produced and directed by James Cameron, is ultra-dazzling visually. However, I wondered the exact same thing I wondered when I saw AVATAR back in 2009: "Aren't there any full-figured blue characters in this thing? Are they all tall, slim and lacking body hair?"

In AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, there's no blue person built like CBS late night host James Corden or like Queen Latifah. And most of them have dreds like Lenny Kravitz. As for the movie, it has shades and tones of Cameron's ALIENS, THE ABYSS and TITANIC. One of the coolest things about it was seeing Sigourney Weaver, star of ALIEN and ALIENS.

Plot-wise, for those of you who saw AVATAR, Jake Sully is a new family man living on Pandora. An old threat returns and Jake must launch into protective action. It's a predictable tale of colonization and cultural separation.


As I wrote, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is ultra-dazzling visually. The cinematic technology is amazing. That makes up for the predictable plot. And...seriously...couldn't James Cameron have delivered this predictable story in 2 hours and 15 minutes instead of 3 hours and 15 minutes? Jeez! It's the same running time as TITANIC.

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER is now the 4th highest-grossing film in our box office history. Reportedly, AVATAR 3 is already in the works.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Starring Colin Farrell

 If there was ever a movie for which eyebrows got Oscar nominations in the actor categories and then got signed for representation by CAA in Los Angeles, it's THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The title refers to the name of a music composition in the story.

"Why wouldn't he answer the door to me?" wonders a young man who lives on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. It's the kind of place where loneliness will definitely have a presence -- like a Catholic church and a pub.

The young man's longtime best friend is an older gent who plays the fiddle. When he's confronted by his young friend and asked why he didn't open the door, he responds "I just don't like you no more." The young man is taking aback by the comment. He's stunned. His eyebrows twitch,

I saw the movie last night. Weeks again, when I saw commercial for it on TV, I thought it would be a bit to  high-tone and stuffy for me even though I've been a Colin Farrell ever since I was greatly impressed by the Irish actor's performance in the Vietnam war drama, TIGERLAND. In that film, released in 2000, Farrell played a draftee who opposes the war and is an unruly Army recruit. I liked him even more in Spielberg's MINORITY REPORT with Tom Cruise. I wanted to like him as Alexander the Great in ALEXANDER, but with the blond hair and his slim, hairless torso, I just couldn't buy him as an Ancient Greek. Back in New York City, I lived right next door to a diner run by two Greek brothers from Mykonos. You could have hidden Easter eggs in their chest hair. It was that thick.

I didn't initially think I'd connect emotionally to THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, but I did. Back in 2019, a close friend in New York City abruptly stopped talking to me around Thanksgiving time. I still don't know why. He'd helped me and I'd helped him through some hard times during the Recession when we were both job-hunting. For that reason, I was deeply concerned when I stopped hearing from him. The last message I sent asked if he was ok, if he had work and a roof over his head. I was worried. The humility of social media is that you can see when folks are keeping in touch and replying to people -- just not to you anymore.

For Colin Farrell's character, I felt his pain from the sudden, unexpected end of a friendship and I watched how his niceness was abused. In Brendan Gleeson's character, the older and sullen fiddler, we see how such a rude, quick withdrawal from a good friendship is like a form of self-mutilation. He, too, has active eyebrows.

The story takes place in 1923. The nice young man grows angry at the new loneliness that has fractured his life. The anger will force him to act in a not so nice way.


Among the Oscar nominations it received are for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Brendan Gleeson). I love how Irishmen Gleeson and Farrell, close friends in real life and previous co-stars, connect in their acting onscreen. Farrell's characters shows the need for male intimacy and openness in man-to-man friendships.

Colin Farrell is now a Best Actor Oscar nominee for this performance. He deserves the Oscar nomination. If he wins, he needs to include his eyebrows in his acceptance speech thank-you list.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Danny Kaye, Carl Reiner in SKOKIE

 It's January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day.

My Black parents, a working class couple in South Central Los Angeles, made me aware of the Holocaust before I started middle school (which we used to call "junior high school"). There was a feature about it on television one night. Mom and Dad invited me to watch it along with them because they felt I needed to be aware of that history, history which should never again happen.

Earlier, in my elementary school years, Mom introduced me to the wonderfulness of Danny Kaye. The Broadway, film and TV star recorded albums for children. Mom bought me one of those albums. He read children's stories and played all the characters. I loved those records. My love for him increased when I discovered his old movies on TV. Fabulous musical comedies from the 1940s such as UP IN ARMS, WONDER MAN and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. From the 1950s, I saw his WHITE CHRISTMAS, HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN and THE COURT JESTER. As a kid growing up in the 1960s, one of my favorite TV shows was his weekly musical variety show on CBS, THE DANNY KAYE SHOW.

This ultimate showman was also very moving dramatically. He moved me and educated me with his final acting role. He played a Holocaust survivor in the CBS TV movie, SKOKIE. The 1981 production was based on a real life story, one I remember hearing about in the news. Neo-Nazis wanted to march through Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb in Chicago. Danny Kaye was Jewish,  In SKOKIE, Kaye starred as "Max Feldman," a concentration camp survivor. Also in the cast and also delivering a solid dramatic performance is Carl Reiner of THE DICK VAN DYKE sitcom. Reiner played "Abbot Rosen," a man who feels the community should ignore the Neo-Nazis by employing a quarantine. 

Here's a promo CBS aired for 1981's SKOKIE.


I watched SKOKIE when it premiered on the network, It's a production that should be seen. It's rooted in history, When you watch it, think of the men carrying torches through Charlottesville, Virginia during the Trump administration in 2017.

You can watch Danny Kaye and Carl Reiner with Eli Wallach, Kim Hunter and Brian Dennehy in 1981's SKOKIE for Holocaust Memorial Day.  It's now available on YouTube.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Great Work from 3 Black Women in Film

 This piece is about actress Alfre Woodard, actress Danielle Deadwyler and director Chinonye Chukwu.

Last year, in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I noticed much film festival response on Twitter. Movie journalists posted high praise and Oscar buzz for Brendan Fraser. Out of the limelight for quite some time and known for roles in entertaining comedies, he has reinvented himself with an outstanding performance as a reclusive and morbidly obese English teacher dealing with MOBY DICK and the heartbreaks of his life in THE WHALE. Around the same time, there were also ecstatic reviews and Oscar buzz for an actress named Danielle Deadwyler who played the lynched teenager Emmett Till in the movie, TILL, directed by Chinonye Chukwu.

The notices about Brendan Fraser and talk about TILL made the network morning news shows and ABC's daytime talker, THE VIEW. Whoopi Goldberg, a host on THE VIEW, has a role in TILL and co-produced the film. The murder of Chicago youth Emmett Till, committed while he was visiting relatives down South, gave intensity to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s.

The, one day two weekends ago, multiple rave reviews for a film and an actress I'd never heard of appeared on Twitter. Celebs such Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ed Norton were said to be among those tossing in acclaim for the actress. Was this sudden wave of praise postings orchestrated? Was it an overnight campaign? The movie is TO LESLIE. The lead actress is Andrea Riseborough.

The Oscar nominations were announced this week. Brendan Fraser was nominated for Best Actor. Andrea Riseborough was nominated for Best Actress. Danielle Deadwyler was not nominated.

I have been an Alfre Woodard fan ever since I saw her onscreen at the Oriental Theater on the East Side of Milwaukee. The theater was showing HEALTH, a 1980 Robert Altman film. After the movie, audience members were joyfully buzzing about the funny, sophisticated performance delivered by the young lady who played the somewhat stressed out public relations director at a deluxe Florida hotel during a health food convention. The fact that she was a screen newcomer getting audience buzz was impressive considering that the ensemble cast included Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Carol Burnett and Glenda Jackson.

Woodard played a domestic worker for an aspiring author in 1983's CROSS CREEK, a biographical drama, and got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. After that, she became one of the many Black actresses who got an Oscar nomination and then went to TV for steady employment and opportunities. She joined a list that includes Cicely Tyson and Diahann Carroll in the 1970s to today's Oscar nominated Black actresses such as Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson and Gabourey Sidibe. Davis booked the ABC TV series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, due to the lack of Hollywood script offers after she'd received her second Oscar nomination. But, after getting just one Oscar nomination, white actresses such as Julia Roberts, Renée Zellweger, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams would find their mailboxes stuffed with good script offers. They'd all have more than one Oscar nomination to the credits.

Go to IMDb.com and look at Cicely Tyson's roles following her superb performance in 1972's SOUNDER, the film that brought Tyson her one Oscar nomination. The Oscar went to Liza Minnelli for CABARET. After SOUNDER, Tyson's great work in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN, her performance in ROOTS, her portrayals of Coretta Scott King and Harriet Tubman were all given in TV productions. Hollywood did not offer her other big screen lead roles like it did 2-time Oscar nominee Liza Minnelli.

In 2019, Alfre Woodard starred as a prison warden dealing with the psychological and emotional drawbacks of her job in CLEMENCY. The warden must prepare death row inmates to face their executions. The emotional severity of the work begins to fray her marriage. Alfre Woodard was so outstanding in CLEMENCY that she made your jaw drop. The entertainment press did not give nearly enough to this performance in the film directed by Chinonye Chukwu.


To me, Alfre Woodard should have been an Oscar contender for CLEMENCY. She and its director should've been invited to be guests on network morning shows to discuss the film.

Ms. Chukwu got an equally brilliant performance from Danielle Deadwyler in TILL. You need to see Ms. Deadwyler's remarkable portrayal of a single working mother in a nice Chicago neighborhood who is forged into national Civil Rights activism due to an evil racist act.


Two extraordinary performances. Two fine films. Both directed by the same woman.

I wish stars such as Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ed Norton had praised and promoted the work of those three Black women in film the way they did TO LESLIE. Those three gifted Black women in film were also deserving of Academy Award attention.

Here's some Black women in film history: Angela Bassett, who was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1993's WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, is now a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.

She is only the 4th Black actress in Hollywood history to have more than 1 Oscar nomination to her credit. The others are Whoopi Goldberg, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Also, even though many of us expected Ava DuVernay to get a Best Director Oscar nomination for her Best Picture Oscar nominee, 2014's SELMA, she was not nominated. No Black female filmmaker has ever been a Best Director Oscar nominee. Not yet.

Eddie Murphy in YOU PEOPLE

 I have a longtime dear friend (Mary in Jacksonville Beach, Florida) who had a great comment about  Eddie Murphy in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR year...