Cicely Tyson and Viola Davis ~ The Skinny

Ophelia (Cicely Tyson) runs the comb through Annalise's hair (Viola Davis)

Ophelia (Cicely Tyson) runs the comb through Annalise’s hair (Viola Davis)

How to Get Away With Murder
ABC 9/8 CST ~ “Mama Here Now”

It was a most intimate moment on primetime television last Thursday night: daughter-between-momma’s-legs getting her hair parted, her scalp scratched, and her hair combed. Annalise Keating, Esq. (Viola Davis), the fierce instructor of criminal law, dresses to the nines and leads a cadre of bright students who sit at her feet in Shonda Rhimes’s drama How to Get Away With Murder. Then, there is Anna Mae, the abused child who never received an acknowledgement from her momma that something went wrong that night when the uncle came to stay. So Anna Mae grows up and transforms herself into Annalise, and hides under a wig the hair that the uncle touched when something went wrong that night. Momma Ophelia (Cicely Tyson) knows the truth; so, Anna Mae can come out now, and let her hair be.

Momma Ophelia went for Anna Mae’s natural as she observed (and I paraphrase), “come here let me get at your hair; your kitchen is tight.” That gesture accompanied by a gentle command was all too familiar (as well as the ‘kitchen’ code) because it reminded me of my mother’s call for me to sit in the chair to let her “run the comb” through my hair when I came home for a visit. Not one thing was wrong with my hair, but I intuited as I answered her call that mom wished to keep going the ritual of dressing the hair of her eldest daughter as she had done for her three girls from the time we came out of her womb.

Yes, it was a ritual. Every night, mother sat on her bed and called us one-by-one to sit between her legs on the floor. There, she would part our hair, apply Ultra Sheen or Royal Crown to the scalp, brush and comb our tresses, patiently plait our hair, and wrap up her handi-work to make sure each plait stayed in place. In the morning, she untied our wrap, brushed our edges, accentuated the plaits with barrettes or ribbons, and prepared us for school or church. When we grew into teenagers, the time came for us to wear our hair down and in curls. In other words, we were ready for the press and curl. My sisters and I would wash our hair on Friday night, plait it up, and then loosen the tresses early Saturday morning for them to air dry as we did our chores. That’s right: no hair dryer nor blow dryer. Then, Saturday night, mom parted our hair into sections. As she gently glided the hot comb through our hair, she told stories of something or someone or other, and we would nod, or laugh, or attend with “really?” “you’ve got that right”, and so on and so forth. The result? A fresh press we would roll up with pink Goody sponge rollers. It never was a painful process as most women with these memories often posit; momma had a gentle hand, and this home salon ritual made possible a kind of bonding between my mother and her daughters.

"Don't ya'll know a VIP when you see one?" Momma Ophelia

“Don’t ya’ll know a VIP when you see one?” Momma Ophelia

My heart saddens–almost breaks–as I imagine what mother must have felt when we, in our young adult years with a little money in our pockets from our first jobs, released her hands from our hair in favor of a hair salon and a beautician–a stranger–who applied the Revlon mild perm to our scalp, shampooed then wet set our tresses, and put us under the dryer for the heat to make our curls. I guess that is why I obliged her every command to let her “run the comb through it” on my treks home when I began to let my hair grow into its natural state.

The sound of Momma Ophelia’s comb through her daughter’s hair sent me. It did, just as hearing the sound of the comb made from wood Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) pulled through Denver’s (Kimberley Elise) hair in front of a cackling fire in the movie Beloved moved me; or, the memory of the scene in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God when Teacake scratches the dandruff from the scalp of Janie’s head made my heart sing. It wasn’t just the combing of Anna Mae’s hair. No. The storytelling Momma Ophelia brought along with it added depth and substance to the Annalise’s onscreen presence. Even more significant, her revelation released her daughter from the night terrors brought on by an abusive relative her little girl experienced that only a “long match and a very flammable hooch” could handle. That Annalise, a grown and well-accomplished woman, allowed her mother to be momma initiated the process for Anna Mae’s healing, as only a momma’s validation of her little girl’s pain could do–all of this the night she dropped down in between her momma’s legs on the floor in her house.

Last Thursday night brought that intimate moment and, in that moment, I missed my momma calling for me to run the comb and her hands through my hair.

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Mr Turner @ The Ross

Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall)

Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall)

I highly recommend that you refrain from watching Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr. Turner if you have had a pleasant day; just close it out with a mug of hot chocolate and a snuggle into your grandmother’s afghan or Aunt Gertrude’s quilt. Contemplate the sunset or the close of the horizon as dusk makes its way to welcome the night. Or, if your fuddy-duddy tendencies have reared their ugly heads and a rainbow and a smiley face are the last things you need, then Leigh’s Mr. Turner is just the film for you—all one hundred and fifty minutes of it!

Mr. Turner and Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey) enjoy a moment of levity.

Mr. Turner and Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey) enjoy a moment of levity.

The movie stars Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner, the eccentric British painter—-you know, I’m going to stop right here: eccentric is NOT the description. Spall’s Mr. Turner is a mere aged warthog of a man who grunts and squints as he points a paint brush to a canvas and manages to create a bunch of beige brown sage grey and blue paintings of seascapes and ships at sea that critics deem as art. There. Set in the last twenty five years of his life when he is a celebrated artist in the 1800s, Mr. Turner’s community of artists is equally vacuous, consisting of men–excuse me–artists whose conversations would make a heathen pray for redemption!

Yes. Mike Leigh creates a world without warmth and fuzz, and Mr. Turner along with his cursed housekeeper Hannah Danby played by Dorothy Atkinson and his landlady/lover Mrs. Sophie Booth (played with appeal by Marion Bailey) all move within the dank and cold corridors with ease and comfort.

The Community of Artists

The Community of Artists

Mrs. Booth takes in Mr. Turner as a boarder in her upper room when he visits the seaside town of Margate to get away from London. Later she becomes his companion. Hannah, whom Mr. Turner calls ‘Damsel’, is enamored with her employer who sees her as he would a chair—without notice unless he needs to sit in it; and he sit he does when he desires to sexually exploit her. Both women carry with them a loyalty for Mr. Turner even until death.

fr left Sarah Danby (Ruthy Sheen), William Turner (Paul Jesson), Hannah "Damsal" Danby, (Dorothy Atkinson) , Georgiana (Amy Dawson), and Sarah Foster as Evelina

fr left Sarah Danby (Ruthy Sheen), William Turner (Paul Jesson), Hannah “Damsel” Danby, (Dorothy Atkinson) , Georgiana (Amy Dawson), and Sarah Foster as Evelina

All is not lost, however. Only his estranged mistress Sarah Danby, played exceptionally by Ruth Sheen, stands in for the audience’s own yearnings. She pleads for some demonstration of emotion and sentiment from the painter, especially since she has born him two daughters, Georgiana (Amy Dawson) and Evelina (Sarah Foster). The linguistic exchanges are a welcomed respite. Dick Pope’s cinematography is a feast for the eyes what with sweeping long shots of the sea and its ships; and, Paul Jesson’s performance as Mr. Turner’s father, William, is superb.

William Turner (Paul Jesson)

William Turner (Paul Jesson)

Mr Turner plays through March 5 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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Two Days, One Night @ The Ross

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) walks the line between co-workers

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) walks the line between co-workers

It takes courage to ask for what you want in life, especially when that desire is created out of a dire need to survive. To ask for anything is complicated because that act requires another party to grant to you your request; and, depending on the circumstances, the quest for any desire can put you at their mercy! The exchange can go either way: a cry of jubilance or a descent into humiliation. French brothers and filmmakers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne have concluded that to ask is a performance of humility in their French language film Two Days, One Night starring Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione.

Manu (Fabrizio Rangione) encourages Sandra (Cotilliard) to make a call.

Manu (Fabrizio Rangione) encourages Sandra (Cotilliard) to make a call.

As the story goes, Sandra, a Belgian blue collar worker played Cotillard, has been fired essentially by her co-workers in favor of a company bonus of 1,000 Euros. The manager has found that his team of employees can get the work done without Sandra. He offers them a choice: take a company bonus and fire Sandra or vote for Sandra and forego the bonus. Sandra is told of the vote on Friday. Her friend Juliette, played by Catherine Salee, persuades the boss, Dumont, played by Batiste Sornin to schedule another vote that Monday. He agrees, and Sandra’s husband Manu, played with charming patience by Rongione, convinces Sandra to visit each co-worker over the weekend or two days and one night, and ask them to recast their vote in favor of her keeping the job.

A co-worker expresses remorse for voting against Sandra

A co-worker expresses remorse for voting against Sandra

What follows is a disquieting journey as audiences are forced to experience Sandra’s every plea wrapped in humility and emotion. Cotillard is brilliant as Sandra, as she displays every minute detail of her character’s emotion. She cannot appear desperate; nor can she beg but she must demonstrate to each co-worker that her job is just as important to her as those 1,000 euros are to them. Yet, the filmmakers carefully coax us into an understanding of her co-workers’s reasons for their vote against her. Those euros come just in time to take care of those family necessities that otherwise would go to seed.

Sandra and the one night visit in search of one vote

Sandra and the one night visit in search of one vote

Each visit … each knock on the door … each ring of the door-bell brings her front and center to the culprits; their exchanges are delicate especially since Sandra’s request lays out her personal financial situation: her husband’s salary is not enough to take care of the family. Sandra’s firm resolve to take this most excruciating journey to stand face-to-face with the culprits, however, is a portrayal of a particular kind of heroine, and you will love her. There is no jubilant cry nor a descent into humiliation; rather, there is a sigh of relief from a woman who, at the end of her journey, brings home to her family a personal self whose sleep will come easy.

Two Days, One Night plays through February 26 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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