In the Comfort of Joy ~ A Commentary

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Got Me back January 17, 2019 when my knee injury happened on the opening night of the show I directed, Who Will Sing for Lena. It was one of the coldest days of the year in Lincoln, Nebraska. For about three years, I had received the call to stop. To just stop. teaching Zumba x3 wk practicing choreo staff meetings teaching lit/film classes x2 wk semesters and summers writing editing performing travel and more travel meetings upon meetings grading papers office hours vocal coaching practice guest singing Stop! Please Stop! All of this, that, and the other–what my father would call ‘rippin’ & runnin’–took me out. I was devastated over the possibility that I may no longer be able to teach my beloved Zumba–this I learned in the emergency room after the outstanding performance at the Haymarket Theater. I wept well into the night. The Goddess, in all of her generosity, hastened Joy to me that next morning. In the comfort of Joy, I saw me. Right there. In that Holy silence.

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On Harriet ~ A Commentary

Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 7.38.17 PMI am excited for what stands to be a most poignant biopic of Harriet Tubman but I hold reservation. The last Harriet Tubman movie I saw, A Woman Called Moses, I felt emasculated the Black men who followed her. The film portrayed them cowering and having to be convinced to embrace freedom.

I love Black men. I do. I think they are the most beautiful and the most courageous creatures on earth. I have/had beautiful beautiful Black men in my family and community to prove it, beginning with Ulysses William Dreher, my father, right on down to the wine-o drinking from the paper bag crouched somewhere over there in the cut.

The portrayal of Black men in A Woman Called Moses broke my heart. Not one historical marker in my ancestral heritage mirrored their onscreen representation. Not one Black male in my community embodied their characterization.

I get it. Freedom-making was an ambitious endeavor; one misstep meant dire consequences. Freedom-making, in addition, challenged inhumane beliefs held by plantation owners and passed down to generations of enslaved people: you and your offspring are nothing but chattel–beasts, wenches, and brutes. 

History tell us, however, that the fervor for freedom took over, and those enslaved who heard the clarion call had no alternative but answer it no matter the consequences. The first step an enslaved person made toward freedom antagonized the plantocracy’s hateful notions circulated about them. That first step initiated psychic healing. 

I hope I see the Black men who dared to believe in Harriet Tubman and join her on the underground railroad portrayed in this manner in Harriet. They haven’t to deserve. It’s theirs!

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Her Smell @ The Ross

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Elizabeth Moss as Becky Something

Director Alex Ross Perry brings to the screen frenetic energy swaddled in pain, delusion, and despair in his film Her Smell. Starring Elizabeth Moss of The Handmaiden’s Tale, Her Smell charts in five acts the rise and fall and rise of an all-girl punk band called Something She. Becky Something, played by Moss with chaotic intensity, is the leader of the band.

Her Smell is noisy and cantankerous and messy, to the point of viewer exhaustion. The usual suspects that plague these bands? They’re all there: Drug abuse, verbal abuse physical abuse, member betrayals; the manager who wants to throw himself off a cliff; the self-destruction, the distressed child, the unsung ex-husband who patiently waits for his ex-wife’s recovery, the “OMG where is she? Is she ready to go on?” moments; then the full mental breakdown and … recovery – if you could call it that.

The film unfolds in the 1990s, when the punk rock scene was all the rage. Something She is well-received by the patrons at the club called Her Smell. At times the story breaks into cinematic pieces, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams gracefully moves to put them all back together. Moss interprets Becky Something as an abrasive raptorial bird who opens her wings to isolate herself from bandmates. The band members of Something She hang on by a thread to keep the band going in spite of their fear of collapsing. Dan Stevens plays Danny, her tolerant ex-husband who shields their daughter from her mother’s destructive ways. It is clear that celebrity and stardom have engulfed Becky into its vortex, and there is nothing pretty about it! Nothing.

What is missing from the cinematic narrative, however, is the reason for Becky’s slide into self-abuse. What happened? When and how did her identity fracture? Becky’s mother, Ania, played with maternal angst by Virginia Madsden, offers no answers. Interesting to Her Smell are the behind the scenes cinematic portraits of those persons who are trapped within the quagmire of recording studios and encased in halls offstage walled in by concrete. They are always on the brink of being swallowed whole by the celebrity for whom they are paid to endorse. Hmmmm … feels like a satellite of hell!

This film is most tedious to watch; it’s like taking in cinematic poison. You will be hard-pressed to make an investment in the characters, and Becky’s redemption is too little, too late.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 6.30.01 PMHer Smell plays through May 16 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also showing at the Ross are The Mustang and Sunset.

 

The Sower @ The Ross

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Pauline Burley as Violette and Alban Lenoir as Jean

How do women cope in the time of war? In our own history, we know women went to work and managed households until war’s end. In her film The Sower, filmmaker Marine Fransoun marks out the day-to-day activities of women who have to fend for themselves in a remote mountain farming village. The time is 1851. The place, France. A brutal coup d’etat occurs and, on orders by President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, all men either are arrested and/or or killed. The women and children assume the responsibility of managing life as a result of this violent state of affairs.

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The Sower is Marie Fransoun’s directorial debut she has based on the novel by Violette Ailhoud, written in 1919 at 84 years of age. Rather than using the original title L’homme Semence translated as The Man Semen, Fransoun entitles the film from the same name of the painting by Jean Francois Millet. She deftly handles every scene; Alain Duplantier’s extreme long shots of the landscape invoke visions of The Gleaners in the art of Jean Millet or The Sweatgrass Carriers in the art of South Carolina artist, Jonathan Green.

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Jean and the women

Bereft and traumatized, the women band together to farm, harvest crops, and tend to the children. Some women are mothers; some have experienced intimacy. Others find themselves with no prospects for either venture. So, they make a vow: If a man comes to the village, each of them will share him as their lover. There’s just one thing, though. No one asks the question, what shall we do if I fall in love with him and he with me? Jean, the man, (played with delicate sensuality by Alban Lenoir) arrives in the village, and he is fine-looking and he is mysterious and he is young. The women remark, “If he was the only one left, you wouldn’t make a fuss” and “You’d be happy to wrap your legs around him” or “I think he fancies you; he’s so handsome.”

There is an interesting twist to the story. Pauline Burley plays Violette, the young woman who spies Jean ambling along on the hilltop, and their interaction threatens to upend the overall peace in the village. Each actress communicates character reaction to Jean’s arrival with exceptional range. Feelings are revealed via side glances as she harvests. Their hearts beat intense desire wrapped in anxiety and sexual frustration.

 

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One of the women reminds Juliette of the bargain

Alain Duplantier’s cinematography interposes scenic space between dialogue and action to prevent emotions running high throughout the village from overwhelming the narrative; Fransoun’s direction allows the story to breathe in and to breathe out but keeping in focus the simmering conflicts. Alban Lenoir interprets Jean well as a stranger among women caught up in their sexual politics. “You’re all mad—stark mad” he retorts. Remarkable to the story, Fransoun agrees with Jean, and relieves the character of his anxiety in a very practical way.

The Sower plays through April 4 at the Ross Media Arts Center. English Subtitles.

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On R. Kelly On Gayle King

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I’ll never forget Noah Cross’s (John Huston) comment to J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) when he discerns Gittes knows he raped his own daughter Evelyn (Faye Dunaway) in the classic film Chinatown. I paraphrase: “When you have money, you believe you can do ANYTHING.” I’ll add, “when you have celebrity and a charmed fan base as does Kelly, you believe you can do anything.”
R. Kelly’s “performance” on Gayle King was a desperate attempt to save himself with the only tools he has left: anxiety, anger, and fear all wrapped up in tears–neither over which he has any control. To add to another person’s Facebook post I have read, Kelly charmed his way out of and beat his last case; his emotional behavior on Gayle King suggests his realization that he will not beat this case especially given the heart-rending stories of survival witnessed in the production Surviving R. Kelly.
R. Kelly on Gayle King was a piteous sight to behold. It was. Some have commented, “well, he should have thought of that before he …” or “he should have known better …” Well, he didn’t and he didn’t have to. Our celebrity culture allows for this !@#$ Riches and wealth allow for it as Noah Cross schools J. J. Gittes. When an entertainer generates the capital to fill the pockets of executives and miscellaneous crew members, some members of the group will go to lengths to ensure his desires are satisfied–no matter how prurient–to keep the money flowing (though at present the flow of money has stopped). It’s just that cut and dry. One thing is for sure, though: Whatever R. Kelly did not know and did not think of beforehand, on Gayle King he had his ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

Capernaum @ The Ross

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We’ve been bombarded lately with this site of children in those, you know, very very difficult situations and you always have the feeling that they are paying the highest price for our faults.

~ Nadine Labaki, writer director

When life is neglectful and unkind, if you want to live, you will find a way out. Set in the small country of Lebanon, Nadine Labaki dramatizes the story of Zain (played by Syrian refugee Zain al Rafeea), a 12-year-old boy who sues his parents for the crime of birthing him and neglecting him and his sister, Sahar (played by Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam).

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Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil

After tragedy strikes his sister and his parents do nothing to protect her, he flees from his home and survives by his wits in the streets of Beirut. On his journey, Rahil, an Ethiopian migrant worker (played by Yordanos Shiferaw) shelters him with her infant son, Yonas (played by Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). Eventually, Zain becomes the sole caretaker of Yonas after a series of events entrap his mother.

Taking a cue from the Italian neo-realism of Vittorio de Sica’s film The Bicycle Thief, Labaki plucked her actors from the streets of Beirut and produced a most dramatic and inspirational story of rebellious youth whose story leans to Francois Truffault’s The 400 Blows of the French New Wave era in cinema. Even the title of the film finds currency in literature and biblical history.

This is a word that has been used throughout history in French literature and English literature an even Arabic literature to signify chaos … to signify disorder. Originally it’s was a biblical village and it was sort of cursed by Jesus because of the chaos that was in it.

~ Nadine Labaki

Capernaum is riveting in its delivery. Zain inhabits every chaotic scene with an intensity that you will be hard pressed not to attempt to reach for the screen to carry him. It is one thing for Zain to manage his own life but when he assumes responsibility for Yonas, the story transforms into a heart-rending journey. Christopher Auon’s cinematography interprets the unbearable day-to-day, filming against the backdrop of a nimiety of issues: extreme poverty, slums, immigration and migrant workers, children and forced labor, the separation of children from families, child brides. Zain’s nit and grit fail to alleviate the distress; every dramatization of his daily life is overwhelming.

Yes. For you to be overwhelmed by all that because this is the reality and the reality is even more overwhelming than what you see is even more ugly than what you see in the film …

~ Nadine Labaki

Audiences at Cannes were overwhelmed and in such awe that the filmmaker and her team won not only the Grand Jury Prize at the festival; in addition, they received a post-screening 6 minute standing ovation plus more applause on their way out of the theater. A bit of trivia, the events the Ethiopian refugee Rahil experiences in the film happened to the actress who plays her, Yordanos Shiferaw, in real life three days later after the shoot.

 

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Capernaum plays through February 21st at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

To Listen to the Audio Review of Capernaum @ 48:25 click here:

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On Yolanda Adams

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Here is what I have to write about Yolanda Adams’s tribute to Anita Baker during the 2018 BET Awards show :

Yolanda practiced; she rehearsed. I’m not talking about the week before scheduled rehearsals for the show–no. I refer to practice and rehearsal the day after she accepted the invitation to give the tribute. I’m talking about listening to the song over and over until it becomes a kind of muscle memory; writing the lyrics on paper with pencil to engrave them on the mind; parsing out the meaning; and, then, practicing bit by bit and piece by piece until the song made friends with her vocal chords as well as her personality. “You Bring Me Joy” became Yolanda Adams’s song as only she could deliver it. That’s downright Holy!

She honored the voice/performance process to such an extent that she could let it go and allow the song to breathe. As a vocalist who has been a student of voice off and on since I was 14 years old (and currently under the coaching talents of Alicia Opoku), I saw, felt, and heard every single technique she used to make this performance flawless (i.e., posture, resonance, breath control, diaphragm support; voice and note placement [head, chest]; mouth, and jaw placement; tonality, diction, et al). She was grounded and she stood tall so as to allow her breath to easily travel throughout her body. She and her vocals were as one; in sync. She did not try to show up Anita Baker but she made it possible for her own talent to soar. She gave “You Bring Me Joy” its own due. As a result, the cosmic forces anointed her performance. This anointing is the answered prayer of every vocalist but it only comes to those who are serious about his/her work. Believe me: It is a spiritual experience.

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Vox Lux @ The Ross

 

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Written and Directed by Brady Corbet and narrated by Wilhelm Dafoe, Vox Lux is a riveting commentary on fame and celebrity culture in the 21st century. Natalie Portman stars as Celeste, a high school student who is thrust into stardom after singing at a memorial for her classmates who were shot and killed by another student named Cullen Active, played by Logan Riley Bruner. Celeste and her song-writer sister Eleanor, played by Stacy Martin, and her manager-with-no-name, played by an unrecognizable Jude Law, navigate the waters of the music industry as they ride the waves of drugs and alcohol and other means of self-abuse.

Watching Vox Lux is like treading on razor blades; so many scenes I wished for … no longed for Wilhelm Dafoe’s narration to relieve me of the cinematic cuts and bruises. Corbet, however, refused to alleviate my discomfort. Julia Heyman’s art direction adds salt to the wounds as she splashes scenes in hues of blue grey haze, midnight blue, black, white, sepia, and purple and teal laced with silver.

Celeste moves through the film like a marionette whose puppeteer had too many whiskey shots but still thinks he can manipulate the strings. She is so thin so fragile so fractured that you view in fear at some point her head is going to drop off and roll down the street into traffic or one of her limbs is going to break off and land somewhere along the way.

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There is more. Corbet frames Vox Lux within the context of gun violence and terrorism. We see, for instance, the bodies of slain students on the floor and slumped against the wall as young Celeste, played by Raffey Cassidy, bears witness to the murder of her classmates. Wait.

There is even more. You will feel the sound effect of each bullet as it travels through the barrel of the gun to reach its intended victim. No one will escape the trauma of this heart break.

For all of its nail-biting drama, Vox Lux loses itself somewhere out there, but the loss has to be noted. Corbet explores in Vox Lux the strain of memories. How does a witness to trauma bear up under the strain when she has survived? Celeste gains fame and celebrity after her performance at the memorial of her slain classmates; this experience has to have had a psychological impact. How does that fact translate the next day and the next and the next?

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 6.30.01 PMVox Lux plays through Thursday, January 31th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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Ben Is Back @ The Ross

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Holly (Julia Roberts) and Ben (Lucas Hedges)

Julia Roberts plays Holly Burns, a suburban housewife whose nineteen-year-old son Ben, played by Lucas Hedges, unexpectedly returns home on Christmas Eve morning from rehab for his treatment of opioid addiction. Much to the angst of her daughter, Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton and her husband, Neal, played by Courtney B. Vance, Holly is determined to prove that Ben is worth every ounce of her love and belief in him, even though she doesn’t trust him any farther than she can throw him.

Roberts is a gem in this movie as she strikes at the heart of every mother’s fear. She plays Holly with grit and depth, and we feel her frustration that she just may not be able to control everything in her universe since Ben is back. Written and directed by Peter Hedges, the film opens in Sloatsburg Village, a suburb of New York. The drama begins Christmas Eve night when the home is broken into and, even worse, the dog, Ponce, is taken by drug dealers. Ben laments his coming back has put the family in danger.

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Holly listens as Neal shares his concern now that Ben is back

The abduction of Ponce is cause for grave concern, and Holly curries patience as she tries to ally the fears of the smallest children, Lacey and Liam, played by Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser respectively. Holly and Ben, then, embark on a twilight trek through their neighborhood in search of Ponce. On the ride, Ben points out a house he robbed, one where he and his male history teacher had an arrangement of sorts in exchange for drugs, and a seedy part of town where Ben once frequented.

Ben is Back joins Hollywood’s attention to suburban white teenagers and their problems with drug addiction. The camera romanticizes these teenagers; families are dramatized as fighting momma and papa bears who will stop at nothing to save the addicted child. Law enforcement is nowhere in sight, unless momma bear calls on them as does Holly in the police precinct. Even then, when she bangs on the window and wails in sheer desperation and pleads for them to arrest Ben because he has stolen her car, the police tell her to calm down and to wait her turn. Dickon Hinchliffe’s music score ensures the pull of the heartstring for wayward Ben. He’s just a teenager who went down the wrong path, and with a mother’s love and care, he will be alright. In addition, Hedges makes known and makes known clearly drug addiction affects not just the abuser but everyone within the home and those within the community. Fear and distrust find a comfortable residence not only in every space of the house but in the psyches of family members. We learn a young woman to whom he dealt drugs died of an overdose, and throughout the film, Hedges shrouds Ben in mystery.

Roberts shines in Ben is Back. She inhabits the stress of Holly’s try to control circumstances. The disappointment in the movie is Courtney B. Vance. The film underuses his talents in favor of Roberts; it’s just that obvious. His performance is an actor’s push to bring some value to a half-baked script that undoubtedly failed to meet up with his skill; it is painful to watch. When he tells Holly to come home, she says, “you take care of our children, and I’ll take care of mine.” Hedges, however, does not hesitate to ask, “Weren’t the class privilege, the breadth of love Ben received from his family and siblings, and the financial sacrifices made for him … enough?”

For more @ The Ross visit http://www.theross.org

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Nation Hunger ~ Some Words

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 3.36.42 PM.pngBefore I begin Writing … , I have some words:

Be careful–very careful. When you beat down the door to drag a ‘moron’ out of the room, be aware of who is standing in the room–still. It is not empty.  Pay close attention to the person who scoots around the desk to pull out the chair for the next person to sit in it. Observe who will take the seat:

A well-versed and well-rehearsed official and his supporters who have been biding the time.

The emotional and psychological turmoil Americans have been experiencing every single day since November 2016 I believe, on serious reflection, has been well-orchestrated to create what I call Nation-Hunger for that someone else to take the helm. Once fed, and we are belching out perceived pleasure brought on by the change of the guard, watch how events will unfold. We will be too satiated and too distracted to respond because we will have been seduced into a faux-euphoria.

The strategy is brilliant in its simplicity. I fear, however, subsequent action on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be treacherous in its implementation.

Be careful. IJS. Stay woke.

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