Tag Archives: Regina Hall

Freshman Blues

Master

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Mariama Diallo’s episodic and short film work has explored — in comedic and dramatic form — the impact of living within a culture of micro- and not-so-micro-aggression. Her feature debut Master dives deeper, taking themes in more horrific directions.

Regina Hall plays Gail Bishop, the first Black residence hall “master” in the long and storied history of New England’s Ancaster College. In her first year on campus, she’ll meet another newcomer, freshman Jasmine (Zoe Renee), the only Black student in her dorm.

Jasmine has the bad luck of being assigned to the dorm’s spookiest room, where a student haunted by campus’s legendary witch once killed herself. As freshman year progresses, both Jasmine and Gail begin seeing menace around every corner.

Diallo sets up shop at the intersection of racism and misogyny. While her story tells of a history of racism that’s clearly alive and well, the filmmaker’s comment on institutional and historical contempt for women is more sly but ever-present.

The result for this particular position in the crosshairs is a palpable, inescapable sense of loneliness. If there’s one thing Master communicates it’s the isolation and aloneness both Gail and Jasmine face at this institution and, more broadly, in this world. The effect is poignant and sincerely scary.

It’s always great to see Hall at the center of a film. The veteran has provided reliable support, both comedic and dramatic, in films for ages. Her frustrating but sympathetic lead offers the perfect balance to Renee’s vulnerability.

Amber Grey’s turn as confidant Liv Beckman is superbly brittle and narcissistic. Likewise, a sea of white faces (Talia Balsam, Will Hochman, Bruce Altman, D.C. Anderson) hit varying degrees of condescension and hostility to create a drowning pool with little chance of escape.

Diallo struggles at times balancing allegory and horror story. On occasion, genre tropes become too obvious. At other times, the obviousness of political points overtakes cinematic narrative. But the underlying horror of reality ably depicted by Hall and a game cast make sure these minor issues remain minor.

Shaft Happens

Shaft

by George Wolf

“JJ” Shaft walks gingerly into traffic, taking care to watch for cars. He doesn’t constantly drop expletives and he’s keen on Brazilian dance fighting.

So, he’s a little different from Dad, then?

It’s the first clue that writers Kenya Barris and Alex Barrow and director Tim Story might have a sound plan to bring Shaft into the 21st century. They need one, because successfully transplanting those solidly 1970s sensibilities to present day is a bit of a trick.

The Brady Bunch Movie got around it by having the 90s Bradys still living gloriously 70s while everyone else called them weird. Genius move.

2005’s Bad News Bears remake just tried to tone down the unacceptable elements. Swing and a miss.

Taking much more of a straight up comedic approach than John Singleton’s 2000 sequel, this Shaft‘s culture clashes between John (Samuel L. Jackson) and JJ (Jessie T. Usher) offer some amusingly organic attempts to freshen the air of misogyny and homophobia.

It’s not a bad strategy, but the dam can only be held back so long. Guys, quit being such pansies. Women like real men who only want sex, guns, and any chance to kill people!

And then there’s the matter of the unintentional comedy.

JJ is a data analyst at the FBI who’s also apparently a hacking genius: “This is the most advanced encryption I’ve ever seen…I’m in!” He drags Pops into a completely ridiculous drug case where the clues come easy and the henchman stand straight up in every line of fire while explaining their motivations for giving chase (“It’s that Shaft kid! He saw everything!”)

Is Jackson a wonderful badass who’s perfect for this? Duh.

Does Regina Hall (as JJ’s mother) brighten every scene she’s in? She always does.

Do the samples of Isaac Hayes’s original music remind it’s probably the greatest theme in movie history? You damn right!

And Richard Roundtree again, casually dismissing that “Uncle Shaft” business from last time? Love it so hard.

There are fun elements here, but the lazy execution never fully commits to the promising setup. Shaft’s early self-awareness ends up devolving into self-parody and sadly, I cannot dig that.

Let’s Get Small

Little

by Hope Madden

Based on a concept by 14 year-old executive producer and star Marsai Martin (Black-ish), the comeuppance comedy Little flips the script on the Tom Hanks Eighties adventure in manhood, Big.

We open with Martin as Jordan Sanders at 13, a science nerd who takes a chance at the talent show to win over the Windsor Middle School student body. When she fails, she pins her dreams on one day being an adult who bullies everyone else before they can bully her.

Flash forward 25 years. Jordan (now Regina Hall) is a monster boss, terrorizing the developers at her tech firm and making life especially miserable for her assistant, April (Insecure‘s Issa Rae). Can some carbs and a little magic return Jordan to her adolescent form so she can unlearn the lesson that sent her life in the wrong direction?

It’s a slight story, penned from Martin’s idea by director Tina Gordon and co-writer Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip). The two choose not to represent bullying as anything other than a fact of life to be tolerated, but they do layer in some silly fun and spots of surprising humor, mainly thanks to the strength of the two leads.

Rae charms throughout the film. Her smile and energy shine, and she offers natural chemistry with both adult and teen versions of her boss. Rae brings a reluctant but earnest sense of compassion to the role, and her comic timing is spot on.

Martin is the film’s real star. She carries scenes with a clever knack for portraying an adult brain inside a child’s form. The physical performance amuses, but it’s really the way she delivers sly lines with a saucy look or toss of the head that brings a chuckle.

It would be tough for this film to be more predictable, but several side characters—a social services agent (Rachel Dracht) and dreamy 7th grade teacher (Justin Hartley) work wonders with their odd characters and limited screen time.

The plotting is pretty sloppy and at no point does the comedy draw more than a chuckle, but Little is an amusing if forgettable waste of time. Martin is someone to remember, though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HdNhpeI1g4





No Weapon, No Weakness

The Hate U Give

by George Wolf

The Hate U Give becomes one of the year’s better films not because it elevates an oft-maligned genre (though that fresh air blast certainly doesn’t hurt), but instead for how it wraps troubling, vital societal issues around an absorbing family drama.

Adapted from the best selling Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas, the film slaps you with reality right from the opening, when a commanding father (Russell Hornsby) is giving his young children “the talk” – not about sex, but about how to survive when they are pulled over by the police. You may see this as either familiar or eyebrow-raising, and that is precisely the point.

Like so many YA dramas, THUG is anchored by a special young girl. Here, she’s Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), but Starr’s specialness isn’t a device that panders, it’s one that is intelligently used to illustrate two very different Americas.

She lives in a Georgia “hood” with her family, but attends a private Catholic school in the ‘burbs, and not, as her mother (Regina Hall) says, “because she needs to learn how to pray.”

On the ride home after a weekend party in her neighborhood, Starr becomes the only witness to the fatal police shooting of her childhood friend Khalil (Detroit‘s Algee Smith). She’s reluctant to come forward for a variety of reasons (all logical), and as the pressure builds from different sides, reactions to the killing bring the contrasts between Starr’s two worlds into clear, illuminating focus.

Director George Tillman, Jr. (Notorious) and screenwriter Audrey Wells (who sadly passed away just weeks ago) craft a thoughtful balance as the narrative progresses, cutting deeper via an impressive restraint that holds until the final few minutes hit a more tidy, didactic vein.

But when this film works, which is most of the time, it works wonderfully. Through Starr’s eyes (and yes, narration) we navigate heady terrain: white privilege, systemic oppression, Black Lives Matter, all lives matter, victim blaming, mass incarceration, cultural appropriation and liberal guilt. And Stenberg, leading a strong ensemble which also includes Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae and Common, rises to the material after some cookie-cutter YA fare (The Darkest Minds, Everything, Everything) with her best performance to date, moving Starr believably through grief, confusion, anger, defiance and hard decisions.

It’s character development that respects both the character and the audience. And in trusting that YA audience with some bitter pills, The Hate U Give becomes a required dose for the rest of us.





Girl Tripping

Girls Trip

by Hope Madden

Here’s my guess: The first time you saw the trailer for Girls Trip you thought, didn’t I just see this movie? Isn’t Rough Night this same movie, only whiter?

Yes.

Well…Girls Trip is a bit raunchier, a bit schmaltzier, with characters a bit more broadly drawn.

You will laugh, though.

Regina Hall stars as Ryan Pierce, an Oprah-style life coach whose perfect marriage is a beacon of “having it all” to her throngs of fans and book buyers. Invited to keynote at Essence Magazine’s New Orleans conference, she sees a chance to reconnect with her three college besties – the Flossy Posse.

Uptight single mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), trashy Dina (Tiffany Haddish) and true friend in a bad spot, Sasha (Queen Latifah) join Ryan for their first wild weekend together in years. Give this mostly veteran cast credit – they take underwritten characters and make them feel like flesh and bone.

Girls Trip bears the glossy look and feel of a Malcolm D. Lee film – enough camaraderie to keep you interested, enough syrup to make you want to brush your teeth. But Lee takes some chances and allows his cast some leeway with this film, and it pays off.

Despite its already tired premise, Lee’s movie takes some of its antics in extreme directions to draw shocked laughter and genuine entertainment.

I don’t mean polite chuckle funny, either. It’s “is that an old man dick?” funny.

Not a single plot point will surprise, and the film is too damn long. Way too long – 30 minutes too long at least. But, between the natural chemistry among the quartet of leads and wild scene stealing from the comically gifted Haddish, Girls Trip offers some fun.

It’s too bad the lessons learned have to be delivered with a sledge hammer blow, but if you’ve ever said, “This place smells like Hennessy and bootie sweat. We’ve found our tribe,” then Girls Trip may be your film.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





What Are Nouns?

People Places Things

by Hope Madden

I dare you to dislike Jemaine Clement. Just try to – it’s not even possible.

Whether he’s the aspiring pop star of Flight of the Conchords, the sexy vampire of What We Do In the Shadows, or just the voice of the damn horse in those Direct TV ads, he is always memorable, likeable, and hilarious.

In People Places Things, Clement steps out of the shadows and takes on romantic lead responsibilities as newly single graphic novelist Will. Will finds himself lonely and directionless after longtime partner/baby mama Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) leaves him for a monologist named Gary (a very funny Michael Chernus).

Nothing really works out well as Will floats through many failed attempts at living – teaching the graphic novel, mentoring a talented student, dating her mother, spending more time with his (ridiculously adorable) twin daughters, finishing his book, accepting Charlie’s new life and impending marriage.

Filmmaker James Strouse has been writing movies about lost men for a long time, beginning with the under-appreciated Lonesome Jim back in ‘05. People Places Things is his most surefooted script, populated with appealing characters that are nicely realized by Strouse’s strong cast.

Clement can generate chemistry with anyone who walks on screen, which is no doubt part of his charm. This is particularly true with Regina Hall, who shines in a very different kind of comedic role than those she usually takes. The humor is sly and a bit quiet, but wonderful nonetheless.

Allynne succeeds with the most difficult role, delivering a believably neurotic counterpoint to Will, a woman pretending to be sure of herself and her future who is actually exactly as lost as he is.

In a lot of ways, the film serves up a traditionally structured if attractively indie rom-com, but the way the cast – Clement, in particular – underplays the drama and lets the comedy breathe a bit, you don’t feel manipulated. The film is somewhat daringly low-key, relying on a talented cast to unveil the longing and loneliness behind the laughs.

It’s a messy, sweet, funny look at self-discovery and relationships, masquerading as a romantic comedy.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_8K2QyI6p4





About Half

 

by George Wolf

 

About Last Night opens cold to the funky sound of James Brown’s “Sex Machine,” which is good because a) that song is awesome and b) it lets you know this remake has more “movin’, doin’ it, you know” on the brain than the 1986 original.

Of course, both films are based on David Mamet’s 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, though Mamet long ago dismissed its move to the big screen, recalling his selling of the work an act of “a callow youth.”

This latest adaptation strays even farther from the source work, as the setting moves West to LA, where buddies Danny (Michael Ealy) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) sell restaurant supplies by day and hit the bars in search of hookups by night.

While Bernie is enjoying a new sex kitten named Joan (Regina Hall), Danny is still hurting from a recent breakup. So, why not make it a double date with Joan’s friend Debbie (Joy Bryant) and see what happens? Well, we know what happens, but the setup underscores the fact that this time out, Debbie and Danny aren’t really the main attraction.

Whether that decision was made before casting the role of Bernie or not, Hart simply owns this movie. He’s fast, frenetic, charismatic and often uproarious, with Hall nearly matching him step for step in their raunchy back and forth. The Bernie and Joan characters were never made a couple before, but here, they are the only couple we care about.

Bryant and Ealy may both be great looking, but beyond a physical attraction, nothing about Debbie and Danny rings true.

Director Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) and screenwriter Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) want to make their film funny, while still keeping the original focus on the complexities of modern relationships. The funny works, nothing else does.

The Debbie/Danny love story ventures only surface deep, giving the entire relationship a rushed feel that brings no emotion to the highs and lows of their life together. Flat performances from both Bryant and Ealy don’t help, nor does a disastrous cameo from Paula Patton as Danny’s ex, proving once again she has zero comic timing.

Thanks to Hart and Hall, about half of About Last Night is a damn funny sex comedy.

The rest may leave you hating yourself in the morning.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

 





Heaping Helping of Holiday Pandering

Best Man Holiday

by Hope Madden

One film opening this weekend guarantees to make you laugh and cry, or kill you trying. It’s Best Man Holiday, the most exuberantly emotionally manipulative film, perhaps ever.

The entire cast of 1999’s Best Man returns, gathering to celebrate the holidays at the home of the old bride and groom, Mia (Monica Calhoun) and Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut). It appears that the Sullivans are doing well for themselves, living in a New York mansion with four well behaved and impossibly well groomed children.

The formulaic gathering lets us all catch up on how life treated Quentin (Terrence Howard), Shelby (Melissa de Sousa), Candace (Regina Hal) and Julian (Harold Perrineau), and Jordan (Nia Long). Did they all settle down? Find success?

And what about Harper (Taye Diggs) and Robyn (Sanaa Lathan)? Happily ever after? New book?

This is a film that knows its audience. If you fell in love with this crew back in 1999, Best Man Holiday is looking at you. Don’t you want to check back in, see how the fellas are faring 14 years later? Maybe, like you, they’ve moved on to family, career. How do they look mid-life without their shirts?

Pretty damn good.

If you are not this very specific target audience, you don’t mean much to Best Man Holiday. It’s a movie that is out to please, but not to please everyone. The target audience is like a woman who wants bacon and eggs for breakfast, so her man makes her bacon and eggs.  If you prefer pancakes, who cares? This breakfast is not for you.

With its one, very specific goal, there is no denying that BMH succeeds. As a real movie, though, it has more than a few problems.

The cast generates a charming chemistry, and their sense of fun and tenderness buoys the otherwise cliché riddled, wildly heavy-handed script by director Malcolm D. Lee. No serving of side dishes with this holiday ham is light, whether it’s the raucous sex, the silly comedy, the sermonizing, or the tear jerking.

You will foresee every single plot point 40 minutes before it happens, as this film is bound and determine to surprise no one. But Terrence Howard gets off some very funny lines and Morris Chestnut looks good, and if you’re not paying close attention, it might not even occur to you to wonder where they found matching boy band outfits for their talent show.

On the whole, you won’t want to pay very close attention to this one.

 

Verdict-2-0-Stars