John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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Newcomer Adepero Oduye plays Alike (Le for short), a seventeen-year old high-schooler living in Brooklynâ??s Fort Greene neighborhood. Sheâ??s smart and creative, much to the approval of her parents; but to their dismay, unbeknownst to them (or due to their unwillingness to accept and/or approve), sheâ??s also a lesbian with a masculine persona, or simply a Pariah.
Alike lives with her much more girly sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) and parents. Kim Wayans, best down for her broad comic characterizations from the 1990â??s In Living Color, shows off her dramatic chops as Alikeâ??s mother Audrey, a Christian-valued matriarch who doesnâ??t have so much an agenda, but an affliction. She wants the best for her daughters, but her religious subscription limits her ability to love her eldest daughter completely. Unlike most black men in films about black women, Alikeâ??s father Arthur (a stalwart, yet relaxed Charles Parnell) doesnâ??t always have his daughterâ??s (or wifeâ??s) best intentions in mind, but heâ??s neither shiftless, emasculated, physically abusive or non-existent as is every man in The Color Purple and the like.
In an ironic twist, Audrey introduces Alike to the daughter of a coworker, in hopes of steering her away from the butch influence of her best friend Laura (a cool, thoughtful Pernell Walker). Though her time with Bina (Aasha Davis) assumes a predictable route, it doesnâ??t end as one might expect. To boot, the magnetic personalities of the characters are sufficient enough to make the trip worth it. As well, their shared love of alternative music provides one of the best film soundtracks in quite some time.
In the filmâ??s social environment, women who dress as men and love other women are considered pariahs. Feminine lesbians donâ??t fare much better, but they, as well as others, view themselves as bisexuals who are going through a phase. They are not a threat, because of their non-confrontational gender qualities and the belief is that theyâ??ll eventually assume a more traditional place in society. Itâ??s one of the many conundrums that test Alike and help her become a stronger and better person, as well as writer.
The inevitable confrontation scene between Alike and her folks arrives unannounced without much of a consistent buildup. Yet, steering away from cheap sentimentality, it also avoids any hints of condensation. There are no martyrs or villains, only fully rounded characters.
Itâ??s difficult not to compare Pariah to the recent Precious, as there are so few films made about African-American women. Lee Danielâ??s popular directorial effort was dark, gritty and pulled no punches. And while it over-indulged in a broad range of emotions, it saved face with its sharp social commentary. However, along with the newly released The Help, one had to wonder if the best the marketplace had to offer in intelligent fare about black women is located at the lower rungs of society. Itâ??s not that those films are unacceptable and not to be appreciated, but the ghettoization gets to be monotonous.
That being said, Pariahâ??s setting doesnâ??t necessarily break the cycle, but itâ??s a fine example of compelling storytelling. Directer Dee Rees is an exciting new filmmaker with great promise. Moving beyond her personalized debut, I stand in anticipation of where she will go from here.
Director Sheldon Larryâ(TM)s Leave It On the Floor is a musical about the Los Angeles ball culture, bred out of an East Coast phenomena of underground LGBT youth dating back decades, but most prominently featured in its progenitor the documentary Paris Is Burning. Thrown out of their biological homes, black and latino queers find and congregate in new âhouses,â? led by an elder (or "house parent") and then compete in periodic competitions, dancing and vogueing down their own runways in outrageous costumes, often simulating their own version of the outer world, judged by their own peers. As a result, a newer, much stronger family is formed where everyone is accepting of their differences and they are able to operate at a level disallowed in mainstream society. This movement is responsible for giving birth to the idea of the pop star, including, but not limited to, such icons as Madonna, Lady Gaga (ââ(TM)Houseâ(TM) of Gagaâ? borrows the term from these ad hoc homes/teams) and Beyonceâ(TM)s alter-ego Sasha Fierce. Much like the music industry co-opted black R & B in the 1950â(TM)s and popularized the form by concocting Elvis Presley, most of these ladies owe a great part of their success to this subculture.
The story concerns Bradley Darnell Lyle (the talented Ephraim Sykes), a black queer youth, thrown out by his mother Deondra (Metra Dee along with her fingernails are hilarious at first, before the low-budget laughs give way to the stone-cold reality of how heartless the mother is). He takes off in her car and gives âmeet cuteâ? a new definition when Carter (well-cast Andre Myers) crosses his path. Their exchange is indicative of how truly smart and sly Glenn Gaylordâ(TM)s (who also wrote the songs) screenplay is. From there, Bradley slowly immerses himself in the world of ball culture, meeting all kinds of characters along the way, including his house mother Queef Latina (Barbie-Q, who can threaten to stick her foot up anyoneâ(TM)s ass with the best of them) and Eppie Durall (James Alsop almost steals the whole show) who wants nothing more than to give birth to her children.
The more upbeat songs are generally stronger than the slower ones. Princess Eminence (a divinely bitchy Phillip Evelyn, who also gives a heartfelt performance) gets to sing the toe-tapping âJustinâ(TM)s Gonna Call,â? explaining to Bradley that greener pastures await. And âKnock Them Mothafuckers Downâ? is a driving bowling-alley number about kicking ass and taking names that makes a catchy companion piece to the filmâ(TM)s self-titled theme. While the movie doesnâ(TM)t quite properly weave Caldwell Jones (Demarkes Dogan as Queef Latina's lover) into the story, his rap duet with Carter, âThis Is My Lament,â? achieves an odd beauty. âIâ(TM)m Willingâ? and âDonâ(TM)t Jump Babyâ? didnâ(TM)t ring any tears, but âHis Name Is Shawn,â? about the perception of and fight for identity of transgender and queer youth between the biological families who have ostracized them and the chosen families who have opened their arms to them is astonishing, appropriately awkward and strangely moving. The soundtrack also creates a really cool mash-up between âBallroom Blissâ? and Bradleyâ(TM)s self-pitying âLoserâ(TM)s List.â?
Like 1970â(TM)s Blaxploitation, there are some rough edges which work to the filmâ(TM)s advantage. Itâ(TM)s painfully obvious that the actors sing to their own vocals (a common practice in musicals that is less apparent in higher-budgeted affairs), but itâ(TM)s unimportant and hardly distracting.
To an outsider, at first, the Los Angeles ball culture may appear narcissistic and superficial. People prance down their runways, gesticulating and shooting irreverent poses, while being cheered on and/or booed in the process, all of which this attitude spreads into their respective homes. Yet, we eventually bear witness to talented dancers and contortionists, as well as the time and creativity which the artists invest into their costumes and makeup, but, ultimately, most importantly, the resilient fabric stitching these untraditional families together.
Floor is both a celebration of a marginalized culture which has been around for ages and developed out of a Darwinian instinct to exist and thrive, but its songs and sass beg for audience participation. Its flamboyance and musical revelry create an experience not unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although I could be deathly wrong, as no one else immediately around me was bopping their head to the beats. This may have just been another indication of my square white boyness. Still, if this film could achieve a small fraction of the popularity and response of Rockyâ(TM)s, it would certainly be a respectable reflection of where our society is at today, especially considering the quality level is on par with modern classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The setup of Heartbeats promises tragic consequences. Two best friends, Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Xavier Dolan), both fall for the same guy, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). With his mop of blonde curls and lean torso suggesting Michelangelo, heâ(TM)s more an Adonis-lite. The camera eats him up and itâ(TM)s easy to believe why Marie and Francis want to consume him without sharing with each other. However, that their yearning last so long is a bit trying. Despite his suggested intelligence, Nicolasâ(TM) beauty runs only skin deep. And while love and obsession may rob one of their faculties, Marie and Francis continue to act like children long after the flower has wilted.
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