4 items from 2007
Is there nothing new under the sun, or are today's filmmakers depressingly short of original ideas?
This question arises while watching Dirty Laundry, a comedy-drama with alarming similarities to a relic from 1976, "Norman, Is That You?" In that film, Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey were parents shocked to discover that their son was gay and living with a white lover. That's basically the same gimmick in this new film from writer-director Maurice Jamal.
Loretta Devine plays the matriarch of a Southern clan who is blind to her son's sexual orientation when he comes for a visit. The only addition to the stew is a bit left over from The Birdcage: When Sheldon (Rockmond Dunbar), a New York magazine writer, returns to his provincial clan in Georgia, he learns that he has a son from a one-night stand many years ago. As he tries to adjust to that discovery, his lover from New York shows up to complicate relations with his unruly extended family.
It may be that Jamal, who also co-stars as Sheldon's macho brother, tries to wear too many hats. The script actually has a number of promising characters, including Sheldon's sister and her sassy daughter; a highfalutin, hypocritical aunt (Jenifer Lewis); and a bunch of local yokels. Sheldon's effeminate lover, Ryan (Joey Costello), at first seems to be a stereotypical gay character, but when he coaches Sheldon's niece for a dance recital, Ryan proves to be more stalwart than first impressions suggested.
What sinks the movie is Jamal's ham-fisted direction. Much of Dirty Laundry plays like a theater piece, with long, static scenes that are clumsily staged and poorly shot. The film cries out for cinematic energy. There's one clever structural choice, when the film at one point jumps into flashback to show Sheldon's life in New York. But even here, it misses an opportunity to skewer the chic Manhattan magazine world. Sheldon's imperious editor is a potentially amusing character drawn much too broadly.
Performances are highly uneven. Dunbar comes off best; he's the one actor who works with subtlety and manages to convey Sheldon's perplexity while always retaining a measure of dignity. Devine and Lewis are fun, but their performances need to be taken down by several decibels. In fact, most of the actors could benefit from more adept direction.
Technically, the film is crude, with black-and-white flashbacks that add nothing to the brew. The film's plea for tolerance is commendable but would have more weight if only it were executed with more panache. While some family stories aimed at black audiences (like the recent hit This Christmas) have drawn an underexploited audience, Dirty Laundry is far too primitive to match the success of its predecessors.
Code Black Entertainment
MoJAM Entertainment, iN-Hale Entertainment, Dirty Laundry Film
Director-screenwriter: Maurice Jamal
Directors of photography: Rory King, Liz Rubin
Production designer: Norval Johnson
Co-producers: Gene Graham, Tsia Moses, La Rivers
Costume designers: Lawrence Roach, Nicholaus Stansberry
Editor: Gene Graham
Sheldon: Rockmond Dunbar
Evelyn: Loretta Devine
Aunt Letty: Jenifer Lewis
Jackie: Terri J. Vaughn
Eugene: Maurice Jamal
Ryan: Joey Costello
Gabriel: Aaron Grady Shaw
Running time -- 106 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
Drag queen Manuel, who prefers to be known as Manuela, is having a bad day. His lover has left, his landlady is demanding the rent, and to make matters worse, his best friend Coca is pregnant. The last thing he needs is to pass as straight in order to please Coca's conservative family, but he's loyal to a fault, and he agrees to play the part of Coca's fiance and father of her child.
The story has some not-so-subtle echoes of La Cage aux Folles, which has already been recycled into a Broadway musical as well as the Hollywood hit The Birdcage. Coca's conservative father is exactly like the hypocritical bluenose played by Gene Hackman in The Birdcage. While this version, transplanted to Puerto Rico, has some amusing twists and a pleasing color-drenched tropical palette, it doesn't come close to the hilarity of its predecessors. While it pleased audiences at AFI Fest and might find receptive crowds at gay film festivals, it isn't potent enough to have much future in U.S. theaters.
One problem is that the nightclub scenes don't have the musical verve needed to set the whole enterprise in motion. In addition, the script is shrill and broad when it should be witty. There are a lot of promising characters, including the landlady and her desperate niece, but most of the actors have been encouraged to play their roles at a hysterical pitch. They need some quieter moments. Nevertheless, Humberto Busto as the embattled hero does have the right pluck for the role of Manuela. The attractive Elena Iguina wins our sympathy as Coca. But Emmanuel Sunshine Logrono as the rightwing father overdoes his character's loutishness; he doesn't find the humor that Hackman brought to a similar role.
The plot lumbers along in fits and starts until it reaches the climactic wedding scene, when it finally hits some comic high notes. In the tradition of classic farce, all of the characters come together, and unexpected fireworks result. When the real father of Coca's child turns up to disrupt the proceedings, Manuela saves the day and wins the affection and respect of all. This scene works smoothly, but it comes too late, and a lengthy, unnecessary coda back at the nightclub dissipates some of the fun. The best elements in the picture are the colorful sets and costumes; they exhibit a flair not matched by the script.
MANUELA Y MANUEL
Director/Editor: Raul Marchand Sanchez
Screenwriter: Jose Ignacio Valenzuela
Producer: Frances Lausell Diaz
Executive producer: Sonia Fritz Macias
Director of photography: Sonnel Velazquez
Production designer: Rafi Mercado
Music: Geronimo Mercado
Manuela/Manuel: Humberto Busto
Coca: Elena Iguina
Rosa: Luz Maria Rondon
German: Emmanuel Sunshine Logrono
Faraona: Marian Pabon
Margarita: Ineabelle Colon
Norma: Marisol Calero
Arturo: Israel Lugo
Ramon: Johnny Lozada
Running time -- 94 minutes
No MPAA rating
Serrault was adored by the French public and starred in more than 150 movies and TV series during a career spanning more than 50 years.
Born in 1928, Serrault's first success was as Zaza Napoli in the stage production of La Cage, a role he reprised for Edouard Molinaro's 1978 big-screen adaptation, earning him a Cesar for best actor. Serrault subsequently starred in two French-language sequels. The movie was remade in English as The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
President Nicolas Sarkozy led the tributes, describing Serrault as a "monument of the theater, the cinema and of television." Culture minister Christine Albanel called him "an immense talent" with "the gift to bring clear authenticity to the characters he painted."
Despite the international success of La Cage, Serrault never ventured far outside the French industry. »
- Here it is, my first coverage of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, a review of the opening night film, Chicago 10, a fast-paced, loud, and at times nerve-racking film that is part-documentary, part courtroom drama, part music video, written and directed by Brett Morgan (The Kid Stays in the Picture). The short version: tens of thousands of lives, both U.S. and Vietnamese, are being exterminated in Vietnam’s jungles on a daily basis, U.S. involvement is escalating, and student deferment from the draft has been revoked. The counterculture (who label themselves ‘Yippies’), filled with ideas garnered from rock music, books, and drug-experimentation, is outraged by the war and the capitalist system in general. A demonstration is organized in Chicago to go head to head with the Democratic Convention, the demonstrators and denied permits, they demonstrate anyway, and the Chicago Pd and National Guard is put to the »
4 items from 2007
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