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Our Song (2000)
A great coming of age film that gets into the mind of girls.
I reflect back to the days when I held my boyfriends hat to smell him into existence in my time alone when I was 16. The little moments of this film are so accurate and right on pace with what is going on in the minds and hearts of young girls during those coming of age teenage years. Now at my age I want to preach to them about their decisions and how life during those times are not as important as it all seems in those moments. That if they can be patient in their youth and wait to experience the hardships of life both external and internal that life would be so much sweeter. But then again young people today are faced with some variables that I never had to deal with a youth.
The three main characters well played by all three actors (Kerry Wahington - Lanisha, Anna Simpson - Joycelyn and Melissa Martinez- Maria) give us the very believable depiction of a piece of reality for young girls living in impoverished situations. They have impoverished family lives all being raised by single mothers with expectation of Lanisha whose father is present but not actively supporting her day to day. The have impoverished educational systems and lack direct contact with achieving role models. These situations powerfully affect them and is their reality but all this is of no great depressive concern to these young women in their day to day. They except their plight and focus on the same things young girls all over the world are concerned with. Finding true love in a male, having good friends that you can depend on, gaining some respect/love and responsibility from parents and enjoying life. This is were this film cross the race, age and gender gap imposed upon it by its characters and the setting in which it is stamped.
The Director and writer McKay explains on the DVD how each of scenes got into his head, by just observing young people of that age that lived in those types of neighborhoods. Plus you add three up and coming actresses who are not so far removed from that time in their own lives that you get a real good synergy of reality and acting at its best. The one thing I know about (African Americans and Hispanics) is that there is always a spiritual family member or neighbor that is in the foreground or near ground believing in a better day and better life and future in spite of the present situation and is role modeling that to some extent. This was never touched in the movie in order not to preach and I understand that but it also narrows the culture to having no hope in anything other than themselves.
The HOPE FACTOR: I now think about my future and where I have come from and say as Lanisha did ` Today is a good day.' Yes poverty still exists, racism, sexism, and any other ism that we can added. Yes some of each of these young girls actions perpetuate the isms and are self-destructive, everything around them is impoverished but NONE of those actions past or neither present nor their environment leaves them without hope for a bright future. I was left with saddened hope of each of the characters and a deeper desire to be a role model in the life of some young girl on the edge of making a destructive decision. I suppose that is the value of film it should not only entertain but cause each of us to think, reflect and then act in some positive way to make this world a better place.
Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999)
Catfish Story with Sanaa Lathan
Catfish is a delightful independent film that allows its audience to experience both emotional extremes from laughter to tears. The story is about a childless African American couple (Harold and Delores Williams) who have adopted and successfully reared two Vietnamese children. The couple wonderfully played by Mary Alice and Paul Winfield bring their many years of rich believable acting experience to the screen. The son Dwayne played by writer/director Chi Moui Lo has fully assimilated in the African American culture with his adoptive parents and is dating the lovely Nina played by Sanaa Lathan. The daughter Mai played by Lauren Tom has not assimilated and is seeking to fulfill her inner emptiness by finding her Vietnamese mother. The story line begins with Dwayne comedically trying to find a means to ask the beautiful but less than romantic Nina to marry him. During a cookout at his parents Dwayne fumbles through a public marriage proposal to Nina that is followed by Mai's announcement that she has found their birth mother and is bringing her to America. The plot thickens, as Delores Williams must come to grips with her motherhood as she faces the possibility of losing Mai whom she has never been emotionally close to as well as her beloved Dwayne.
Each character of the movie is poignantly forced to reexamine their own identity as well as his / her heartstring relationships with others when the Vietnamese birth mother Thanh played by Kieu Chinh brings her overbearing opinionated personality to the apparently stable extended family. Thanh basically steps in on anybody to gain the control of the motherhood to her children that she has lost the past 20 years. She seeks to win the affections of Dwayne as well as break off his engagement to Nina because she feels she has lost him both affectionately and culturally, but she disrespects and rudely ignores the needy Mai whom she feels she has already won over.
Choi as director somewhat effectively uses flash backs to the past and imaginary images of the future to bring us the audience into what is going on in his head. A weird comedic subplot is somewhat developed between Dwayne and his roommate who is dating a transsexual male. This and all of the other conflicts are drawn together into one big catfight between Thanh and Delores. Each person must choose sides or loyalties during and following the fight. The most touching moment for me in the film was the reconciliation between Delores and Mai which is precipitated through their mutual love for Harold and his well being. (A tearjerker moment) Alls well that ends well, each character handles their conflict and comes to grips with what true love and family is all about. Overall I must say that the movie was worth the $5.50 I paid. I didn't get bored or go to sleep even though the audience consisted of me and one other person. We both commented at the end that it was a pretty good movie.
For the, Sanaa Lathan fans, we again have her playing the girlfriend, of the main character and she does get respectable screen time. Nina the character she plays in this film does not have much depth or real earth shattering dialogue. Nevertheless Sanaa works with what she has very well. You get the down home naturally beautiful Sanaa that looks good in jeans and tennis shoes or anything else she chooses to wear, to me it always looks respectful and appropriate for her body style. She is tasked to play a hard working, not so touchy feely romantic but committed girlfriend for the self-esteem lacking Dwayne. He loves her but can't seem to understand what such a beautiful woman could want with a short man such as himself. (The farce is I was wondering the same thing) His self-doubt and conflicts with his mother leads him to break off the engagement with Nina. The breakup occurs as Nina has tried to adjust her romantic style and be more attentive to Dwayne based on a sly Thanh prompted remark made by Mai. Maybe it's the feistiness that she plays so well that I was looking for. Sanaa seems to have a lot of energy and passion; it appears to me that she never really personally connected with this character although she does not flub the role. Sanaa's strong black woman roles in the Love and Basketball, Best Man and even Drive in which she is not allowed to shed tears over a man (especially in his presence) on screen although her heart is visibly in conflict is a different type from this character. This character gets to cry on screen, which Sanaa handles immaculately but I just did not feel that can of passion that she can open up so well during those scenes. As always I enjoyed watching Sanaa on the big screen and when I get a chance I will go back to catch what I missed the first time about Catfish in Black Bean Sauce. 3 1/2 stars out of 5.
Disappearing Acts (2000)
The story of two mismatched star-crossed lovers that try to make it all work until...
The story of two mismatched star-crossed lovers that try to make it all work until... Real love, Real life a sub theme of the movie tells the story. As has been showing up in the movies lately a great trend of showing the realities of middle class African Americans without the violence or gang nature of past films. The movie was a very good depiction of the bestseller novel of the same name written by Terry McMillian. As in her other movie depictions the sub-characters are 1-dimensional but the main characters are fully 3-dimensional. Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan captured fully the spirit of Franklin Swift and Zora Banks of the book. They each turned them into visual believable characters that we had praise and sympathy for.
Thanks to HBO and Wesley's Amen Ra Productions we now have another African American love story. Love Jones lead the way and it took almost 3 years for Love and Basketball to follow. We want more!!!!
Sanaa Lathan continues to delight her fans by creating characters that are so real and approachable. She knows how to woo you in. The girl has skills, acting skills that is. This was a good vehicle for her sophomore leading role. Her commanding control of subtle use of facial expressions, sighs and body language are perfect for a part that calls for conveyance of thoughts without language. Again as in Love and basketball Sanaa goes beyond the basic 9-5 operation of the job, she put on 20 lbs for the role. (And still looked fabulous) This truly shows her dedication to her craft and desire to give her best. She again teams with director Gina Prince-Bythewood. I am officially classifying them as the "Dynamic Duo for the African American Woman in Film." Keep up the excellent work ladies, looking forward to your next project.
Wesley Snipes gave us another side of himself as well. I found more passion and venerability in this character than his Jungle Fever or Mo Better romantic characters. Clearly his line: `The love was always real Z. It still is so there is no bad timing' was the best line of the movie. It gave us hope for a new and improved relationship for Franklin and Zora.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Excellent Acting, Writing and Directing
Sanaa Lathan puts in a heart warming effort in this her debut acting breakthrough role. In line with Denzel Washington who understands the effective power of going beyond the role to find and portray the character Ms Lathan rocked this film as an athlete and vulnerable yet driven strong woman who learned to sacrifice and compromise in order to get the desires of her heart. Her Bambi eyes and body language spoke to women of all ages. I look forward to many more roles especially new ones with her current boyfriend and renowned co-star Omar Epps.
Gina Bythewood in this her debut feature film directing role has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. She wrote a beautiful story that was directed with such finese that it made me want to know and personally engage the characers. The family subplots were all beliveable and deep enough to help us understand the psyche/actions of the main characters.
Can't wait to get this movie on DVD, there are so many positive messages and role models in this supurbly written, acted and directed movie that I must have it in my personal collection. You should also!!!!