This review aired on Greater Boston just before the August 16th premiere of the new film Sparkle, starring Jordin Sparks and featuring the late Whitney Houston.
Sparkle is about a group of girls growing up in 1960s Motown, trying to get together their own singing group and give the reigning Supremes a challenge. It's the last film that Whitney Houston completed before her tragic death. She plays the single mother trying to raise these three girls to walk along the straight and narrow.
Remaking the 1976 film Sparkle was Houston's vision, and a project that she had worked on for more than a decade. The disparate elements of the film don't come back to form a complete whole, but perhaps that's fitting, as the anchor to the film left a void as well.
Meanwhile, Jordin Sparks, winner of the 2007 American Idol competition at age 17, is coming into her own as an actress. She shines as the composer and leader of the trio who can't let go of the music.
Still, it's seeing Houston as a healthy, maternal figure who delivers one number of her own, that finally gives the film its poignancy. Houston fans have already ensured that this film will get some buzz regardless of its flaws.
To recognize Houston's passing, the Sparkle website features a special tribute to Houston, inviting fans to add their own photos to an interactive mosaic, along with messages to the belated pop star and those who continue to miss her.
By Edgar B. Herwick III | Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Listen to Edgar's interview with David Pendleton, programmer, Harvard Film Archive and film critic Garen Daley.
Shakespeare once asked asked, “What’s in a name?” For William Wadsworth Hodkinson and Adolph Zukor, I’d say quite a bit. In the early 1900s, they called their burgeoning film production and distribution company Paramount Pictures.
This year, Paramount Pictures celebrates their 100th anniversary and starting in September the Harvard Film Archive is celebrating the famed studio by screening selected films from its considerable canon.
By The Callie Crossley Show | Monday, July 2, 2012
July 2, 2012
Mural on the AMC Loews Theater in Harvard Square (dbking/Flickr)
BOSTON — The AMC Loews Harvard Square Theatre is closing. What does this mean for Rocky Horror fans and neighboring movie houses? Award winning film programmer and driving force behind the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, Garen Daly, discusses the change with WGBH Radio host Callie Crossley and said this closing did not have to happen.
By Jared Bowen | Friday, June 29, 2012
June 30, 2012
Mark Wahlberg in Ted (Universal Pictures)
BOSTON — Just about a minute into the film Ted a huge surge of uproarious laughter washes over the audience and, for the better part of two hours, it barely subsides. All as we watch the wayward young man John (Mark Wahlberg) come of age with his teddy bear (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). It’s a rite of passage that includes playing Nintendo, smoking pot, and appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (Ted’s magical gift of life turns him into a short-lived celebrity during a 1980s heyday). But there’s turbulence as John turns 35 and his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wants a level of commitment absent of plush BFFs.
As you might have guessed, this directorial and screenwriting debut by Family Guy creator MacFarlane, is all kinds of wrong. No one is safe here — not gays, Iranians, Bostonians, African Americans, ALS patients, or one-time stars of Flash Gordon. That’s to say nothing of Ted’s backroom romp with a supermarket check-out girl, his “Dirty Fozzie Dance” (look away Jim Henson, look away), and a hotel room fight scene that riotously obliterates any lasting image we have of Wahlberg as Mickey Ward. In short, Ted is obscenely funny.
Strangely though, it all comes with a tremendous amount of sincerity and heart. Wahlberg is infinitely endearing as the puppy-eyed John who is legitimately torn between his loyalties to his best bear friend and the girl he loves. His John is so innocently hapless he can be excused for risking life and love for Ted—especially when Ted reciprocates with an equally deep regard for their friendship. Theirs ranks among cinema’s best bro-mances. And this will rank as the year’s funniest, most clever comedy.
By Jared Bowen | Saturday, June 16, 2012
July 16, 2012
BOSTON — Tom Cruise is letting go. In “Rock of Ages,” the new film based on the 2009 Broadway musical, he stars as an Axl Rose-ish Stacee Jaxx. Betraying the supremely controlled image he maintains publicly, Cruise plays an aloof rocker with obscene fame and a penchant for fur wraps and pet monkeys.
Just as in his hilarious turn as a movie executive in “Tropic Thunder” four years ago, Cruise captivates exquisitely by not being Tom Cruise, the tightly wound mega movie star. His entrance in “Rock of Ages” is one to remember. The camera slowly moves in on a pile of half-dressed bodies atop a giant bed in a rock star’s tropically themed, backstage dressing room. It pans across Cruise’s leather clad leg, beyond his ruby-encrusted codpiece and onto his completely disoriented face, framed in 80s locks. It’s brilliant and we love his sexed up, alcohol-dazed singer immediately. Cruise steals this film as a singer slowly realizing his worth and whose charity can save a soon-to-be-shuttered bar in 1980s Los Angeles. Even more impressive, Cruise can sing. And if you grew up throbbing to 80s music in your local skate palace, you’ll be happy to know Cruise sings 80s well, especially as he dares to take on anthems like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
Unfortunately, the film really begins and ends with Cruise. The plot is familiar. Girl (Julianne Hough) arrives in LA from Oklahoma to find fame and fortune. Girl’s possessions are stolen the moment she steps off the bus, but girl finds boy (Diego Boneta) and her pursuit of fame continues undaunted. It’s a story told better and with high camp in 2010’s “Burlesque.” The problem with “Rock of Ages” is that unlike Burlesque’s Aguilera-Cher cage match, it needs to wink at itself more. Unfortunately though, “Rock” plays it straight. Catherine Zeta-Jones is painfully earnest as a conservative pol’s wife—even when she is rocking out to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are fairly inspired as a club owner and his employee, but have very little with which to work. Every rose has its thorn—in this case it’s Cruise…and the rest of the film.
By Bridgit Brown | Saturday, June 16, 2012
July 16 2012
Scene from Contradictions of Fair Hope
Hear S. Epatha Merkeson talk about her first film
BOSTON — I had forgotten about the Daughters of Mount Zion until I spoke to S. Epatha Merkerson about The Contradictions of Fair Hope, her very first documentary. The Daughters were a benevolent order of women in my old church who would organize a fish fry each year to raise money for the sick and shut-in and those desperately in need. Contradictions is about one such benevolent church society in Fair Hope, Alabama.
Whoopi Goldberg lends her voice as narrator of this documentary, which has already taken home 17 awards, but will it make it to Tribeca or Cannes? Merkerson says that out of the more than 50 festivals that she submitted Contradictions to, only 10 responded favorably and only one of them had a non-black focus. She speculates that it might have to do with it being an election year or possibly it’s because white festivals aren’t interested in black stories. She could be right.
Aside from all of this, Fair Hope is a small community in Alabama that still practices a ritual that dates back to Reconstruction. I haven’t seen the documentary, and Merkerson wouldn’t budge when asked to provide some specifics. I tried Googling “feet washing” and “African American benevolent societies” but there’s little information out there (aside from links to Contradictions own website). Merkerson says the contradictions of the title have to do with how the benevolent society has changed over time, but she wouldn’t give any examples because she doesn’t want to spoil the surprise. She calls the film “a call to action.”
While Merkerson has starred in numerous Hollywood films and television shows, she’s not your typical Hollywood actress. She has a BFA and an honorary doctorate from Wayne State University. Her acting career began when she played Reba on The Pee Wee Herman Show, though most people know her for her role as LieutenantAnita Van Buren on NBC’s Law and Order. She was also in Lackawanna Blues and will appear in Lincoln, an upcoming film by Steven Spielberg. Among her awards are an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a SAG award and an NAACP Image Award. She is currently host of TVOne’s Find Our Missing, a docu-drama series that puts names and faces to the people least featured inmajor news stories about missing people.
Contradictions, which was co-produced by Rockell Metcalf, will screen at this year’s Roxbury International Film Festival. Merkerson will be there to present it and she will also take part in a Q&A after the screening. Among the many film screenings taking place at this year’s RIFF, this one is my top pick because it promises to tell me more about a little-known cultural and historical tradition and being the history buff that I am, I have to see this one.
The Contradictions of Fair Hope will be the closing film of the Festival on Sunday June 17 at 2:00pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. To purchase tickets to this film, and to find out more, visit the Roxbury International Film Festival website.
About the Authors
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts.
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.