Thelma and the Tortoise

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By: Nikki Abban

Thelma – 2017

Directed by: Joachim Trier

Written by: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt

‘Thelma’ was interesting at times, but more often than not, underwhelming . The pacing of this film was comparable to a elderly tortoise waking up after a nap. I️ knew there would be action eventually but, wasn’t sure if it was worth waiting for .
When the film finally did pick up I️ realized that there may not be much of a story and just hints of one. It’s frustrating to see yet another art house film that relies on its cool points and mystery instead of substance .

With that being said there are a few redeeming moments. One can appreciate Thelma’s battle between faith and desire , her coming of age, and her realization of her supernatural capabilities. Each of these times were interesting but did not get enough time to develop. A lot of beginnings of ideas but minimal follow through. I’d be curious to understand the choice behind that .

Moreover, it was quite disappointing to see a potential serious budding same sex romance be — yet again — displayed as an the vapid ‘girls touching girls are hot’ cliche. It’s understood that the connection between the two women was intended to show desire, but to paint this film as a slice of life and then include extreme lust in every interaction is a stretch. A moment or two of a real foundation beyond a pool side hello would have made me root for them more. Despite its strange delivery, Thelma’s battle to understand her sexuality and her feelings for Anja was probably the only thing that kept me hooked.

There is no denying that Thelma was quite different than other films this year. The question is; was it different just to be different? That’s up for you to decide.

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Why Don’t You Just ‘Get Out’?

“Get Out”(2017)  | By Nikki Abban

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*SPOILER ALERT*

I can count the amount of times I’ve watched a horror movie on my finger. It was the Scott Derrickson’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose“. I’ll never forget when my cousin showed me the DVD of this demon movie. My hands shook just holding it. “We’ll watch it together. It won’t be that bad,” he said.

Kofi lied to me that day.

With fear in my eyes and trouble in my soul, I whispered, “I’ll just go upstairs and watch Disney Channel until it’s over.” A few persuasive words later along with mildly undercutting jabs from my brother , I caved.

Worst decision of my life.

Not at all. Just being dramatic. But… if I could take back the year and a half of nightmares about demons, upside down crosses, and the unfortunate reality of far-too-frequent trips to my mother’s room, I would. I would never watch a horror movie again, so I thought. Smh.

Now some eight odd years later,  Get Out” made its theatrical premiere. It’s no secret that writer and director of the film, Jordan Peele , has been getting rave reviews from Rotten Tomatoes (and Black Twitter). Next thing I knew my black ass (and Bri’s black ass) were sitting in the theatre. Being brave.

Bri’s my Rod (LilRel Howery).

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“Get Out” is the story of photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his trip to visit his girlfriend’s — Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) — parents for the first time. Chris is black and Rose is white. Just so you know for those of you who “don’t see color.” Y’all the ones that need to be in the front row for this one. I digress.

The film ebbs and flows between scenes filled with stupid things white people say and plenty of shenanigans that are afoot. Both equally cringeworthy. Throughout the film, you see textbook tropes of a good horror movie. A great sound score, surprises and the constant assessment of who you can trust. With some basic conventions laid down in the beginning of the film, Peele poignantly and deliberately makes choices that break the one convention us PoC hate the most. The brown person dying first.

Chris , the main character, is black and does not die within the first 5 minutes. He even makes it to the second act! Glory glory hallelujah. Look out for the many  uncomfortable close ups and lingering shots that you want you want to escape from, but you can’t. A powerful and presumably purposeful choice.

By the middle of the film you begin to meet the Jones’ or in this case the Armitage family. Rose’s family consists of her “woke” white dad (Bradley Whitford) who would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve, her Mother (Catherine Keener) who needs to mind her damn business, and her dodgy brother. Rose’s hometown is weird AF. A lot of neighbors with white plastic smiles, low key and high key racist comments, and ghoul-like behavior from the black folk that live in this town.

You will be feeling a lot of ways. Including the various shades and degrees of “oh nah” to the “hell no”. No matter where you are from this film can be understood by anyone that has been walking around with their eyes wide open. It could be mildly offensive for those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of race relations in America. ‘Get out’ is a beautiful blend of suspense, satire, horror, and, as expected, moments of comedy. The acting was very believable. If you were to squint really hard you could see your co worker, in-law or neighbor right there on the screen.  

Was it worth it? 100 % yes. I must say I was quite satisfied. I felt heard after being in a sunken place for so long. Hey Jordan, I’ll have you know after watching your film I slept soundly. Thank you.

Film #  27/ 365 for 2017.

My Rating (9/10)

Birdman: A Story of Freedom

Birdman: A Story of Freedom

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 By : Nikki Abban

Once upon a time a man gets a nose job, flies around New York City, kills himself three times, talks to a man in a bird suit, pretends his dad was an alcoholic, and oh yeah — he smokes a little pot.

The more you try to categorize or make sense of Director and Co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu’s newest film, Birdman, the less you will get out of it. Though the film itself is well executed, elegant and features refreshing long takes that are worth noting, it’s the story and themes that make this film memorable.

Birdman is a film that follows the journey of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), former a big time Hollywood superstar best known for his role as the superhero Birdman. After some time out of the spotlight, Riggan is desperate to regain relevance as an actor, but this time he wants to be a well-respected actor. Thus, Riggan decides that acting and producing his own New York Broadway show will be the way to achieve this.

Riggan is not the only one in this story searching for relevance. His daughter Sam Thomson (Emma Stone) — who just got out of rehab due to her “troubled life” — also desires to be noticed. Stone’s big green eyes that fill with passion as she delivers each line helps you understand her character as more than just the typical spoiled child of a celebrity. Yes, her character is a bit angsty and dramatic, but having an extremely selfish, self-absorbed, and possibly schizophrenic father makes us cut Sam some slack.

However, don’t expect to connect with her character or any of the other female characters in this film. Every time we see moments of development for the female characters there is a man that either interrupts it or takes away from it. In one scene after a preview of the play, actresses Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Laura (Andrea Riseborough) talk about their dreams on Broadway and how they want to be respected. This conversation adds more layers to these characters that were previously just the girlfriends of Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) and Riggan Thomson.

Shortly after they show support for each other, there is a kissing scene that seems caters to the male gaze rather than representing a possible romantic interest between the two characters. Even if it was supposed to be romantic, the moment is ruined when Mike bursts into their dressing room, interrupts them and mocks their kiss on his way out. Here and in many other instances throughout the film the female characters are portrayed as over sexualized or overly emotional. Perhaps the portrayal of females is a social commentary about how woman are treated in the film industry, but more likely it is a reflection of a neglect by the writers to fully develop the females characters.

Mike Shiner is the respected theatre actor that takes the phrase “the end justifies the means” a bit too seriously. His choice to drink real gin on stage or his attempt to actually have sex with his co-star Lesley are just a few moment when he ignores all social norms for the sake of the “art.”

The character Birdman (according to the rest of the world) is simply a super hero character that made Riggan a celebrity. For Riggan, Birdman is an inner conscience that offers advice at all the wrong times and eventually causes Riggan to lose his sanity. No matter how many times Riggan tells himself that Birdman is just a metaphorical construct, Birdman becomes more and more real as the film progresses.

Once Riggan accepts Birdman and all he has to offer, he moves from bondage to liberation. For many of us our boring realities do not compare to the wonderful fantasies and dreams that we hold in our minds. Somewhere between when we see Riggan levitate or fly through New York City we begin to question our own sanity. This film is a bit of a mind fuck. You’ll often times find yourself thinking, “Is this really happening? Is Riggan Birdman?” Turns out only Sam will truly know the answer to that.

This film blends the world of reality and fiction, is never predictable, and will have you feeling a wide range of experience of emotions. Once upon a time I tried to write a review that explain this film and like any work of art (as Riggan reminds us) you just can’t put a label on it.

 

Review on FOX’s : Red Band Society

Red Band Society

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By: Nikki Abban 

The best comeback when somebody says, “It’s easy for you to say,” is to whip out your amputated leg from under your sheets. Unlike the concerned family member who pretends to understand the fears of cancer, Leo (a cancer patient himself) can truly understand what Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) is going through.

Red Band Society brings a fresh perspective to the teen quest and medical show genres. Like your average teen quest story, there are instances of romantic tension, the evil teacher (in this case the “scary bitch”, Nurse Jackson), parents that are inattentive and the classic mean girl. The main difference is that these kids have various illnesses such as cancer, anorexia and heart failures that make them quite different than someone like Naomi from the CW’s 902010. Unlike your typical medical drama the main story arch revolves around the patients.

Our main narrator of the show, Charlie (Griffin Gluck), is in a coma. While the rest of the hospital thinks he is in a state of ignorance, the audience and a couple of characters who traveled to the “in between” are aware that Charlie knows a lot more than most think. The “in between” is when a patient in unconscious, but still alive; and this is where Charlie’s soul lives. This space adds an unexpected layer to a story that may have seemed predictable.

It is uncommon in television to have the “in between” depicted in a way that isn’t a dream or typical fade to black that transitions to the character waking up. The idea that “in between” is a place that is concrete is innovative aspect of the show that is worth noting.

Charlie serves as this omniscient presence in the hospital that sees and hears everything. Even though he physical body is in his bed, his spiritual self is always around the corner. Often times, Charlie serves as a comic relief for things that probably shouldn’t be funny. Lines like, “Emma is a smart cookie… If only she would eat a cookie,” may have you laughing at a girl with an eating disorder. Other times he provides wisdom with lines like, “sometimes the longest mile is the one you walk alone.”

This show has social commentaries that thankfully don’t have a cheesy after school special vibe. In a scene where Leo (Charlie Rowe) is golfing with his friends, he asks, “Do you have any idea of what’s happening now?” Dash, Kara, and Emma cleverly respond, “no peace in the middle east, pregnant Kardashian and climate change.”

Though Leo later reveals that he was referring to Jordi’s process in surgery, this scene asks us to reflect on our society. The fact that a Kardashian pregnancy is just as relevant as the unrest in the Middle East shows just how disturbed American culture is.

This show clearly touches upon serious medical issues and conditions, and how society looks at sickness. However, more anything Red Band Society is a coming of age story. We see the ringleader of the “Red Band Society,” Leo, go through some frustrations that most teenage boys experience. Leo’s first experience at a party was (like many of us) a bit awkward and sexually charged.

When faced with an opportunity to hook up with a cute girl, him having a condom was the least of his worries. He was more worried about her reaction to his prosthetic leg than protecting himself from STDs. In these moments of the series, you won’t find yourself crying because that isn’t the point. Red Band Society wants you to turn away from pitying the sick and asks you to understand them.

Dear Justin Simien, Yes.

“Dear White People”

Photo from : filmguide.sundance.org

By: Nikki Abban

“Racism doesn’t exist in America,” says nobody ever. On the contrary, “Dear White People” reminds us that President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen) isn’t the only one who thinks this way. “Dear White People” is a satirical fiction film about a group of black Ivy League college students and the racism and discrimination they deal with on a daily basis. For those who may think this film is only something black people can enjoy, think again.

This film does a great job of blending issues of race, sexuality and college life, which makes it relatable to many. The introductory freeze frame photos of the various cliques at Winchester University is the college equivalent of Janis Ian’s breakdown of North Shore High’s cafeteria in Mean Girls. In this moment you’ll be saying to yourself,“This is so true.”

Our main character, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), is the 2014 version of a black panther and her radio show “Dear White People” never lets her white classmates forget that. We love Sam’s sassy moments on her radio broadcast such as, “Dear white people, the minimum number of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised two.”

She also isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in. The spoiled and cocky, Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), feels the wrath of Sam White when he asks her the silly question, “Why isn’t there a ‘Dear White People’?” After berating him in front of everyone, Sam becomes a hero for all the black students in the film and the audience members watching the film. In a perfect world we could have a Sam White reaction to that one ignorant person who speaks without tact.

Along with Sam, many of the other characters represent a different type of black person. We have Coco Conners who seems to fall under the category of being an “Oreo” a term (perpetuated by the white and black community) that describes a black person who is black on the outside and white on the inside.

We also have Sophie Fletcher (Brittany Curran), who according to Sam is only dating Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell) to piss off her parents. We can’t assume that this is the case, but we do know that Sophie likes Troy’s “big black cock.” Shaking my head. Even though some of these characters function mostly as a stereotype, it must be acknowledged that there are plenty of the characters are multidimensional.

When you are not laughing hysterically or cringing at lines like, “My afro is a black hole for white people’s hands,” the breathtaking cinematography in this film will captivate you. The beautiful lighting, soft focus effects, and the soundtrack featuring the underground musical talents of Kilo Kish, Mibbs and Andy Allo all highlight the auterism of thirty-one year old director Justin Simien. With talent like this, it is no surprise that Simien is on Variety Magazine’s “10 Directors to Watch” list.

It has been a while since we’ve seen Everybody Hates Chris star Tyler James Williams, but he is back and did not fail to impress. Sophomore Lionel Higgins is the underdog of the film who is awkward, nerdy, gay and can’t quite find where he fits in at Winchester University. Having a young black male in mainstream media playing a gay character without being overdramatized is a wonderful thing to watch.

Simien includes a kissing scene with Lionel and his crush that is unheard of in most films geared to the African American demographic. In America, some black men have their reservations about homosexuality on and off screen. Thus, the African-American man in my theatre who dramatically exclaimed, “Chris why?!” after Lionel’s kissing scene was not much of a shock. He seemed to not only be holding on to character Chris from Tyler James Williams’ previous gig, but also holding on to a mentality that is rather outdated.

Dear White People is a film that gives a relevant and spot on depiction of subtle and not so subtle acts of racism that occurs in modern day America. Thank God this film was not another 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained; I don’t think the white audience goers could handle feeling the guilt of slavery all over again. I do wonder if the Halloween party scene that shows white students dressed up as black stereotypes is enough to have the racist white Americans change their ways.

These frequent instances of disrespect and cultural appropriation of minority groups may not be as disturbing as putting a slave in a hot box, but it’s still pretty fucked up. For those who watch this movie and don’t get it because they believe our country is post racial or that minorities are not really suffering, in the words of Sam White, “never mind.”

Are They Wrong? : A Look into Nico & Vinz’s Album “Black Star Elephant”

 

Album cover of Nico & Vinz's New Album

Album cover of Nico & Vinz’s New Album

By: Nikki Abban

Chances are that sometime this summer you were driving in your car with the windows down, the warm sun shining on your face, and as you turned the radio up you heard the three iconic lyrics, “Am I wrong?” This summer twenty- two-year-old Afro-Norwegian musicians Nico & Vinz were at the top of the charts not only in the United States, but also around the world. Don’t assume that these guys will be just another one hit wonder, because this Ivorian and Ghanaian musical duo has proven with their freshman album, “Black Star Elephant” that this is only the beginning.

The name and cover art for this album is an overt representation of the African heritage of these two artists. The combination of the names of the Ivorian and Ghanaian soccer team, “The Elephants” and “The Black Stars”, is not a coincidence. The intro of the album begins with a traditional call and response song in a native African language. Hearing this intro destroys the idea that this will simply be your average pop album. Unlike the typical pop album, “Black Star Elephant” has clean lyrics, positive messages of perseverance, self love, love for others, all combined with African drums beats, simple piano chord progressions, reggae influences and the minimal use of synthesized beats.

Songs such as “Runnin’”, tend to introduce different instruments periodically as the song progresses. Once the lyrics join in, the instruments come together to create a fusion of audio stimuli that has you actively appreciating each aspect of the musical piece. The layers of this record include the combination of trumpets, pianos, and drums, accompanied by the smooth vocals of Nico & Vinz.

Other tracks such as “Imagine” and “Another Day” talk about over coming the struggles in life. You may find yourself thinking, “If Nico & Vinz can do it so can I.” While the many lyrics on this album are inspirational, joyful, and have strong messages, often times the word choice can be pretty rudimentary. Sometimes you may wonder why they didn’t use more eloquent or complex vocabulary, but perhaps this is a purposeful decision to include fans from all spectrums regardless of their educational background.

With that being said there are some lyrics that are just God-awful. Beware of the occasional cringe-worthy teeny-bopper lyrics like, “Life is a journey where you stumble and fall, but I’m okay when I lie down in your arms.” In these moments, just focus on the awesome beats that will carry you to the end of the song.

Besides the average two to four and half minute songs, there are often one minute song pieces weaved throughout the album that take you straight to Africa. Tracks like: “Kokadinye”, “Lakota”, or “New in Town” allow western listeners to get a taste of a slightly watered down version of West African and South African music. Though the African on influence this album is clear, we still notice that they don’t sound the same as other popular West African artists such as Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie, Nigerian rapper Naeto-C and the more popular Senegalese R&B artist, Akon.

Some may argue that Nico & Vinz need to pick a side. Perhaps they are not “pop enough” for the western pop music scene or “African enough” for the African music scene. Regardless they have found away to blend their Norwegian background with their African roots to make themselves a commercial success. In the western world African culture in general is often misunderstood or ignored in the media and it’s about time that westerners can imagine other songs besides The Lion Kings “Circle of Life” when thinking about African music.

A strong track on this album is “Miracles” because of its relatability factor and the vulnerability that Nico & Vinz exhibit in this song. The song starts with the colorful strumming of a bango sounding instrument followed by Vinz’s reminding us that we don’t need miracles to know that “the fire is within our soul”. Nico follows up by telling us that, “The road is rocky, but don’t you ever go astray.” Thanks guys, I needed that pinch of motivation to start my day.

Instead of going down the route of the artists with a “I don’t give a fuck attitude, (i.e. Miley Cyrus and Kanye West) perhaps this duo is going in the direction of artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers. Though their musical skill level cannot be compared to Marley, their mission to spread love and use music for something greater than themselves can. “Black Star Elephant” is not only what Africans need right now, but it’s what the world needs right now. Nico & Vinz we are routing for you.

Shonda Rhimes Quit Playing Games with my Heart: The Slow Beginning of Scandal Season Four

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By: Nikki Abban

 Since 2012, Shonda Rhimes captivated our attention with the unique political drama that had its viewers gain a new perspective about issues of infidelity, death, and power. Scandal has a reputation of having twists and turns that will leave you baffled and confused every week. The excitement that comes with watching and live tweeting Scandal has become the trademark of this show. Unfortunately, season four has a lot of moments that have attempted to be shocking and scandalous, but have failed miserably.

This season of Scandal begins right where it left off. The opening scene features Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her lover/former head of the convert government agency“B-613”, Jake Ballard (Scott Foley), by her side. In true Scandal fashion, Jake moved from lying beside Olivia to lying on top of her.  It’s never too early for a sex scene.

When Olivia returns to D.C. (after her hiatus on an uncharted island), everything has changed. The once-sweet Abbey (Darby Stanchfield) is now the fierce White House press secretary. Mellie (Bellamy Young) is mourning over her son by laying on his grave and eating potato chips. The formal master of torture, Huck (Guillermo Diaz), is now “Randy the Smart Guy” who works at an electronics store. In other news, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) has found his way into bed with a prostitute played by the gorgeous Matthew Del Negro.

Seeing the changes of these characters add a sense of newness to the series, but after two or three episodes of dragging out these character developments, you may find yourself getting bored. Also, feel free to gag when you see yet another scene of romance drama between Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia. The “I want you, but I can’t have you” narrative for these characters is exhausting, and Shonda, we are over it. It’s not cute anymore.

To the die hard Scandal fans that are reading this, just know that there is still some hope for this season. The sub plot of Olivia and her “Gladiators” fixing people has its fair share of surprises. Look out for the thirty-year-old woman who nonchalantly admits to sleeping with her daughter’s boyfriend (which isn’t even the whole story.)

The only other character that will keep you watching is Rowan Pope (Joe Morton) a.k.a Olivia’s dad. When Rowan tells Olivia (in the most sincere and genuine way) to bring Jake over for dinner, you may find yourself thinking, “What the hell is going on?” This gesture is so unusual coming from the cold-hearted Daddy Pope that we are used to.

It seems that perhaps Shonda is trying to prolong the “wow” factor that the show used to have. Perhaps this change of pace where we see the rebirth and rebuilding of characters will lead up to a big surprise later this season. The small setbacks in season four don’t have me doubting her writing, but it does have me searching for other shows to fulfill the need of shock. If anything these dull first few episodes of this season could be part of a plan to shift our attention to Rhimes’ new show, How to Get Away with Murder.