Gimme Shelter

January 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Ron Krauss (“Amexica”)
Written by: Ron Krauss (“Amexica”)

No one is blaming actress Vanessa Hudgens for trying to separate herself from the fluffy roles that made her famous during her more formative years. She, along with fellow Disney princess Selena Gomez, was able to put some space between her and her tween fan base last year when she starred as a scantily clad criminal in “Spring Breakers.” It’s a routine other actors have tried before, all with varying success. Think Macaulay Culkin in “The Good Son” or Dakota Fanning in “Hide and Seek.” Even Molly Ringwald went to the dark side in “Malicious” after playing a slew of goody-two-shoe characters in the 80s.

While Hudgens has been working on her transformation for only a couple of years (she was also in the unwatchable “Sucker Punch” and “Machete Kills” where she tried some “edgier” roles), she still hasn’t found a character written well enough for anyone to take real notice. Unfortunately, the same can be said of her starring role in “Gimme Shelter.” In the film she plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant teenager who leaves her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) in search of her estranged father (Brendan Fraser). When things don’t go as planned on account of her bad attitude, Apple finds sanctuary in group home for pregnant teens with the help of a caring priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter caretaker (Ann Dowd) who guide her.

It’ll take more than a choppy haircut, baggy clothes, a neck tattoo and other unrecognizable features for audiences to believe Hudgens can lose herself in a role like this. She does her best with what she is given, but with as script as inauthentic and blatantly heavy handed as the one director/writer Ron Krauss offers up, Hudgens has nowhere to go emotionally. In fact, the only real change we see in her character is when more makeup is applied to her face after each scene in the third act to give some kind of false impression of resurgence and self-confidence.

There’s nothing in Apple’s life that should lead audiences to even imagine she is going to be alright. Are we to believe the girls she spends such little time with in this facility have done enough to help her see the error in her ways? Is Krauss trying to say that since God has her back, nothing bad can happen to her? The fact that Krauss is masking Apple’s personality with a host of weak relationships she creates during this pivotal time in her life makes her journey feel all the less affecting. Without Dawson mugging for the camera and Fraser emoting some ridiculous facial expressions, “Gimme Shelter” would be an empty vessel.

The Lion King 3D

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton

My 3-year-old godson Leo (yes, how very fitting) jumps around the movie theater and munches on a cookie as he awaits the start of “The Lion King 3D.” It’s only the second time he has ever been in front of a big screen, but he seems to know the drill. A cozy reserved nook between his mom and dad is warming up and his popcorn/drink combo is arranged perfectly for consumption. Mom holds a cardboard Pumba mask on her lap for safekeeping.

Squeals from eager pre-schoolers crescendo as parents and grandparents discuss how old they were in 1994 when the classic animated film first hit theaters. It’s exactly the environment Disney was hoping for when the studio decided to re-release “The Lion King” for a limited two-week theatrical run in anticipation of next month’s release of the Blu-ray/DVD Diamond Edition (in case you missed the Platinum Edition back in 2003).

In the theater, there is a hint of nostalgia mixed with the excitement of a new generation of kiddies who have yet to experience the humorous shenanigans of the goofy hyena villains or the catchy albeit now-slightly-annoying philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.”

As a purist, I hang onto my heavy-duty 3D glasses begrudgingly, but know I’ll probably get a migraine if I don’t conform to Disney’s movie-watching demands. The massive wildebeest stampede and Scar’s Third Reich-inspired musical number were already phenomenal 17 years ago without the additional dimension, so what’s really the point?

I scoff when the lights in the theater dim and the Disney logo becomes slightly blurred forcing me to toss on my specs. I turn to look at Leo, who has already wedged into his spot comfortably. His eyes are fixated on the screen as an animated sun rises and a mighty “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” echoes from the speakers and sets off what I still consider four of the most spectacular minutes in Disney cinematic history.

A calming sensation washes over me and I think about the first time I saw a Disney cartoon at the theater with my family. I was three years old when they re-released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1983 and remember it vividly. Leo was about to create a memory he would hopefully keep for the rest of his life. Who cared what format he’d see it in?

Just then, I turn to Leo to see his reaction to the brilliant opening scene. He has removed his glasses and is watching “The Lion King” just as intently. “He doesn’t want to wear them,” Leo’s mom says. For the rest of the movie, I lower my glasses every so often to feel just as courageous.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

February 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee (“Roll Bounce”)
Written by: Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”)

Pigeonholed into the same roles over the last few years, comedian Martin Lawrence is able to break away (a least a bit) from his usual shtick with some success in “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” He still might be a smidgen on the goofy side, but at least he’s not playing a brainless cop again…and that’s always a good first step.

In the film, Lawrence is the title character Roscoe Jenkins, a popular Jerry Springer/Dr. Phil-type talk show host living in L.A. with his quasi-celebrity fiancée Bianca (Joy Bryant) and his young son Jamaal (Damani Roberts).

Roscoe, whose stage name is R.J. Stevens, is a busy man, so when his family, who he hasn’t visited in nine years, invites him home to Georgia to celebrate his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, he can think of a million things he would rather do than revisit a place he left for a reason.

But when Roscoe finds out Damani has been keeping in contact with his grandfather on the phone and through letters for a couple of years, he realizes how important it is to his son to finally know the Jenkins family (and no, just because Lawrence is the star doesn’t mean there’s a cameo from Sheneneh Jenkins).

The cast of characters that makes up his dysfunctional and sometimes sweet family is wild enough to keep your attention on the comedy side without becoming too top-heavy in slapstick lunacy. Some of these characters deserving enough for mention are Roscoe’s big brother Otis (Michael Clark Duncan), a former linebacker whose found happiness as the sheriff of town he grew up; Reggie (Mike Epps), a leeching cousin, who hasn’t worked a day in his life but somehow always has money; and his other cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), who he’s always had a rivalry with since they were boys.

More realistic and less obtrusive than anything Tyler Perry has come out with since making it big with his first film in 2005 (although that, to me, is still a mystery), “Roscoe Jenkins” doesn’t take itself seriously and still manages to toss in a few morals-of-the-story without becoming overly enlightening.

You could seriously do a lot worse in this genre than this Lawrence-vehicle. Sure, it’s riddled with stereotypes, but there’s also some good-natured moments amidst all the feuding and sexual innuendo. Think of it as “Roscoe in Real Life” then suck it up, watch a few gags with a surprisingly amusing family, and be thankful Mo’Nique only has a small supporting role.