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2011 SOUTHERN BLACK WRITERS & ARTISTS-Memphis

Reviews Page

Check out our latest reviews on books, movies, TV, plays, and other entertainment.

Books

ERIC JEROME DICKEY:

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2000 Black Writers Conference Literary Hall Of Fame Winner:
Eric Jerome Dickey

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'I AM LEGEND'
 
starring Will Smith
 

Some questions were asked about this movie that were easily answered. One obvious question, "Can Will Smith carry a major film?" Purely academic at this point. The numbers speak for themselves.

 

'I am Legend' had to come out the box trying to prove that it was destined to be a classic similar to 'Planet of the Apes' starring Charleston Heston. That's like a heavyweight fighter stepping into the ring with expectations that he will have a memorable fight. Maybe an Ali, Mike Tyson, or Sugar Ray could provide the fans with this type of unrealistic expectation. However, in the movie industry it is not so predictable.

 

Let's start with what actually worked in this movie. Man and 'his best friend' against a man-made disaster that has destroyed the world. Given our present state of affairs I guess we can all relate to that. Will Smith's character (Col. Robert Neville)  was convincing enough to keep the audience interested in his survival skills and his relationship to his sole companion, Sam his faithful dog and sidekick.

 

This was a basic theme that many of the animal lovers could relate. I reflected back on my fun boyhood memories with my dog Chubby. He was a golden brown mixture of Collie and German Shepherd and the smartest dog that I ever had. We often went on excurcions for hours on my grandparents farm in West Tennesse discovering Native American sights, streams, and  mounds.

 

At dinner time, Chubby would sit at the back porch looking through the screen door as Big Mamma served a fantastic feast. His whimpering and hanging wet tongue was my que to ask if I could go outside and feed him. We had our spot on a hill by the side of the road as we watched neighbors going to and fro. We took turns eating from my plate. If  I ate a piece of food I would have to give him a piece. If  I tried to eat two bites in a row Chubby would gently grab my sleeves to remind me with those big pretty brown eyes, 'Hey friend, I think that's my piece.' He would also NOT take two pieces in a row for himself and would turn his head away not to take my piece. What a dog! On a personal level I could totally relate to this aspect of the film.

 

However, the bar is set very high to hit 'the Classic' status. I have tried to ascertain what are the elements of a classic. However, you just know it when you see it. 'I am Legend' will do well at the box office despite not hitting the magic classic formula.

 

This is a very intense film and you can always expect the unexpected. I recommend the film and hope that you get all the subtle messages.

 

 

****Rating 4 of 5

 

NEXT REVIEW: THE GREAT DEBATERS

 

 

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'THE GREAT DEBATERS'
 
starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, & Kimberly Elise
 
Directed by: Denzel Washington
 
Produced by: Oprah Winfrey
 

Okay, I was slightly disappointed when I first learned that Martin Luther King, Jr smoked cigarettes. However, this fact has not detracted from the great legacy and positive contributions that he has left the world. Likewise I was disappointed to find out that the Wiley debate team DID NOT challenge and defeat the Harvard debate team in 1935. They actually met and defeated the 1935 national champions, the Southern California Trojans (USC). Does this information detract from the fact that this was a great movie? I DON’T THINK SO!

 

I have never had to do so much research before reviewing a movie in quite a while. Remember this film is not a documentary but a story inspired or based on a real life event. There is something called ‘artistic license’ that gives the producer/director some lead way to have creative input.

 

Indisputable facts include that James Farmer, Jr. was on the debate team. Mr. Farmer later became one of the ‘big three’ of the Civil Rights Movement, founded CORE (The Congress of Racial Equality), and most important to me was the fact that he debated and defeated Malcolm X. This happened not once but FOUR times. It was said that Farmer jokingly told Malcolm, “You just need to give up, you were not trained by Tolson.”

 

The Great Debaters does show the exponential growth of Denzel Washington as a Director. Denzel has definitely developed the ‘director’s eye’ or vision that all the great directors have. I would not be surprised if Denzel does not become known as equal a top rated director as he is an actor. Now that is an awesome statement but time will tell.

 

There is no debate about this fine young cast consisting of Nate Parker (Henry Lowe), Jurnee Smollett (Samantha Booke), and Denzel Whitaker (James Farmer Jr.). Who could have aligned the stars so that a young actor named Denzel Whitaker would be in a movie where two of the great thespians of our time (Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker) would be in a film together for the first time?

 

The Great Debaters was hands down the best film that I saw in 2007. Despite what the critics might say about the ‘factual details’ of the movie, this film will have a positive impact for years to come similar to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Like I always say, “I would rather have a flawed saint than a perfect devil any day in the week!”

 

 

*****Rating 5 of 5

 

FILM PROJECTS ON MY MUST SEE LIST:

 

Don Cheadle's bio pic about Miles Davis.

Morgan Freeman's bio pic about Nelson Mandela.

 

 

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'AMERICAN GANGSTER'
 
starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe
 
 

The much anticipated movie, American Gangster, opened to a hyped crowd and a #1 rating for the week. I was in Marshall, TX at HBCU’s Wiley College, which will be put on the map this Christmas by a collaboration between Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Production, Denzel Washington, and Forest Whitaker. The movie is called ‘The Great Debaters.’

 

My review of American Gangster will cover a few issues that are on my mind and I beg your indulgence. First, I heard mixed reviews about the film before I had a chance to view the film which troubled me somewhat. More than one person felt that there was something ‘missing’ in the film. After a careful review and multiple screenings I think I know what it is: SOUL! The film is missing ‘soul’ pure and simple. Let me put it this way. What is the difference between the movies ‘Malcolm X’ (starring Denzel Washington) and ‘Ali’ (starring Will Smith)? The answer: SPIKE LEE.

 

Spike Lee has the sensibility as a Black director to portray a Malcolm or Muhammad Ali in a realistic and forthright manner. The excellent portrayal by Will Smith was wasted on a movie that many of us could not totally relate. So what am I saying? American Gangster should have been directed by a Black filmmaker, plain and simple. My choice would have been legendary filmmaker, Melvin Van Peebles. With the exact same cast and BUDGET, Van Peebles would have knocked American Gangster out of the park and set all kinds of box office records.

 

With unused and under used talented Black film directors like Charles Burnett, Stan Latham, Kasi Lemmons, Julie Dash, Mike Schultz, Stan Nelson, the Hughes Brothers, Antoine Fuqua, Gary Hardwick, John Singleton, and even Spike Lee, Hollywood is missing great economic opportunities since their bottom line is GREEN. Tyler Perry has proven this time and time again. Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Perry, he has found his demographics and has an established niche which has served him well, even using Hollywood standards.

 

My next issue is the ‘bootleg DVD’ sales. A week before American Gangster officially opened I was approached on the streets by an unsavory character whispering, ‘Hey brother, I got that new Denzel film.’ I wanted to turn around and ‘pimp slap’ him right there on the spot. Being a non-violent person, except for self-defense and protecting my loved-ones, I got control of myself and just waved him off. With the respect I have for Denzel Washington and his craft I felt personally offended. All the real Brothers know that Denzel has been throwing down in his roles for years and he does not deserve this ‘street trash’ hurting the bottom line of this film. Hollywood only looks at your last hit!

 

American Gangster is worth seeing. Will some people be disappointed? Probably. To me the storyline was the star and not the actors or Frank Lucas who the story was based on. I think Denzel played the character in a low-key and cerebral manner. Russell Crowe had to step up his intensity a little to just match Denzel’s performance.

 

Other bright spots were the Queen, Ruby Dee and great supporting work by legendary actor Clarence Williams III , Roger Guenveur Smith, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and RZA.

 

If the audience was expecting a ‘Training Day’ or ‘Gladiator’ they will probably be disappointed. By the way, Antoine Fuqua directed Denzel in ‘Training Day.’ I rest my case.

 

****Rating 4 of 5

 

 

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'TALK TO ME'
 
starring Don Chedale, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis Hall, and Martin Sheen.
 
Directed by Kasi Lemmons

The new Don Chedale film, 'Talk to Me' has HIT written all of it. I call it the 'Sleeper Hit' of the year!

 

Don Chedale gives another award-winning performance, Mike Epps shows an incredible dramatic side, Martin Sheen is awesome, Chiwetel Ejiofor a British-born actor does an incredible job as the ex-husband of TV-One's Kathy Hughes, Cedric 'The Entertainer' is just that, the Entertainer, as he brings the comedy, and Taraji P. Henson stepped her game up as the irrepressible girlfriend of Petey Green. The female director, Kasi Lemmons, did an outstanding job with this period piece.

 

Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr. was a Washington D.C. legend.  Some say he was among the first to use the term 'Chocolate City' referring to the D.C. area. Petey was not 'middle of the road.' Either you loved him or hated him. Petey was a voice in his generation as he spoke truth to power. If it helped the little man, then Petey Greene was on the scene. 
 
As a D.C. DJ, Petey had the ears of a large share of the listening audience. Petey understood the awesome power of communication and he used it to be a spokesperson for the underdog. Petey never forgot where he came from. How could he, he saw it everyday in and around the radio station and throughout the city.
 

- Submitted by Lawrence Wayne

Movies

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'FOR COLORED GIRLS'
 
 
Directed by: Tyler Perry
 
 

*(My encounter with award-winning playwright, Ntozake Shange will be incorporated in my review of For Colored Girls after I view it this weekend. I already have a lot of emotions that I can hardly contain as I anticipate how the original book and play was interpreted for film. STAY TUNED!)*  

******

REVIEW:

 

Ntozake Shange's seminal play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf hit both off and on Broadway from 1975-1977. Thanks to her I understood and appreciated a little more about what Brown-skinned girls and women of Color have to deal with. I know as a man I will never understand the depths of their experiences. However, it helped me deal with the many complicated women in my life including both my late sister and mother.

 

Okay, I teased you about a Ntozake Shange encounter. It was some fourteen years later that I would find myself in a laid-back liitle Southern town in North Carolina. I met this one of a kind character named Larry Leon Hamlin, who was the founder and artistic director of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company as well as the founder and executive director of the National Black Theatre Festival. While talking to Mr. Hamlin I tested his sense of humor and told him that he looked like a ‘modern day Jimi Hendrix.’ To my delight and relief he broke out in laughter and invited me to sit down and talk. I told him I was from Memphis, TN and we had nothing like this and I wanted to start a small festival or conference back in Memphis. His only comment to me was, ‘Well as long as it is not around the same time as the National Black Theater Festival.’ I assured him that we would be in no position to compete with what was going on at this great festival. So, like on Godfathers, I had the blessings of Mr. Larry Leon Hamlin. The Memphis Black Writers Conference was birthed in 1995, several years after this eventful meeting.

 

At this particular festival there was a buzz that Ntozake Shange was at the festival. I was thrilled because the only theater plays that I had heard about were Dream Girls, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, and of course August Wilson plays. I knew my chances of meeting her was better than average. After all I had been at the same party with Billy Dee Williams. I sat in the theater between Dick Gregory and Angela Bassett for a production about Black Panther icon Huey P. Newton, and I even checked on the sound system when Denzel Washington spoke at the festival.

 

My encounter with the legendary August Wilson and the conversation we had could only be complete when I met Ntozake Shange, so I thought. I had come to the festival to promote my new book, ‘How to Encourage Young African-American Children To Read…A Black Reader’s Guide.’ I had done quite well and sold more copies than I had participated. It was doing this time that I decided to step away from my vendor’s table and check out the festival sites and all of the great guests. That’s when it happened. Until this day I don’t understand why.

 

I was in literary and artistic heaven. It seemed that eveybody that I had ever seen on TV, in movies, or books I had read was in the place. My ten minute break turned into over an hour and a half before I realized that I needed to get back to by booth and sell some books. Then I got some of the most crushing news of my life. My booth mate was breathless. ‘She was here, she was here!’ Of course I asked, ‘Who was here?’

 

“Ntozake Shange!” “Ntozake Shange was here reading your book!” “She wanted to know where the author was and wanted to speak to him.”

 

You could have driven a 18-wheeler thru my wide opened-mouth. My heart dropped as I sat down in my chair. I was thinking, “How could I have missed one of the greatest writers of our time?” To this day I have not understood how I missed Ntozake Shange.

 

Honestly for years I have rarely seen or heard the name Ntozake Shange. Every now and again I hear about a local stage production of For Colored Girls and I reminence about the missed opportunity to meet my shero! For this reason among others I had to see the film adaptation of the play For Colored Girls. Maybe I would get an answer that has escaped me all of these years. Maybe I would not. “God, all I ask is a thirty minute sit down conversation with Ntozake Shange and I think everything will be allright!

 

By the way, the movie was fantastic! Kimberley Elise was off the charts! As a matter of fact, all of the acting was exceptional including Kerry Washington, Janet Jackson, and Whoopi Goldberg. Yes, even though the Brothers, (Hill Harper, Micheal Ealy, Richard Lawson, Omari Hardwick, and Khalil Kain) who were added for flavor, they really pulled it off. I can easily see this as one of the top movies for the weekend.

 

Ntozake Shange, if you ever come to Memphis, let’s talk!

 

Peace & Bessings

 

 

Rating 5 of 5

 

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'MEMPHIS WORLD PREMIERE:
N-SECURE!'
 
starring Tempestt Bledsoe, Lamman Rucker, Denise Boutte, Essence Atkins, Elise Neal and Nephew Tommy
 
Directed by: David A. Matthews
 
Written by: Christie Taylor & Julius Lewis
 
Executive Produced by: Julius Lewis

 

 

Memphis had a Hollywood-style world premiere of the dream child of Memphis own Julius Lewis: N-SECURE. It was a who's who of Memphis including the majority of the cast members.

 

I stood in line with the brother-in-law of the Executive Director (that’s the guy who puts up all the money--SMILE) who could have very well chosen to ride up in a limo. Instead he chose to stand in line with the 'little people' so I had a favorable impression about the spirit of this movie from the start. Don't get me wrong, if someone had told me, 'Hey, Lawrence we have you a limo ride to the premiere!" I would have been there with my shades on kicking it in style. However, to be out among the people has always been my style.

 

This is one of the first authentic movies that I have ever seen with a real taste of Memphis as a backdrop. I knew the street scenes, the restaurants, the office buildings, and many of the extras in the movie. Unlike the TV and other film projects based on Memphis but shot in New Orleans, Atlanta, etc. A case in point, I was watching the TV show 'Memphis Beats' and they called the police to a street corner near Manassas and Tutwiller. I just knew that I would recognize this scene because I use to play with my cousins on that corner and I even had a paper route in that area. Of course, you know the rest of the story.

 

Julius Lewis made sure he got as many scenes and names related to Memphis as he could down to the Stax jacket. I have never been so proud of Memphis since Isaac Hayes did 'SHAFT!'

 

N-Secure was really well cast and the acting was right on. The plot is one that many women can relate to. Fellows I am telling you now don't let these women see this movie and you don't get to check it out. This movie will be talked about and discussed all over the country. As a matter of fact, I think EVERYONE who is from Memphis or ever-lived in Memphis should check this film out.

 

On Friday, October 15 I am going to see this film again and I encourage ALL of my fellow Memphians to do the same. Let's make Friday, October 15 MEMPHIS FILM DAY! Let's help to make this a #1 movie the first week out so that we can show the world that MEMPHIS REPRESENTS!

 

 

 

****Rating 4 of 5

 

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'THE KARATE KID KICKS BUTT!'
 
starring Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, & Taraji P. Henson
 
Directed by: Harald Zwar
 
Produced by: Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter and Ken Stovitz

It has been a while since I have viewed a movie and heard applause and open expressions of joy at the end. I even saw little white kids kicking and making kung fu moves going out of the theater. That is when I knew this would be a summer blockbuster film.

 

It didn't hurt that my new favorite girl Taraji P. Henson (don't worry Angela Basett you are still my #1) was cast in the film. I have become a Taraji fan since 'Talk To Me' and I have followed her and she has never let me down. Of course international star Jackie Chan, the other half of the Rush Hour duo with Chris Tucker, brought a key element to the movie.

 

All that was left was for young Jaden Smith to prove that he was just not another spoiled and priviliged Hollywood baby and that his role in 'The Pursuit of Happyness'  was not a fluke. This may be a bit too much to put on young Jaden's shoulders, but I think he pulled it off quite well. He reached the young movie-goers who will be bringing their parents to the movies this Summer in droves.

 

Watch out Kung Fu and Karate instructors you may get a large influx of new martial arts enthusiasts this summer.

 

****Rating 4 of 5

 

FILM PROJECTS ON MY MUST SEE LIST:

 

Don Cheadle's bio pic about Miles Davis.

Jimi Hendrix story

 

Music


- Submitted by