SNOWDEN

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Spy. Genius. Hacker. Traitor are just a few of the names associated with former NSA computer specialist Edward Snowden.

At 29 years old, Snowden released NSA and FISA files stolen from their database and caused a global panic.  The judgements against him were harsh at best and even worse for his girlfriend Lindsay Mills.

So unless you have been under a rock, let me break this down for you.  Edward Snowden was a young soldier when a debilitating leg injury forced him into a medical discharge.  Enter the CIA.  Snowden was sought out, trained and eventually placed in Quantico  as a recruit.  Ultimately, not being pleased with the method in which our government was violating rights spelled out in our Constitution to  justify "spying" via  cell phones, computers and virtually anything containing a digital footprint, he blew the whistle setting off one of the biggest scandals in US history regarding a simple thing called privacy.

According to Snowden, who was streamed in live from Moscow a few nights ago, "Privacy is about something to protect...Privacy is the right of self...Privacy is the fountainhead of ALL other rights.  Without privacy you don't have anything for yourself.  Saying you don't care about privacy is like saying you don't care about freedom of speech."

Directed by Oliver Stone, who seems to be attracted to political, historical and controversial subject matter, Snowden is approached from a humanistic point of view.  Often times in these types of situations, we forget that at the end of the day, the accused, the ridiculed and outcast are still human beings with relationships.  It is the adversity of these relationships, as well as, the cost of holding secrets that Stone spells out for the audience through the brilliant performances of Joseph Gordon Levitt and Shailene Woodley.

Levitt really put it all on the line for this one...literally.  He traveled to Moscow to visit and study Ed Snowden and it paid off.  Under the radar and often overlooked, this former television child actor is giving  a performance that is so nuanced that you forget he's acting and believe you are watching the real deal.  As I said many times when speaking about performances, it is the dialogue not spoken that is intriguing and interesting to watch.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is mesmerizing, believable and dead-on.  I thought he was great in "The Walk", but that performance pales in comparison to Snowden.

Seen as the star of "Divergent" film franchise, Shailene Woodley is really pulling it all the way down for Lindsay. Her subtle and passion filled performance is marvelous to behold.  She embraces Lindsay with every fiber of her being  making her empathetic, sympathetic and a free-spirited woman whose strength is beyond measure when it comes to loving and being loved.

The real Ed Snowden even dropped this little kernel about an app called Signal, which uses an advanced end to end encryption protocol that provides privacy for EVERY message EVERY time.  It uses your existing phone number and address book.  There are no separate logins, usernames, passwords or PIN's to manage or lose.

Yes, Ed Snowden broke the law.  Yes, he is a fugitive. Yes, he is ridiculously brilliant and Yes, he believes that one's privacy is a right not a privilege.

My jaw dropped open more times than I care to remember during the course of this film.  Mostly due to major education received by the Ed Snowden portrayed onscreen and the real Snowden streaming live.

Trust me, this one is well worth the price...Snowden opens nationwide TODAY!

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SOUTHWEST OF SALEM

  Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com, MsInTheBiz.com and TheCurvyFilmCritic.com

"There's trouble right here in River City"...has never been truer than in the case of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Anna Vasquez and Kristie Mayhugh

Directed by Deborah S. Esquenazi, "Southwest of Salem" explores the case of what would become known as the San Antonio Four.  In 1994, four women were accused, tried and convicted of assaulting two young girls (nieces of Ramirez).  Twenty years later these Latina women maintain their innocence, citing that the accusations against them were fabricated and perpetrated from the homophobic prejudice surrounding lesbians and that lifestyle leading to covens, cults and child abuse.

San Antonio Four Mugshots

It is heartbreaking to watch these women railroaded, much like the subject of the Netflix series "The Making of a Murderer".  It tore several families apart and ruining some relationships beyond repair.

When I spoke to the women at the Tribeca Film Festival, I offered congrats on their release, Those dolls were real quick to remind me that, their ordeal is not over yet.  In fact they could still go back to prison..  Let's hope not, so that these beautiful women and get on with the bit of life they have left to enjoy.

Carla and San Antonio Four

As much as it pains me to say this, the most interesting aspect of this story is the fact that when celebrities are "allegedly" accused of such heinous and disturbing acts, their wealth and fame often times assist them in alluding any jail time and/or the charges more often than not are overturned.

These four women were railroaded in court not only for their ethnicity, but in part their sexual orientation.  The prejudice and ignorance that is prevalent in the current American Diaspora gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "innocent until proven guilty".

Deborah S. Esquenazi does an excellent job of presenting a very strong argument as to why the women are innocent.  After meeting and chatting with them all, I can tell you that there is nothing more heartbreaking than watching women walking on the tightrope of life without a net.  Watching them live each day in fear of having freedom snatched, having the courts take their time setting a new trial date and not being able to move forward and enjoy life for yourself.

If you hate prejudice against women, LGBT community and injustice in general, here are some steps  you can take now to assist the San Antonio Four...

  1.  Call 210-335-2311.  Ask for District Attorney Nico LaHood's Office.  Here's what to say:  "I am angered by Judge Pat Priest's ruling to not recommend exoneration for Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Anna Vasquez and Kristie Mayhugh.  I want Nico LaHood and the District Attorney's office of Bexar County to take a stand on the San Antonio Four case to declare actual innocence and have the women exonerated for their wrongful convictions."
  2. Tweet:  @BexarCounty @Nico4DA Take a stand about the @SanAntonioFour injustice! Recommend exoneration #FreetheSA4 @IPofTexas #southwest of Salem
  3. Post on Facebook:  I am angered by Judge Pat Priest's ruling to not recommend exoneration for Elizabeth Ramirez, CAssandr Rivera, Anna Vasquez and Kristie Mayhugh.  I want Nico LaHood and the ;district Attorney's office of @BexarCounty to take a stand on the San Antonio Four case to declare actual innocence have the women exonerated for their wrongful convictions. #FreetheSA4 #SouthwestOfSalem

https://youtu.be/j7jwawgzUJA

 

Here are some excerpts of our interview together...

Southwest Interview 2016

[audio mp3="https://carlarenatascorner.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/southwest-of-salem.mp3"][/audio]

KICKS

Review by Carla Renata for UBNRADIO.COM and The Curvy Film Critic

The obsession over sneakers in a documentary Sneakheadz and getting the latest "kicks by any means necessary is real.  Many kids have been killed, beat up even harassed over the type of sneakers they are wearing.

With a debut earlier this year at the Tribeca and LA Film Festivals, KICKS takes it to a whole new level, by putting this controversial subject to a narrative centered around three urban teens.  When one of them is jacked for his Jordans, he and his friends find themselves on a journey to recover the shoes, but not without consequences and repercussions.

Fifteen-year-old Brandon longs for a pair of the freshest sneakers that money can buy and assumes that having them on his feet will help him escape the reality of being poor, neglected by the opposite sex and picked on by everyone -- even his best friends. 

Working hard to get them, he soon finds that these shoes have made him a target after they are snatched by local hood, Flaco.  Flaco has his own issues  that will are revealed when Brandon goes on a mission to retrieve his stolen sneakers with his two best friends in tow.

Produced by the same team that brought us Morris from America, boasting an amazing soundtrack of both hip-hop classics and Bay Area favorites, Kicks creates an authentic and original portrait of a young man drowning in the expectations of being grown and standing his ground for what he believes.

With an impressive screen debut, Jahking Guillory is perfection as Brandon.  Mahershala Ali is having a great year and his portrayal of Flaco is chilling, yet compassionate as a gang-banger Dad with a heart.

Kicks is  a modern-day Boyz in the Hood Air Jordans as the centerpiece.  I could have done without some of the more graphic scenes, but guess they seemed necessary in order to give this film authenticity around its storyline..

As a first time director/screenwriter, Justin Tipping does an admirable job in creating a magical urban tale about friendship, honor and life in Oakland.

Kicks rolls into a theatre near you on September 9th by Focus films.

https://youtu.be/wWV2hK4HVEk

Southside With You

Unknown Can you imagine being a young, female African-American partner at a law firm whose associate just can't take no for an answer?  Can you imagine that associate turning out to be the leader of the free world?  I'm sure Michelle Robinson didn't either.  Luckily for America, she said yes and we have been fortunate enough to have a front row seat at one of the most romantic love stories in American history between two beautiful, intelligent and culturally stimulated individuals - who just happen to be the President and First Lady.

"Southside With You" chronicles the first date between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle.  It’s the answer to the age-old question couples often get asked when out in public for the first few dates - How did you meet? What was your first date like?  Who doesn’t relate to love and all the juicy details that go along with it?  I know I do and was totally sucked in by the first moment.

Tika Sumpter in the title role of Michelle Obama is direct, stunning and totally smitten by a young Barack Obama portrayed spot on by Parker Sawyers.  Sawyers effectively captures the sincerity that Americans fell in love with, therefore, electing Barack Obama as the first African-American man to serve as President of the United States.

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How did these two virtually unknowns land these roles?  First of all, Tika Sumpter is barely "unknown".  I met her when she was Series Regular on the now defunct ABC-TV Soap "One Life to Live"  in Florida at a "SuperSoap" convention.  Currently, she's wreaking havoc on Tyler Perry's hit nighttime drama "The Have and Have Nots" on OWN.  Tia is one of the film's producers, along with Grammy winner/Producer John Legend.

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When the 32-year-old Sawyers, who was born and raised in Indianapolis and now resides in London, sent in his first audition tape, he was doing a pitch-perfect impersonation of the President at 54, rather than at 28.  Luckily for him and for us, casting director, Twinkie Byrd convinced the film’s director, Richard Tanne to watch Sawyers tape again, but turn down the volume and just watch his performance.  Needless to say, the rest is history.

Sundance Q&A with cast & Director Richard Tanne

During a Q&A after the screening, when asked if the Obamas had seen the film, Tanne said "the president and first lady are aware of the film...and a little baffled by its existence.”  Well, I'm not and neither were the hundreds of people in the audience who along with me, gave a hearty round of applause and standing ovation. Two of my favorite moments were Michelle and Barack walking through a museum featuring the artwork of Ernie Barnes.  Barnes' art was featured prominently on the CBS hit sitcom "Good Times".

The soundtrack featuring a mix of hits from 1989 ranging from rap to Stevie Wonder kept my toes tapping while being enthralled by the performances of every actor onscreen and not just the leads.

It came to my attention that the film received mixed reviews during Sundance, which is not a surprise.  The Obamas have received mixed reviews since they crossed the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  However, what I know for sure is that those who DO see it will love it and walk away with a smile and glow at how beautiful love can be when it happens with "the right one".  It really is a marvelous emotion to experience and my wish is that everyone can find that everlasting type of mutual, love, admiration and respect in a relationship that spans a lifetime.

Thanks Tika for following your gut and your passion in getting this story told....

Southside With You opens in theaters TODAY, August 26th and trust me it is well worth the price of admission.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU TRAILER

The Hollars

Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com and TheCurvyFilmCritic.com There's always one family member who is the glue of the brood.  Without their presence, the family would fall apart.  For me that person was Mama Cleo.  She always brought the family together during the good, the bad and the ugly.  When she passed, the family would become distant and go on with their separate ways as if she were never here.

Shot in Jackson, MS in 22 days, The Hollars centers on a man returning to his hometown after his Mom is diagnosed with a brain tumor and scheduled for surgery. Originally screened earlier this year at the Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals, The Hollars will strike a chord for anyone that has a wacky, dysfunctional entertaining family.  I think that pretty much includes anyone reading this review.

Actor John Krasinski, puts on his director and producer hat and ensembles one of the best cast...ever.  Mostly known for comedy, the cast includes Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendricks and the irrepressible Margo Martingale are flipping the script and displaying their drama chops.  Every last one of them are bringing their A-game!!!

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This is one of the best films I've seen in 2016! Although it is little reminiscent of Boyhood in terms of a family theme, it will make you all warm and fuzzy inside and break your heart all at the same time.

Margo Martingale will finally get that Oscar nomination that has eluded her for years.  Largely known for her stellar work on hundreds of television shows, Margo is giving the performance of a lifetime.  Her crafty recipe of comedy dashed with drama makes her role ring true from moment she appears on-screen.

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Richard Jenkins is the best crier I have ever seen!  But seriously, Jenkins' arc of being dependent and then having to deal with the possibility of his wife's demise is just speechless.  He literally took my breath away.

John Krasinski is the anchor of the film in more ways than one and his scenes with Martindale are heartwarmingly delicious.  The heavy comedy lifting was left to Charlie Day and Sharlto Copley.  They are simply hi-larious!!!!  And who knew that Grammy winner Josh Groban was such natural on the silver screen?

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If you have to see one film this year, The Hollars is definitely your best bet.  I guarantee you will be hearing more about it come awards season.

The Hollars will be in theatres on Friday, August 26th.

https://youtu.be/a1miyndmxAg

Tales of the Grim Sleeper

image Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com and The Curvy Film Critic

If you live in the Los Angeles area and especially on the South Side, you know of The Grim Sleeper.  If not, The Grim Sleeper 'aka' Lonnie Franklin was arrested in 2010 and charged with the brutal murder of nearly 200 women.  While remaining behind bars, his trial date had been postponed three times.  The Tales of the Grim Sleeper was one of big documentary hits at the 2015 Pan African Film Festival.

However, a few days ago Lonnie Franklin was sentenced to death after a trial that lasted for months.  A death sentence for a man who clearly had no regard for human life.

Initially, based on DNA evidence, the police believed Franklin's son Christopher was guilty.  Only  after finding DNA on a cup obtained in the trash at a pizza joint, was it determined the DNA in fact matched Lonnie Franklin - not his son.

When asked how Christopher feel about his Dad being a murderer, he replied "I lost my best friend...I'm still his son".  On whether or not he thought his Dad would be convicted, "...He has a lot of fans in law enforcement and freaks in the street that think what he did was cool".

Told from the eyes of Pamela Brooks (former drug addict and acquaintance of Franklin's) we learn that the Lonnie Franklin, the man described by neighbors and friends as a "really nice guy" had a mean streak...especially with women.

Franklin, a former sanitation worker and ex-con was known to troll close to his neighborhood (Western and 81st) for hookers who ranged in age from 14-36.

Apparently, according to several women who know him, Lonnie liked to take naked pictures of women and have sex with them - all with the aide of his "friends" in the neighborhood.  Those same friends tell investigators that they believed Lonnie hated women because of a tumultuous relationship with his first wife (a crackhead).

Directed by Nick Broomfield (a filmmaker from the UK) many things are brought to life through the eyes of various individuals who seemingly knew two very different sides of Lonnie Franklin.

At the Q& A following the film, Margaret Prescod from the Black Coalition Fighting Black Serial Killers informed the audience of a 911 call which had been suppressed as evidence for nearly 20 years and that only 18 of the 90 women murdered were on the books at the time the crimes originally occurred.  Police allegedly believe that many of the victims wound up in a landfill.

Ms. Prescod brought up a good point noting that when Natalie Holloway went missing, it was international news, but women of color AND from South LA are especially ignored and deemed unimportant.  Things that make you go hmmm....

Check out this trailer...

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Pete's Dragon

File_000 (18) Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com, The Curvy Film Critic and MsInTheBiz.com

As an avid Disney fan, I was aghast that I didn't remember the 70's version of this Disney Classic starring Grammy Winner, Helen Reddy. Not to mention the fact that I pretty much remember just about every Oscar nominee across categories, but totally missed that the song was nominated.

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I'm kinda glad though, because it allowed me to watch the reboot with a fresh heart, mind and eyes.  When I tell you, I got so caught up that the "ugly cry" was unavoidable...I do not exaggerate.  My own mother was like, "Are you ok"?  LOL!!!

Disney has created a new classic with Pete's Dragon for all ages.  If you have the heart, curiosity and wonderment of a child residing anywhere in your bones, this film will awake it .

Remember, Pete's Dragon came along way before E.T.,, Gremlins and all those other loveable creatures we have fallen in love with over the years. Yet, I fell for Elliott just as hard.  He kinda reminded me of my faithful Maltese Mr. Spanky..  Only difference is Elliott is green, flies and breathes fire.  I'm pretty sure Spanky and Elliott would be besties.

So, I ask you...if your buddy, your partner in crime, your loyal furry friend was in trouble wouldn't you move heaven and earth to save him?  Pete and his new-found friends go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that Elliott is safe and unharmed.  Human beings predictably always attempt to destroy or discredit those entities which we don't understand or fear. and fear is a very powerful emotion that can persuade one to act up and show out.

Even though the 1977 version was basically a film musical, this reboots focuses strictly on the story of a young child who has found a friend in a forest where he has been living an adventure for six years, until a forest ranger and her fiance' invite him to become a family member

Oakes Fegley (Pete) as the orphaned Pete is just yummy!  His instincts are spot on and you believe him every moment he is on-screen.  His acting ability is to be rivaled by any adult and is eerily  reminiscent of a young River Phoenix.  Paired up with the perfect Oona Laurence as Natalie, these two are unstoppable.

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Bryce Dallas Howard for me can just do no wrong and having her own children gave her the right mindset to pull off inhabiting Grace.  The vulnerability displayed will break your heart.. She has somehow been handed down that gene that made America fall in love with her Dad, Ron Howard as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.

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Robert Redford is one of my all time favorite actors and hadn't been on-screen for a while until this year with A Walk In The Woods and now as Meacham.  To witness Redford become a child before your eyes as he speaks of the fondness in which he meets the "dragon" is really something special.  It takes an exceptional actor to recall that emotion and make the audience take that journey with you.  Well done, Sir!

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You know there is always that one character that throws a wrench into the Hallmark Family moment and Karl Urban is the perfect guy to do it.  As Gavin, he is despicably delicious, comical and handsome all at the same time.  I know...right??!!  He's easily the chameleon of the crew.

Director, David Lowery performs triple duty, as he is also credited as the editor and screenwriter.  As his first foray into the world of Disney he is crushing it.  I think he needs to direct ALL DISNEY movies from now to eternity!

I loved this film!  Mostly because it reminded of a time when life was not complicated by the hard knocks of adulthood.  As a little girl, my biggest issue was what I wearing to school and what boy I had a crush on. Those memories and feelings are irreplaceable, but I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.

Pete's Dragon  will take you back to time where life was simple, joyous and uncomplicated.  Take the fam, the hubby and have a beautiful family night you all will not soon forget.  Pete's Dragon opened nationwide August 12th.

Take the time to download the coloring sheets and activities, Disney has graciously provided for the kids to enjoy.  Trust me...I played them and had a ball!!!

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Pete's Dragon Activity Booklet

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Abortion: Stories Women Tell

File_001 (5) Review by Carla Renata for UBNRadio.com and The CurvyFilm Critic.com

As the child of a military family, we traveled for most of my life.  However, in between moves, we always went back "home".  Home for me is St, Louis, Missouri.  Both of my parents were born and raised there.  My relatives on my maternal and paternal side still live there.  I went to the prom, fell in love for the first time, had my first date, learned to drive, got my first job, became a beauty queen and attended my first college...all in the state of Missouri.

My memories are vast and fond of my life there.  However, as magical and warm the memories are that I have growing up in Missouri, I also remember Missouri for being one of the most racist states in the union.  Some residents of the state can be so full of judgement that some of my friends growing up there who were gay knew that "outing" themselves was never an option.  To do so would result in isolation from friends and family and being labeled and attacked,  Being a young, gifted and black was not celebrated.  To the point, that in 2016,  we are still witnessing young men like Michael Brown being harassed, shot and murdered.

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Needless to say, when I learned of the documentary Abortion:  Stories Women Tell screening at the Tribeca Film festival around Missouri becoming one of the many states to make abortion illegal, I was not surprised.  I was, however, extremely annoyed.

In 1973 the US Supreme court decision Roe Vs. Wade gave every woman the right to have an abortion. Since 2011, over half the states in the nation have significantly restricted access to abortions. In 2016, abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in America, especially in Missouri, where each year sees more restrictions.

Award winning director and Missouri native Tracy Droz Tragos sheds new light on this controversial  issue, with a focus not on the debate, but rather on the women themselves. Women who are struggling with unplanned pregnancies, the providers who show up at clinics to give medical care, as well as the activists on the sidewalks hoping to save one more child.

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Abortion: Stories Women Tell portrays an intimate portrait into the lives of these women through their personal stories, which come to life brilliantly, through the gentle and respectful approach by director Tragos.   Some are heartbreaking and tender, some are bleak and frightening, while others simply inform us of the strength and capacity of young women to overcome and persevere through often-tragic circumstances.  Take a listen to a recent interview I did with Tracy about her doc...

[audio mp3="https://carlarenatascorner.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/tracydrozetragos_abortionstories.mp3"][/audio]

Abortion:  Stories Women Tell also shows us how organizations like Planned Parenthood are being targeted for abortion procedures and allegedly accused  of selling fecal organs for medical testing.  My newly divorced mother (who is also a Registered Nurse) took me to Planned Parenthood as a teen to be educated on birth control and the services provided to young girls like me.  That Planned Parenthood location on Lindell Avenue in St. Louis has been shut down and the nearest location  is two hours away in Columbia, Missouri.

With young girls being sexually active as early as 10 years old, where will those mothers who don't take their daughters to be educated?  Especially now, that sex education has been slowly forced out of the public school system.

I employ each and every one of you reading this to think of all these concerns and facts as your state contemplates making a decision that affects thousands if not millions of American women.

Watch for this powerful doc to show up on HBO, but if you can't wait until then it had its theatrical release August 12th..  You will angered, educated,  but most of all moved to make a difference.

https://youtu.be/-X94ZaE7pso