SUNDANCE 2016: SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU

southside-with-you
southside-with-you

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 ...oh yeah, and in case you didn't know they're black.

"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.

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.  In addition, she's also one of the film's producers.

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 them walking through a museum featuring the artwork of Ernie Barnes.  Barnes' work was featured prominently on the  CBS 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, which is not a surprise.  The Obamas have received mixed reviews since they crossed the threshold of 1400 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....

CLICK HERE TO WATCH SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU TRAILER

Black Mass

BlackMass Review of Black Mass for Carla Renata's Corner

A few little known facts about me...I 'm obsessed with mafia films.  The Godfather 1, 2 &3, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, Casino, The Departed, American Gangster. Bugsy, Prizzi's Honor...you name it...I've seen it!! I'm a HUGE Johnny Depp fan going back to the "21 JumpStreet" days. He's  an extraordinary actor with skills, talent and definitely more than just a pretty face.

The most important little known fact, I actually dated a mob dude (Latin Mob) back in the day when I lived in NYC.  Needless to say, it abruptly ended the morning I was awaken to a hail of bullets coming through the front door of his apartment.  It was a buzz kill to say the least, not to mention the fact that it scared the poop out of me!!!

Cut to 2011, I clicked on the evening news to discover that one of the most notorious mobsters in Boston, Mass. history has been arrested in Santa Monica!!!  WTH??!!  The mobster seen cuffed on my television set was James "Whitey" Bulger, who was #2 on the FBI Most Wanted List right behind Osama Bin Laden and he had been living less than an hour away from me for nearly 16 years.

So, when the trailers aired showing Depp as Bulger in those blue contacts, I didn't think I would be able to get past that look to enjoy his performance.  Well baby, not only did only did I enjoy his performance -- I was spell-bound!  Not only did I forget Depp was wearing contacts, but his uncanny ability to take on Bulger's persona having never met the man was brilliant.  Boston accents are very tricky to master, but Johnny Depp is like the Lon Chaney of accents and characters.  He masters them and pulls it off without a hitch!

Having watched the documentary about "Whitey" Bulger and knowing the recordings used for were the only reference Depp had made his performance even more of a revelation.

So, for those of you non-mafia fans, James "Whitey" Bulger was the ringleader of the Winter Hill Gang, which terrorized Boston in the 70's and 80's.  In 1972, Bulger supposedly became a FBI informant,  allegedly provided prosecution protection (by childhood friend/FBI Agent John Connolly) for him and his gang's illegal activities.  Ultimately, Bulger's arrest turned into a conviction of 31 our of 32 counts of everything ranging from racketeering to murder.  Connolly got sentenced to 40 years.  Associates and Winter Hill Gang Members Kevin Weeks, Steve Flemmi and John Martorano all received lesser sentences are now walking the streets of Boston as free men.

Joel Edgerton as John Connolly allows the audience to watch as the Bostonian bravado, über confidence that is a staple for this FBI Agent  fade into a paranoid, desperate man willing to protect himself and his friends by any means necessary.

Dakota Johnson, fresh off of her controversial "Fifty Shades of Grey", as Bulger's love interest Lindsey Cyr gives a heart wrenching performance as a mother whose son' medical condition tips the scales of her relationship to a point of no return.

Peters Sarsgaard as Halloran knows all too well how to give you the fine line between crazy and vulnerable.  I've been a huge fan of his since "Boys Don't Cry".  Oscar Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch displays what a true acting chameleon he is portraying Bulger's younger brother Billy with just enough chilliness that one can see that the Senator and his brother could have possibly been one in the same.

Last, but certainly not least, Kevin Bacon rounds out this stellar cast and is obviously having a great year in film with this film following his fantabulous performance in "Cop Car"

Having already made a huge splash at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, Black Mass opened in the #1 spot at box offices across country in the US - making a particularly stong showing in Boston...where the whole story began.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJWJeBJnT6M

 

Sicario

Sicaro Sicario Review for Carla Renata's Corner

Sicario. translated to English as "hitman " in this action driven drama written by Taylor Sheridan captures your attention within the first few moments all the way to last image of kids playing soccer with a hail of bullets being heard in the background.

Baby, let me tell you this film is destined to be one of the first to get major Oscar-worthy buzz for director, producer, film, writing and all the majority top acting categories.

Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is off the chain!!!  You don't have a clue what is about to go down from one moment to the next, yet you can't wait to find out.  Director Dennis Vileneuve hit the bulls-eye with this one, the same way he did a few years ago with Prisoners, where I raved about a non-recognizable Melissa Leo (check out my review Prisoners Review for Carla Renata's Corner).

Benicio del Toro plays the bad guy better than anyone I know and the power is not so much in what his character Alejandro says, but in the awkward silence of him not speaking that makes him compelling to watch! This is not new territory for the actor as he won a Best Supporting Actor for Traffic and received a nomination for 21 Grams.  My boy embraces his brand and brings it on home every time!!!  You gotta love and respect that!

Shortly after giving birth,  Emily Blunt took on the Kate Macer with vigor, realism and a humanity that is often not displayed on film in these types of roles.  However, Blunt forces you to have empathy for Kate, while understanding why she continues to pursue such bad choices in her quest to bring down the cartel.  Her final moment in the film is one of many moments that leave you breathless  - seriously!!!

Josh Brolin is simply "da' bomb"!  It doesn't matter what role he plays in what movie...he always just kills it to the tenth power!!!  As the leader of the CIA task force, he is slick, charming, slimy, yet  he is absolute perfection!!!

The images (thanks to DP - Roger Deakins)  are astounding from the mutilated bodies hanging in the street to the hit on an entire family at the dinner table.  In fact, the most chilling image is one of Alejandro emerging in the shadows moments before he completes another hit.

The war on crime and drugs is real and Sicario brings it to your face in a realistic, action-packed way that left me breathless.  I spent a good deal of this movie with my mouth open from shock and pure delight of the pleasure to finally see a film that will make this awards season very exciting!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XLQ1bkSLDo

Z for Zachariah

IMG_1202 Right on the heels of his Oscar Nominated role in "12 Years A Slave", Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on a role that is fascinating to witness.

In "Z for Zachariah"  Loomis (Ejiofor) thinks he is the lone survivor in the midst of a disaster that wipes most of the human race.  However, its when Ann (Margot Robbie) stumbles upon him in the woods that both of their lives change.  If that weren't enough...Caleb (Chris Pine) finds Ann and Loomis - and that is when it starts to get a little interesting.

It's amazing how resourceful one can be when they need to.  Ann, who has been living without electricity for Lord knows how long, is beside herself when Loomis (a former scientists) uses water, a generator and a wheel made from wood as an conduit to run electricity to the house.

Based on a novel by Robert C. O'Brien and beautifully shot, the screenplay for this one feels a little thin, but these extraordinary actors make up for it.

It was refreshing to watch Pine and Robbie act without focusing on their external beauty.  Robbie was so stripped down, I almost didn't recognize her and found myself wondering who this newcomer was opposite this Oscar nominee...lol. Pine and Ejiofor have that uncanny gift of saying more with their eyes than any dialogue that could be written or spoken.  I love that!!

Z for Zachariah opened in limited release on August 28th and is exclusively "on-demand" on Direct TV.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxw4KFxPcoY