Tuesday, April 30, 2013

40 Sparkly Artists

     Today's viewing list includes a comedic quasi-sequel, a cheesy remake & a documentary about the "grandmother of performance art"...two out of three ain't bad...

  Sparkle - Remember that magical moment in Dream Girls when Jennifer Hudson sang "I Am Telling You" and just for a second you thought that maybe history would prove American Idol to be a great star maker after all?  Let's all just bask in the joy of that moment for a second...and then let's talk about Sparkle.
     I'm sorry to report that director Salim Akil has taken a serious step backwards from his debut feature Jumping the Broom.  This remake of the 1976 camp classic is yet another example of why some films don't need to be remade, even if it is a good excuse to help fill the admittedly shameful vacuum of significant roles available in Hollywood for black actresses.  This kind of career assistance they don't need.
     As for the acting, it might still be too soon to speak ill of the dead, so let's talk about Jordin Sparks.  The poor girl just looked lost.  She either seemed to be making a face: "angry", "happy", "intrigued", "frightened", or vapidly staring off into space trying to remember which face her acting coach had said to make in the particular scene.
     The rest of the cast is either under-utilized, burdened by bad dialogue or just underwhelming in general.  Even a cameo by Cee-Lo Green (who usually makes me smile no matter how he is utilized) failed to muster much enthusiasm on my part.  The only member of the ensemble to stand out in a positive way is Carmen Ejogo in the role of Sister.  While her performance definitely stands high above the rest, it is sadly not enough to salvage the production as a whole...1 1/2 of 5 stars.

  This Is 40 - I'm not sure how many reviews I've prefaced with the confession that I am pretty tough on comedy.  I don't know why, but I'm a hard egg to crack in this regard and it is the rare film that gets me to actually laugh out loud with much gusto.  I'm happy to report that This Is 40 did. Repeatedly. I shouldn't really be all that surprised.  Writer/director Judd Apatow has been carving a real niche for himself making films with a superb blend of humor, heart, and intelligence, and that is exactly the sort of movie that he has created here.
     This is 40 is a quasi-sequel, focusing on the lives of supporting characters from his previous film, Knocked Up.  Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann return in the roles that they created and both do exceptional work.  If I have one complaint it is that the caustic humor that is central to the characterization of both members of the couple becomes a LITTLE excessive at times, pushing the boundaries of character likability.  In one scene, Ms. Mann's character Debbie chastises a boy who has insulted her daughter on-line so viciously that I actually became a bit uncomfortable.
     Overall, though, this is a very small complaint about a very funny movie.  Melissa McCarthy made me absolutely GUFFAW and I will NEVER get the image of young Iris Apatow shouting "No Technology" into her smart phone out of my head.  I highly recommend watching this picture, and insist that you stick around for the out takes with Ms. McCarthy during the credits...4 of 5 stars.

  Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present - You know, I vaguely remember a paragraph or so about Marina Abrimovic's work from Art History when I was in college but I never really got the point of performance art.  However, seeing her prepare for an exhibit and hearing her speak in this biographical documentary, I think I begin to get it.  I can only imagine what the experience of seeing one of her exhibits live would be like.  There is a presence and an energy about the woman (even over video) that simply defies explanation with mere words.
     Director Matthew Akers does not go in for a lot of flair in his storytelling style or structure, wisely allowing the charisma of his subject to speak for itself.  Which it does marvellously.  The Artist is Present is an insightful and entertaining meditation on art, love, the passage of time, and humanity.  Highly recommended viewing...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

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