I was privileged to attend the very first showing of the upcoming film “Not Easily Broken,” based on the book by the Bishop T. D. Jakes and starring three of my favorite performers, Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, and Jennifer Lewis. It is the story of a young couple struggling to keep their connection to each other and to God in the early years of marriage. And it is the first of what Bishop Jakes hopes will be a series of films with compelling stories told with heart and without crassness, profanity, or violence. It was made for a very small budget as a labor of love and they are trying to get the word out now so that the opening week’s box office will be big enough to persuade Hollywood to make some more.
There was a half-hour delay in getting the film started, which was fine with me because Bishop Jakes picked up a microphone to talk to us. It was a great pleasure to see his extraordinary ability to bring an audience together. It took him just a couple of seconds to turn to Washington’s largest movie theater into a congregation and to make us feel involved and connected. After the film, he, director Bill Dukes, and producer-star Morris Chestnut spoke about the project and answered some questions.
I can’t post a review until the film opens in January, but I can say that I very much appreciate their effort to create meaningful stories with good values that are unapologetically positive about spirituality and to create roles with some depth for these talented actors. It made me think again of how few movies there are that begin where most movies end — with a wedding — and talk about what marriage and happily-ever-after really mean. I’ll have another post on that topic soon.
The cover of the comedy issue of Rolling Stone has David Letterman, Tina Fey, and Chris Rock and the stories inside include raucous recollections of “notes,” the edits and suggestions from studio and network executives. My favorite is Mel Brooks’ description of carefully writing down all the things that had to be taken out of “Blazing Saddles” and then, after the meeting was over, crumpling it up and throwing it away. Top comedians and comedy writers share their favorite funny movies, their biggest breakthroughs, and their biggest flops. Letterman’s interview has some thoughtful and touching comments on Warren Zevon’s last appearance on the show and his relationships with everyone from Madonna to Johnny Carson and the girls from “The Hills.”
Be sure to check out the online extras, including video clips from five comics to watch and nine comedy all-stars have a blast at the photo shoot.
Anyone old enough to see this movie is way too old to enjoy it. And having co-writer and star Mike Myers wink at the audience after some lame pun or potty joke doesn’t up the hilarity factor. The fact that he is willing to acknowledge how cheesy this material is does not mitigate damages.
In his last live action movie Mike Myers played three characters and two of them, the grossly obese and just plain gross Fat Bastard and even the title character, ever-ready-to-party Austin Powers, were one-joke concepts. Myers and the film were best when the focus was on the villainous Dr. Evil. In his latest film, “The Love Guru,” Myers only plays one character but he is the least interesting figure in the movie, or at least the least interesting male. The wonderfully talented Meagan Good and the appealing Jessica Alba have nothing to do but gaze adoringly at whichever male the script asks them to, which they do reasonably well, and look very, very fetching, which they do extremely well. Meanwhile, Myers’ character, the Guru Pitka, has a beard that obscures much of his face and a storyline that underneath all of the gross-out humor is just dull.
Pitka is an American raised in an ashram who always came in second to his rival — Deepak Chopra. Their teacher was cross-eyed Guru Tugginmypudha, played by a slumming Sir Ben Kingsley, whose Indian ancestors are revoking their reincarnation options at this moment. That character name is one of many, many examples of the non-stop naughty-body-part-references. The level of humor would be more appropriate on a 4th grade bathroom wall than a Hollywood screenplay.
Pitka is a best-selling author and popular spiritual leader but still second to Chopra. His chance to move into first place comes when the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team (Jessica Alba) hires him to treat the star player (Romany Malco, please, please someone give this handsome and talented actor a part worthy of him) who is distraught because his wide (Meagan Good) has left him for another team’s goalie, Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake). The nickname, in case it isn’t clear, is another achingly un-subtle body-part reference and refers to his most impressive physical attribute. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, the movie still finds time to repeat jokes about the size of that attribute but it never gets funny. Ever. This movie has the timing of chilled molasses.
The movie also includes elephant poop, a sort of ashram dodgeball played with pee-soaked mops, a chastity belt (and when he is aroused there’s a clang sound, get it?), references to a little person (“Austin Powers'” Verne Troyer) as a Kebler elf, a gnome, and a hobbit, crotch hits, random musical numbers, and meaningless cameos by embarrassed-looking semi-stars.
Even in a silly comedy the audience has to be able to connect to the characters and care about the story and that never happens here. Myers could have made fun of American susceptibility to spiritual leaders who appear on “Oprah” and write best-sellers filled with gimmicky aphorisms supposedly based on ancient wisdom. But it is evident that he has been genuinely touched by Chopra (they appear together on the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclasts series). This is lovely for him but a real buzzkill for the movie. It is also a mistake to make the task assigned to him the reconciliation of a couple who split up without having us invest in any way in either of the characters or their feelings for each other. Good’s character loses our sympathy immediately for leaving her husband for no particular reason for a man who is completely obnoxious (though Timberlake is very funny in the movie’s only bright spot). And the movie is creepily misogynistic, with Malco’s problems all coming down to his faithless wife and his harridan of a mother (played by Telma Hopkins of Tony Orlando and Dawn!). The movie seems like one long regression therapy session for Myers, who seems to have taken the guru’s messages about how everything he does is wonderful a little too much to heart.
Andy and Larry Wachowski, the folks behind the Matrix trilogy, have taken the iconic but decidedly low-tech 1960’s Japanese cartoon character and put the pedal to the metal with dazzling effects and electrifying action. Do what Speed Racer does — put on your red socks and GO!
Even as a child, Speed Racer could only think of one thing, making cars go as fast as possible. Not surprising — he was surrounded by racing. The family business was race cars. His father (John Goodman) built them and his older brother drove them. When his brother is killed in a crash, Speed (Emile Hirsch) takes over. On and off the race track he battles the competition, even when they do not fight fairly. By his side are his parents, his little brother, his and his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci, looking like a real-life version of an anime heroine with her enormous eyes).
The plot is pretty much the same as the cartoon series, meaning light-weight and a little incoherent. Basically, evil forces are trying to stop Speed from winning the race. The sections with the kid brother and his chimp are slow points for everyone over age 9 but it is all great fun, with a hero to believe in and visuals that are both reassuringly retro and stunningly innovative. Every wallpaper and fabric, each car, helmet, and racetrack is meticulously designed to evoke a mash-up between Speed’s Norman Rockwell-style, solidly heartland home and the souped-up super space age world outside. The Wachowskis re-invent the color wheel with reds and yellows that make fire engines and school buses seem pale.
The dialogue is pared down to essentials: “You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!” “Maybe not, but it’s the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something.” The plot is no more significant (or confusing) than in the cartoon originals. All we need to know is that in the world of Speed Racer you can drive a car and change the world — if you drive it very, very fast.