Review: ‘The Seventh Day’ (2021), starring Guy Pearce, Vadhir Derbez and Stephen Lang

April 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vadhir Derbez, Guy Pearce and Brady Jenness in “The Seventh Day” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Seventh Day”

Directed by Justin P. Lange

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans and briefly in Baltimore, the horror film “The Seventh Day” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, Asians and African Americans) representing Catholic clergy and middle-class citizens.

Culture Clash: Two Catholic priests who hunt demons try to perform an exorcism on a 12-year-old boy who’s accused of murdering his parents and 16-year-old sister. 

Culture Audience: “The Seventh Day” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull and mindless horror movies about exorcisms.

Guy Pearce in “The Seventh Day” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

An exorcism patient who’s strapped to a bed probably has more fun than anyone who watches this tedious train wreck of a horror film until the movie’s very ludicrous end. “The Seventh Day” (written and directed by Justin P. Lange) also has an awkward mix of experienced, more talented actors with less-experienced, less-talented actors whose lack of talent further lowers the quality of this already substandard movie. It’s the type of forgettable horror flick that’s heavy on gore but unbearably light on an interesting, well-crafted story.

“The Seventh Day” begins with a flashback to Baltimore on October 8, 1995. A middle-aged priest named Father Louis (played by Keith David) is getting ready to travel somewhere with a priest in his 20s named Father Peter Costello (played by Chris Galust), who is Father Louis’ protégé. The two priests are going to an exorcism in Baltimore on the same day that Pope John Paul II was visiting the city. (The movie includes archival footage of this visit.)

Father Louis says in a voiceover: “It chose today of all days. The Holy Father, a mere stone’s throw away. I suspect that’s no coincidence.” What is the “it” that this priest is talking about? The demon that these priests are hunting, course.

Father Louis then tells Father Peter: “I fear that this one will be different from the others. This one seems to have a purpose.” Too bad this movie doesn’t seem to have a purpose except to badly recycle ideas from other exorcism movies.

And then Father Louis says, “Soon, Peter. I promise. I have complete faith in you.” This is the type of simplistic dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie. Viewers of this dreck will soon lose faith that it will get any better.

Father Louis and Father Peter are overseeing the exorcism of a boy named Nicholas “Nicky” Miller (played by Tristan Riggs), who’s about 12 or 13, with Nicky’s parents (played by Heath Freeman and Hannah Alline) also in attendance. Nicky is strapped to a bed. Because Father Louis is training Father Peter to be an exorcism master, Father Peter is leading this particular exorcism session.

As Father Louis says the Lord’s Prayer, the lights in the room start to flicker. And then little Nicky starts to talk like a man trying to sound like a demon. A possessed Nicky blurts out this insult to Father Peter: “You look lost, you dumb animal! You should find yourself a new shepherd!” Is this demon supposed to be terrifying or is this demon trying out someone’s rejected lines in a stand-up comedy insult act?

It might be bad comedy, not horror, because Nicky then shouts, “Smile like you’ve never done before!” His face (through some cheesy visual effects) then contorts into a bloody grin that would make “It” evil clown villain Pennywise laugh at the absurdity of it all.

All hell then breaks loose. The crucifix necklace around Mrs. Miller’s neck is snatched away by an unseen force quicker than a drag queen can snatch a wig. The crucifix is thrown across the room, right into the jugular veins of Father Louis’ neck. This injury then causes Father Louis to bleed to death, right there in the room, in the time it would take for Pennywise to let out one of his famous giggles. That was quick.

But that’s not all. Nicky’s skin on his arms starts to burn until his whole body bursts into flames. It’s one of the more gruesome scenes in the movie. Meanwhile, the Pope is visiting “a mere stone’s throw away” in Baltimore, and no one in the room bothers to ask, “Where’s the Pope when you need him?”

“The Seventh Day” then fast-forwards to the present day in New Orleans. Father Peter (played by Guy Pearce) is now a jaded, middle-aged clergyman. He’s in a meeting with an unnamed archbishop (played by Stephen Lang), who wants Father Peter to train a young priest named Father Daniel Garcia (played by Vadhir Derbez) to become a master exorcist. Father Daniel is called into the room, not knowing that he’s about to become an exorcist protégé.

As the archbishop explains to Father Daniel, they are part of a small secret society of Catholic clergy who still provide training on how to perform exorcisms. According to the archbishop, the Vatican adopted a negative attitude toward exorcism and stopped teaching exorcism rites. And now, only a “handful, no more than a dozen” Catholic clergy secretly train for and perform exorcisms.

The archbishop tells Father Daniel, “You need to know that Father Peter trained with the very best. And I feel, in my heart, that I’m putting you into the right hands.” The archbishop describes the late Father Louis as the “most revered” exorcist in this secret society. The archbishop, who knows about the botched exorcism that killed Father Louis, conveniently doesn’t tell Father Daniel about this messy tragedy.

The archbishop might feel that he’s putting Father Daniel in the right hands, but Father Peter isn’t as open to the idea of taking on this new trainee. At first, Father Peter is cold and condescending to Father Daniel and treats him more like an altar boy who’s supposed to do errands. At one point in the meeting, Father Peter orders Father Daniel to go across the street to get Father Peter some coffee.

And so begins Father Peter and Father Daniel’s training session, where they travel by car together in search of some pesky demons to expel. It has all the makings of a formulaic movie about a cynical and gruff older cop who’s assigned to mentor/train a naïve and eager-to-please younger cop—except that Father Peter and Father Daniel have crucifixes, not guns, as their weapons.

One of the first things that Father Peter tells Father Daniel is that he doesn’t like wearing a formal clergy uniform because it can intimidate some of the people with whom they interact. Father Peter’s preferred fashion style makes him look more like an angst-filled, scruffy liberal-arts college professor, with a well-worn plaid blazer and a chain-smoking habit as part of that image. It takes a little while for Father Daniel to loosen up in his wardrobe choices, but he eventually starts to wear more casual clothing when he’s with Father Peter, except when they want to use their priesthood to get certain privileges.

As they spend more time together, Father Peter warms up to Father Daniel and opens up a little bit more to Father Daniel about his past. He tells Father Daniel about the horrific exorcism of Nicky Miller and that Nicky burst into flames and died. Father Peter says that he’s still haunted by this tragedy. Meanwhile, Father Daniel won’t tell Father Peter much about himself. When Father Peter asks Father Daniel why he wants to become an exorcist, Father Daniel doesn’t really give an answer.

Before Father Peter and Father Daniel find out about the big exorcism that they have to do in this story, there’s a nonsensical scene of the two priests encountering a demon at a run-down area where homeless people live. They stop in the area, since Father Peter seems to know a homeless charity worker named Helen (played by Robin Bartlett), who is there to distribute some food.

Upon arrival, the two priests see a homeless man named George (played by Acoryé White) chanting out loud while standing over a cylinder garbage can whose contents have been lit on fire. As Father Peter and Father Daniel get closer to the man, Father Daniel brings out a rosary and prays. George reacts as if Father Daniel is the crazy one.

Suddenly, Helen cries out in pain and a wind-like explosion happens that knocks everyone out except for someone who’s become possessed by a demon. (Take a wild guess if it’s George or Helen.) The two priests manage to exorcise the demon in the most mundane and predictable way possible. There’s really nothing terrifying about this scene. Besides, there’s another exorcism in the movie that’s supposed to be scarier but it’s even more ridiculous.

Charlie Giroux (played by Brady Jenness) is a 12-year-old boy who’s going on trial for the murder of his parents and 16-year-old sister. For now, he’s being kept in solitary confinement in a juvenile detention center. And so, Father Peter and Father Daniel naturally want to find out if this boy is possessed by the devil.

They use their status as priests to visit Charlie at the detention center. However, Father Peter thinks Father Daniel should learn how to do these interviews on his own, so Father Peter usually waits outside while Father Daniel talks to Charlie. Thus begins a tiresome and repetitive slog in the movie: Father Daniel does a series of interviews with Charlie, who tells the priest that he keeps having visions of strange men crawling on his chest until he can’t breathe. At one point, Charlie does the inevitable hissing “demon child” attack on Father Daniel, just in case it wasn’t clear that Charlie needs an exorcism.

There are also some distractions to stretch out the already thin plot. Father Daniel suddenly shows that he’s got psychic abilities, so he’s able to vividly see what happened in the Giroux house and what led up to the murders. And so, that leads to scenes of Father Daniel being a ghost-like voyeur in the house, where he spies on some family arguments. It explains the type of relationships that Charlie had with his father (played by Major Dodge), his mother (played by Stephanie Rhodes) and his sister Nellie (played by Evangeline Griffin) before the murders happened.

And there’s a very unnecessary and badly written scene of Father Peter and Father Daniel interviewing some kids, who are around Charlie’s age, at a hangout called Skate City, where the priests and the kids use a ouija board. And somehow, even though these two priests are not psychiatrists or lawyers and have no reason to be involved in Charlie’s murder case, Father Peter and Father Daniel have convinced the cops to let them watch while the police interrogate Charlie.

Longtime actors Pearce, Lang and David have considerable talent that is wasted in this junkpile movie. Fortunately for David, who has the unfortunate role of a priest killed by a crucifix necklace, he isn’t in the movie for very long. Lang has a mediocre supporting role that only gets a few scenes.

Pearce seems to know he’s in a terrible movie and makes an effort to bring some personality to a character that’s written as very hollow. Father David has a much more lackluster personality. Together, Father Peter and Father David are a dreadfully monotonous duo.

This horrendous movie is made worse by Derbez’s wooden acting and Jenness’ hammy over-acting. And because Derbez and Jenness share several scenes together, it makes for a lot of embarrassingly bad moments that are hard to watch. A more effective director should have been able to prevent this clumsy mismatch of actors by making better casting choices.

“The Seventh Day” writer/director Lange makes the same mistakes that a lot of directors of terrible horror movies make: They spend more time on violent mayhem and visual effects (none of which are that good in this film) and neglect the elements of telling a captivating and suspenseful story. The casting in this movie doesn’t work well, and there’s a plot twist which is predictable and obvious to anyone paying attention. It might be hard to pay attention though because “The Seventh Day” is so mind-numbingly boring that it might put people to sleep.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Seventh Day” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on March 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Our Friend,’ starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson and Jason Segel

January 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck in “Our Friend” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Gravitas Ventures)

“Our Friend”

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2000 to 2014 in Fairhope, Alabama; New Orleans; and briefly in Pakistan, the dramatic film “Our Friend” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple and their male best friend go through ups and downs in their relationship, especially after the wife gets ovarian cancer and the best friend temporarily moves in the family home to help the spouses take care of their two young daughters.

Culture Audience: “Our Friend” will appeal primarily to people interested in emotionally authentic, dramatic movies about loyal friendships and how cancer affects relationships.

Isabella Kai, Jason Segel and Violet McGraw in “Our Friend” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Gravitas Ventures)

The tearjerker drama “Our Friend,” which is inspired by a true story, departs from the usual formula of a family coping with cancer. When someone in a family has this disease, cancer dramas usually focus on how a spouse, parent or child is dealing with it. Those aspects are definitely in “Our Friend,” but there’s also the unusual component of a male best friend moving into the family household to be a nurturing supporter. Thanks to heartfelt performances from the main cast members, “Our Friend” is a genuine and relatable film, despite being the type of drama where it’s easy to predict exactly how it’s going to end.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and written by Brad Ingelsby, “Our Friend” is based on a 2015 Esquire magazine essay titled “The Friend,” written by journalist Matt Teague. (“The Friend” was the original title for this movie.) In this deeply personal article, he described the generosity of Dane Faucheux, the longtime best friend of Matt and his wife Nicole Teague. After Nicole was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dane (who was a bachelor at the time) put his life on hold in New Orleans to temporarily move in with the couple in Fairhope, Alabama, to help them take care of their household and the couple’s two young daughters Molly and Evangeline, nicknamed Evie.

The movie “Our Friend” expands on that essay by jumping back and forth in time to show how the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane evolved over 14 years, including the highs, lows and everything in between. The movie’s story spans from the year 2000 (when the three of them met) to the year 2014, when Nicole’s cancer was at its worst. The cinematic version of the story avoids a lot of nauseating details that are in the Esquire essay about bodily functions of a cancer patient. Instead, the movie focuses on showing this intense friendship from the individual perspectives of Matt, Nicole and Dane.

Nicole and Dane met each other while living in New Orleans in their early 20s, when she was one of the stars of a local musical theater production and he was a lighting operator in the crew. Nicole is open-hearted, compassionate and the type of person whom a lot of people feel like could be their best friend. Dane is socially awkward and somewhat introverted but an overall good guy who has some immaturity issues.

In the movie, Nicole was already married to Matt when she met Dane, who didn’t know that Nicole was married when he asked Nicole out on a date. Dane’s courtship mistake is never shown in the movie, but it’s mentioned in conversations. Once Nicole told Dane about her marital status, they were able to overcome this minor embarrassment and became good friends. Dane and Nicole are comfortable enough with each other that talk about their love lives with each other.

Dane is thoughtful and generous (he gives homemade mix CDs to Nicole), and he and Nicole love to talk about music, even when they agree to disagree. She thinks Led Zeppelin is “the greatest band ever,” while he doesn’t really care for Led Zeppelin. The Led Zeppelin reference in the movie is significant because two of Led Zeppelin’s original songs—”Ramble On” and “Going to California”—are used in emotional montage scenes in “Our Friend.”

By making Nicole an actress who loves musical theater, “Our Friend” gives Johnson a chance to showcase her singing skills, which are very good but not outstanding. Johnson sings two songs in the movie: “Hands All Hands Around” (from the musical “Quilters”) and a cover version of the Grateful Dead’s “If I Had the World to Give.” Johnson also did some singing in her 2020 movie “The High Note,” so maybe this is her way of demonstrating that she wants to be a professional singer too.

One day, Dane asks for Nicole’s advice about how to approach a theater co-worker named Charlotte (played by Denée Benton) whom he wants to ask out on a date. Unbeknownst to him, Charlotte isn’t attracted to Dane and has already been dating the theater’s stage manager named Aaron (played by Jake Owen). Minutes after Dane confides in Nicole that he’s going to ask Charlotte on a date, Charlotte tells Nicole in a private conversation that she suspects that Dane has a crush on her but Charlotte isn’t interested in dating Dane. It’s one of many examples in the movie that show how Nicole is a trusted confidante to many people in her life and she knows how to make people feel special.

Of course, Dane eventually finds out that Charlotte and Aaron are dating. Dane mopes about it for a little bit when he sees Charlotte and Aaron showing some heavy public displays of affection at a bar on the night that Nicole introduces Matt to Dane. The first time Matt and Dane meet, it’s at this bar, and Dane makes an apology to Matt for asking Nicole out on a date. Matt tells Dane not to worry about it and says that he has no hard feelings.

While Dane watches Charlotte and Aaron from a distance at the bar, Dane seem to takes their coupling way more personally than he should. He grumbles to Nicole and Matt that Charlotte seems to be rubbing her feelings for Aaron in Dane’s face. It’s a sign (one of many) that one of Dane’s flaws is that he can be emotionally insecure and overly needy.

As the movie skips back and forth in time, it’s eventually shown that Charlotte and Aaron have gotten married and have two children together. Charlotte and Nicole remain very close friends, even after Matt and Nicole move to Fairhope. Matt and Nicole relocated to Fairhope so that Nicole could be close to her parents. The parents of Matt and Nicole parents are never seen in the movie. After Nicole finds out that she has cancer in 2012, Matt tells Dane that Nicole has been afraid to tell her parents about the cancer diagnosis.

By the time that Nicole and Matt are living in Fairhope during her cancer ordeal, it’s shown in the movie that their daughter Molly (played by Isabella Kai) is about 11 or 12 years old, while their daughter Evie played by Violet McGraw) is about 5 or 6 years old. Molly is sometimes moody and quick-tempered, while Evie is generally a happy-go-lucky kid. Molly’s personality is more like Matt’s, while Evie is more like Nicole.

Over the years, it’s apparent that Aaron likes to make snide, condescending comments about Dane to other people whenever Dane isn’t around to defend himself. Aaron always makes digs about Dane working in dead-end jobs (such as a sales clerk at an athletic clothing store) and Dane not seeming to have an career goals or any real direction in life. Dane (who has a goofy sense of humor) has tried to be a stand-up comedian, but these dreams never really go anywhere, mainly because he just isn’t that talented. However, when Dane practices his stand-up routine for Nicole, she politely laughs at his corny jokes, and it makes him feel good.

Dave has financial problems, to the point where he’s sometimes temporarily homeless and has to stay at friends’ places or has to move back home with his parents, and he seems unsure of his purpose in life. B y contrast, Matt’s career as a journalist is flourishing. One of Matt’s first jobs was as a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, where he felt stifled and bored with covering fluffy local news. Matt’s real goal is to be a globetrotting journalist, where he gets to cover what he calls “important” news, such as wars and politics, that can make a big difference in people’s lives.

Matt gets his wish and his career is thriving as a freelancer covering war news for publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic. But all that traveling has taken a toll on his marriage to Nicole. In 2008, while Matt is on assignment in Pakistan, he and Nicole have an argument on the phone because he took an assignment to go to Libya without discussing it with Nicole first.

Matt doesn’t think that he did anything wrong, because he says that the family needs the money. Nicole, who’s now a homemaker, tells Matt that she feels like she’s a “single parent” and complains to him: “I feel like I married a war correspondent, not a journalist.”

Matt goes home for a few days before he has to go to Libya. And he gets unsolicited advice from Dane to not take the assignment in Libya and stay with the family. This leads to an argument between Matt and Dane where Dane points out Matt’s personality flaws, while Matt insults Dane for having a directionless life with no real career.

Because the movie’s timeline is not in chronological order, viewers have to piece together the ebbs and flows of the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane. There are hints that Dane struggles with his mental health, especially in an extended scene taking place in 2010 that shows Dane abruptly packing up and leaving his parents’ house so he can go camping by himself in remote Southwest canyons. Before he leaves, Dane’s older brother Davey (played by Richard Speight Jr.) asks Dane if Dane is having one of his “episodes.”

During this solitary excursion, Dane meets a friendly German camper named Teresa (played by Gwendoline Christie), who’s also traveling by herself. Teresa asks Dane to join her on her hikes. Dane is standoffish at first, but Teresa insists on hanging out with Dane, and he eventually warms up to her a little bit. Teresa senses that Dane is deeply troubled and unhappy with his life, so she shares with him a very personal experience that changes his perspective. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie, proving that not all of the emotional gravitas in “Our Friend” has to do with Nicole’s cancer diagnosis.

However, “Our Friend” is still very much a cancer movie. There’s the heart-wrenching scene showing Matt and Nicole deciding how they are going to break the news to their children that Nicole is going to die from cancer. There’s the predictable scene where Nicole makes a “bucket list” of things she wants to do before she dies, with Matt and Dane frantically trying to make some of the more difficult things on the list (such as being grand marshal of the next Mardi Gras parade) come true for Nicole. And then there are the expected scenes of Nicole having medication-related meltdowns.

The Teague family members also have the misfortune of their beloved pet pug Gracie being diagnosed with cancer around the same time that Nicole gets sick with cancer. While Matt spends time with Nicole in the hospital, Dane has the task of taking Gracie to the veterinarian, who tells Dane that it’s best if the terminally ill dog undergoes euthanasia. Dane, who is not the owner of the dog, is put in the awkward position of having to represent the Teague family when the dog is permanently put to sleep. Dane also has to tell Molly and Evie the bad news about Gracie’s death, because Matt and Nicole are too preoccupied in the hospital.

During all of this cancer drama, Dane gets some pushback and criticism for deciding to move in with Matt and Nicole. At the time of Nicole’s cancer diagnosis, Dane was living in New Orleans and had been dating a baker named Kat (played by Marielle Scott) for about a year. Dane and Kat’s relationship has progressed to the point where Kat has given him spare keys to her home.

At first, Kat was fine with Dane going to visit the Teagues in Fairhope (which is about 160 miles away from New Orleans), as a show of support for the family. But the visits became longer and longer, until Dane eventually moved in with the Teagues. And Kat wasn’t so okay with that decision. Aaron also makes snarky comments to the Teagues’ circle of friends about Dane being a freeloader, until Matt eventually puts Aaron in his place for being such an unrelenting jerk about Dane.

The movie also shows that Matt and Nicole have other challenges in their lives besides her cancer. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, their marriage hit a rough patch due to issues over jealousy and infidelity. And before and during Nicole’s cancer crisis, Molly was feeling resentment toward Matt because of his long absences from home. Molly sometimes lashes out at Matt and makes it clear that she thinks Nicole is a much better parent than Matt is.

The biggest noticeable flaw about “Our Friend” is there seems to be a gender double standard in how the three main characters physically age in the movie. Nicole looks like she’s barely aged throughout the entire movie, even though the story takes place over the course of 14 years. It’s a contrast to how Matt and Dane age over the years, particularly with their hair. In the early years of the friendship, Segel wears a wig to make Dane look younger, while in the later years, he sports his natural receding hairline. Likewise, Affleck’s natural gray hair is seen in the later years of the friendship.

This discrepancy has a lot to do with the fact that in real life, Johnson is 14 years younger than Affleck, and she’s nine years younger than Segel. The real Nicole, Matt and Dane were much closer to each other in age. This movie’s unwillingness to show a woman aging over 14 years and casting a much-younger female co-star as the love interest of the leading male actor are part of bigger age discrimination issues that make it harder for actresses over the age of 35 to be cast as a love interest to someone who’s close to their age.

And when Nicole has cancer, the physical damages from cancer are barely shown. There’s the typical “dark circles under the eyes” look with makeup, as well as mentions of Nicole’s hair falling out because of chemotherapy. (At various times, she wears a headband or a wig.)

But the movie could have used a little more realism in showing the devastating physical toll that cancer can take. More often than not in the cancer scenes, the movie makes Nicole just look like she’s hung over from a wild night of partying, instead of looking like a real cancer patient who’s deep in chemotherapy. It’s not as if Johnson had to lose a scary amount of weight to look like a convincing cancer patient, but more could have been done with makeup and/or visual effects to make it look more realistic that her character was dying of cancer.

However, the filmmakers (including film editor Colin Patton) should get a lot of credit for taking the non-chronological scenes and making everything into a cohesive story that’s easy to understand. “Our Friend” is not the type of movie that can be watched while distracted by something else, because the year that a sequence takes place is shown on the screen to guide viewers. People watching this movie have to pay attention to these milestone year indicators to get the full scope of the story.

“Our Friend” is a well-cast movie where all the actors do convincing portrayals of the emotions expressed in the movie. (Cherry Jones has a small but important role as a hospice nurse named Faith Pruett.) As much as the movie is about Matt and Nicole’s marriage, it’s also very much about the friendship between Matt, Nicole and Dane.

Even though Nicole and Dane were friends before Dane and Matt knew each other, Nicole and Dane’s friendship starts to wane a little bit, the more debilitated with cancer she becomes. There’s a noticeable brotherly bond that develops between Matt and Dane, especially when they have to face the reality of life without Nicole. It doesn’t diminish Nicole’s role in the film, but it realistically shows how relationships can change when people have to prepare for the end of a loved one’s life. “Our Friend” is not an easy film to watch for anyone who hates to think about dying from cancer, but the sadness in the movie is balanced out by the joy of having true love from family and friends.

Roadside Attractions and Gravitas Ventures released “Our Friend” in U.S. cinemas, on January 22, 2021, the same date that Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the movie on digital and VOD.

Review: ‘Cut Throat City,’ starring Shameik Moore, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham, Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, Eiza Gonzalez and Ethan Hawke

September 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Demetrius Shipp Jr., Keean Johnson, Shameik Moore and Denzel Whitaker in “Cut Throat City” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Cut Throat City”

Directed by The RZA

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans in 2005 and 2006, the crime drama “Cut Throat City” has a predominantly African American cast (with some white people and Latinos) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A group of young men turn to a life of crime when they have problems finding jobs after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Culture Audience: “Cut Throat City” will appeal mostly to people who like typical “gangster” movies that have a lot of violence and a mediocre plot.

T.I. in “Cut Throat City” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

How’s this for an unoriginal and tired idea for a movie? Poor people (who are usually people of color) become criminals because they’re desperate for money. And there’s a crime lord that they have to answer to who might or might not turn against them. “Cut Throat City,” despite its talented cast and an effort to be a somewhat stylish-looking film, still serves up this recycled and uninspired concept in a movie that doesn’t really do anything for the genre of gangster films. In fact, “Cut Throat City” (at 132 minutes long) gets a little too bloated and the plot a little too ridiculous for it to be considered a movie that will reach cult status as an undiscovered gem.

“Cut Throat City” (directed by The RZA, who’s best known as a founding member of the rap group Wu Tang Clan) could have used better editing to cut out the parts of the movie that drag before the movie’s big climactic scene. However, the screenplay by Paul “P.G.” Cuschieri is largely to blame for the most cringeworthy aspects of “Cut Throat City,” including the dumb dialogue and some of the most unrealistic aspects of the movie’s depiction of police investigations in a big American city.

New Orleans is the city where the movie takes place, in 2005 and 2006, with Hurricane Katrina as the catalyst for a lot of the angst and criminal activity in the story. “Cut Throat City” begins before Hurricane Katrina happened, when four working-class friends in their early 20s are getting ready for the wedding of one of the guys in the group. All four of them live in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, which is considered one of the most financially deprived and roughest parts of the city.

The groom is James (played by Shameik Moore), who prefers to go by the nickname Blink, who is an aspiring writer/illustrator of graphic novels. Blink’s three closest friends are Miracle (played by Demetrius Shipp Jr.), who’s an impulsive hothead; Junior (played by Keean Johnson), who often gets teased because he’s a white guy who tries to be more like his African American friends; and mild-mannered and quiet Andre (played by Denzel Whitaker), who’s Blink’s best man and an aspiring jazz musician. (He plays the trumpet.)

Blink is getting married to his girlfriend Demyra (played by Kat Graham), who is the mother of their son, who’s about 3 or 4 years old. At the wedding, Demyra’s mother (played by Stacie Davis) gives Demyra some marriage advice: “It’s not about happiness. It’s about meaning. Find the meaning and happiness will come later.” That’s this movie’s idea of a “pep talk,” which is supposed to indicate to viewers that many of the people in this movie have a pessimistic view on life.

Demyra and Blink are actually happy together, and the wedding goes smoothly. The honeymoon is another story, because Hurricane Katrina hits within a few days after the wedding. Even before the hurricane, the main problem in Blink and Demyra’s relationship is that Blink is having a hard time finding work as a graphic novelist. And now that he’s a married man, he’s really expected to contribute income to help pay the bills. Even though Blink has an associate’s degree from college and he attended Tulane University, his college education won’t help him get his dream job as a graphic novelist.

Blink has been working on a concept for a graphic novel called “Cut Throat City.” He gets a meeting with a condescending publishing executive named Peter Felton (played by Joel David Moore), who starts off by looking at Blink’s work and calling it mostly “derivative.” Peter does see one illustration that he likes, so he asks Blink who his influences are. Blink replies by listing Charles Schulz, Gary Larson and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Peter then says in an exasperated tone that by “influences” he meant who are the influences in Blink’s life.

Peter also asks Blink what kind of audience he wants for “Cut Throat City.” Blink says he “never really thought about it.” Peter responds, “The first thing you think about is your audience.” Blink then says, “If we only focus on our markets, then a cartoon wouldn’t be anything more than a cheap, dim commodity that will never change.”

When Peter says he doesn’t know where Blink could’ve gotten that idea, Blink responds that it was Peter who actually said it at an anime expo in 1990. “I got a transcript from the library,” Blink adds. “Fair enough,” replies Peter, who’s obviously done with Blink at point. He then coldly dismisses Blink from his office and tells an assistant to bring in the next person.

It’s one of many rejections that Blink gets as an aspiring graphic novelist. Andre tries to make money as a street musician, but it’s barely enough to be considered pocket change. Miracle and Junior are also unemployed. For whatever reason, the movie doesn’t show them looking for any jobs they can get. Hurricane Katrina has devastated New Orleans, so the job market has dried up in many ways, but these four friends just seem like they’ve given up trying to find work.

To make matters worse, Blink is too proud to accept financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As several weeks go by and things get more financially desperate for Blink and Demyra, she’s had enough of Blink refusing money from FEMA, and she tells Blink that they have to apply for FEMA aid. When they get to the FEMA office, their application is denied since they don’t need housing, and they’re told that homeless people are getting priority for the financial aid. And to add insult to injury, Blink and Demyra also aren’t eligible because they live in the Ninth Ward.

This FEMA rejection is a reason for Blink to feel angry at “the system,” which is why he eventually goes along with Miracle’s idea to start working for Blink’s relative Lorenzo “Cousin” Bass (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris), who’s a local gangster. (T.I., who’s also known as a hitmaking rapper in real life, is wearing makeup in the movie that makes Cousin look like he has a skin condition like vitiligo.) Blink, Miracle, Junior and Andre start dealing drugs for Cousin. But since they’re new to drug dealing, they mess things up and end up owing money to Cousin.

To show how vicious and unforgiving he is, Cousin makes the four guys watch as an unlucky man who has angered Cousin is tortured by having a wild raccoon attack the guy’s genitals. It’s not explicitly shown in the film, but it’s implied that this happened. The man is shown in the aftermath almost doubled over in pain with blood on the crotch area of his pants when he’s thrown out by Cousin and his henchmen.

Cousin and his group of thugs also force wild raccoons to fight each other in cages. And one of the main characters has a beloved dog, which predictably gets shot and killed by a vengeful Cousin during a fight scene. For anyone who hates seeing animal cruelty depicted on screen, it might be best to avoid this movie or close your eyes during these scenes.

Knowing that Cousin could also make their lives hell if they don’t come up with the money they owe him, the four friends decide to rob a local casino. And then one casino robbery turns into more, as they blow their money on strip clubs and gambling. All of these robbery scenes are completely ludicrous because the guys walk into the casino together wearing matching dark hoodies (automatically calling attention themselves) and they make little effort to disguise their faces, unless you consider wearing see-through nylon stockings on your face a “disguise.”

The casinos are also very crowded and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. And yet, the movie wants viewers to believe that these wannabe gangsters are clever enough not to get caught. After one robbery, which resulted in a big shootout with police and the theives’ getaway van being riddled with bullet holes, the four guys just trade in the van for a Dodge car in good condition. What used car dealer in their right mind would trade a car that’s in good shape for a bullet-damaged piece of junk?

“Cut Throat City” also makes the same stupid mistake that’s in a lot of badly written crime movies that take place in a big city: Only one cop is investigating the case. For a series of casino robberies in a city as big as New Orleans, it’s completely unrealistic to have only one investigator. And this cop also happens to look like a model/actress. Her name is Lucinda Valencia (played by Eiza Gonzalez), who has the thankless job of going into dangerous and sketchy areas by herself numerous times during the investigation, with no sign of a cop partner or backup anywhere.

There are also some other supporting players in this muddled and messy saga: Recently elected city councilman Jackson Sims (played by Ethan Hawke), who’s a former police officer and a very corrupt politician; Courtney (played by Rob Morgan), a sleazy barber who’s a confidential informant; and The Saint (played by Terrence Howard), a smooth-talking, bow-tie-wearing gangster who has criminal authority over Cousin.

Also part of the story, in a small role, is Rev. Sinclair Stewart (played by Isaiah Washington), who takes bribes to conduct funeral services for people who died under suspicious circumstances and don’t have a medical exam or death certificate. The bribes he takes include payment for forged death certificates. And somewhere in this jumbled story, Blink reunites with his estranged father Lawrence (played by Wesley Snipes), who abandoned Blink when Blink was a child.

“Cut Throat City” also has some bizarre references to “The Wizard of Oz.” When Blink, Miracle, Junior and Andre first go to meet with Cousin about working for him, Cousin says that his headquarters is like Oz. He compares Junior to the Tin Man, Andre to the Cowardly Lion, Miracle to the Scarecrow and Blink to Dorothy. Later in the movie, The Saint covers the young robbers’ heads in ski masks and tells them, “There’s no place like home.”

Speaking of the lines in this movie, people will be rolling their eyes at how corny some of the dialogue is. In one scene, Courtney tells Lucinda that local thugs “will shoot you in a crack cocaine heartbeat.” In another scene, Cousin says about the man who is left sobbing after the raccoon torture: “Two things I can’t stand: a lying-ass woman and a crying-ass man.” If this is Gangster Poetry 101, no thank you.

And in another scene, Cousin and The Saint have a meeting, where Cousin says to him in a semi-monologue that sounds like it was written by someone who thinks this is how black gangsters are supposed to talk: “We’re too much alike: greedy-ass motherfuckers. That’s why they can take all the opportunity away from us. They can flood us, jail us, try to kill us, but they can never kill our greed. That’s why we’ll pimp, rap, sling dope, cheat or steal, even it’s from each other.”

“Cut Throat City” has a twist at the end that’s meant to make the movie look like more artistic than it really is. There’s an end-credits scene that doesn’t really add much to the conclusion of this very predictable and substandard story. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the technical aspects of how the movie was filmed, and the movie is well-cast with good actors, but the director needed to make better choices in editing. Ultimately, it’s the weak and trite screenplay that makes “Cut Throat City” a movie a disappointment that doesn’t offer anything exciting or innovative.

Well Go USA released “Cut Throat City” in select U.S. cinemas on August 21, 2020.

Review: ‘The Lovebirds,’ starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani

May 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani in “The Lovebirds” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

“The Lovebirds”

Directed by Michael Showalter

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the comedy “The Lovebirds” has a racially diverse cast (African Americans, Asians and white people) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Two bickering lovers try to solve a murder mystery so they won’t get blamed for the crime.

Culture Audience: “The Lovebirds” will appeal primarily to fans of Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani and predictable comedies that mix romance and action.

Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in “The Lovebirds” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

“The Lovebirds” is a perfect example of a movie whose trailer makes the film look a lot better than it actually is. It’s disappointing, since the comedic talents of Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani (the movie’s title characters) are wasted on a formulaic screenplay and pacing that is at times surprisingly dull for an action-oriented movie.

Paramount Pictures was originally going to release “The Lovebirds” in cinemas on April 3, 2020. But then, the coronavirus pandemic happened, movie theaters worldwide were shut down, Paramount dumped “The Lovebirds,” and gave the rights to Netflix. Given Netflix’s tendency to have silly and forgettable romantic comedy films, “The Lovebirds” is right at home on the streaming service. If the movie had been released in theaters, it certainly would not have been worth a full ticket price.

“The Lovebirds” starts out very promising in its first 20 minutes. The opening scene is of new couple Jibran (played by Nanjiani) and Leilani (played by Rae) having a blissful moment the morning after spending the night together for the first time. They head to a café, where they make the decision that their new relationship status has made it officially okay to kiss each other in public.

Four years later, Jibran and Leilani are living together, and their relationship has turned into a bickering hell. Jibran is an aspiring documentarian who hasn’t been able to finish his film about corruption in the education system. Leilani works at an ad agency and is the main earner for the household.

Leilani seems to resent that she has to carry most of the financial burden for the couple and is growing impatient that Jibran isn’t pulling his share of the weight. Meanwhile, Jibran is resentful that Leilani doesn’t understand the process of making the documentary, and he thinks she’s the one who’s being unreasonable. The concept of “success” and how it’s tied into self-esteem and respect from a love partner are the real issues in the relationship, but these issues come out in their arguments in petty ways.

For example, Leilani thinks it would be fun for her and Jibran to be contestants on the reality show “The Amazing Race,” a competition where teams of two complete challenges around the world, with the winning team getting a $1 million prize. Leilani has been begging Jibran to apply to the show with her, but he refuses because he’s a snob about reality TV and he’s insulted when Leilani compares documentaries to reality shows.

Meanwhile, Leilani is very social-media conscious and cares a great deal about what other couples in their circle of friends are posting on their social media, but Jibran could care less. When a mutual-friend couple announces their engagement on social media, Jibran chastises Leilani for “liking” the engagement photo, because she’s told him that she thinks marriage is “problematic.” But Leilani argues that if she didn’t “like” the photo, then she would look like a hater to everyone else.

Their arguing escalates into a huge shouting match where Jibran yells, “I don’t want to settle for someone who’s so fucking shallow!” Leilani responds with an insult that cuts even deeper: “I don’t want to settle for someone who’s satisfied with being a failure.” It’s at this point, that it looks like Jibran and Leilani have decided to end their relationship.

This argument is actually the best scene in the movie, which is why it’s so disappointing that the quality of the “Lovebirds” screenplay goes downhill from there. The next day, while Jibran and Leilani are a car together (he’s driving and she’s in the passenger seat), they begin arguing again about their relationship. Their bickering is suddenly interrupted when a man on a bicycle (played by Nicholas X. Parsons) crashes into their windshield.

A horrified Jibran and Leilani get out of the car and ask the man if he needs help, but he refuses and quickly rides off without noticing that he has dropped his phone, which Jibran keeps to probably turn in later. Suddenly, a mustachioed man (played by Paul Sparks) comes up to the couple and identifies himself as a cop who needs to use their car to chase after the man on the bike.

He quickly takes the wheel of the car, while Jibran and Leilani are both terrified and excited at being part of this car chase. Through some action-packed twists and turns, the biker gets cornered and the driver hits him with the car. Instead of calling for medical assistance, the driver instead runs over the man and kills him.

That’s when Leilani and Jibran realize that this mystery carjacker isn’t a cop after all. (The fact that he wasn’t concerned about getting police backup during the car chase should’ve been a big clue.) And after the bicyclist is lying dead in the street, the carjacker/murderer runs away, just as another couple walks up and sees Jibran and Leilani standing next to the dead body.

The other couple assumes that Jibran and Leilani are responsible for killing the dead man with the car, so they immediately call 911. That leads to Jibran and Leilani frantically denying that they were responsible and trying to explain that a mystery man who ran away actually committed the crime. It doesn’t sound believable, so Jibran and Leilani both panic and run away, but not before calling out each other’s names so the female 911 caller can tell the police that information.

While taking refuge at a local restaurant, Leilani convinces a reluctant Jibran that they should try to solve the murder mystery on their own so they won’t get blamed for the crime. Her thinking is that it’s up to them to prove their innocence because the police won’t believe their story and it already looks bad that they ran away from the scene of the crime.

Jibran thinks it’s a better idea to explain to the police what happened, but Leilani refuses. She also plays into the couple’s fears of police treating black and brown people worse than other races, and that’s ultimately why Jibran goes along with her plan. The rest of the movie, which takes place over the course of one night, consists of Jibran and Leilani getting into more and more ridiculous situations.

Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Nanjiani previously co-starred in another over-the-top action comedy about a wacky twosome trying to solve a crime, in 2019’s “Stuber.” In “Stuber,” Uber was the ride-sharing service that gets a lot of product placement, while “The Lovebirds” has Lyft as the ride-sharing service of choice. “The Lovebirds” isn’t as annoying and silly as “Stuber,” but it’s pretty close. (You know a movie is bad if one of its big comedic scenes has the stars of the movie singing along when they hear Katy Perry’s “Firework.”)

The biggest disappointment of “The Lovebirds” is how often the movie’s pace drags when it shouldn’t. A scene with Jibran and Leilani ending up at a mysterious black-tie gathering with people wearing masks (something that’s in the movie’s trailer) could have been hilarious, but the humor ends up falling flat.

There are also some fight scenes that don’t make sense. For example, Jibran and Leilani break into what looks like a fraternity house and brutally assault one of the guys there (it’s in the trailer), but while this fight is going on, the other house residents who are in the next room unrealistically don’t hear this very loud and raucous fight. “The Lovebirds” is one of those slapstick movies where certain people get injuries that would send someone to a hospital in real life, but the severely injured person is still able to function as if the injury is nothing more than a pesky bruise.

Michael Showalter directed “The Lovebirds” after previously directing Nanjiani in the 2017 comedy “The Bick Sick,” a film inspired by the real-life love story of Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, who both wrote the film’s Oscar-nominated screenplay. The difference in quality between “The Big Sick” and “The Lovebirds” shows how crucial having a well-written screenplay can be, even if the director is the same. Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, who wrote the formulaic and uninspired screenplay for “The Lovebirds,” mainly have a background in television (they both worked on the TV series “Blindspot”), so it seems they have a way to go before they can master the art of writing comedic feature films.

Rae and Nanjiani (who are executive producers of “The Lovebirds”) are both talented writers/actors who found fame on HBO comedy series—Rae on “Insecure,” Nanjiani on “Silicon Valley.” You can’t help but wonder how much better “The Lovebirds” would have been if Rae and/or Nanjiani had written the screenplay. Their performances in “The Lovebirds” sometimes elevate what is essentially lowbrow movie material, but the appealing personalities of these actors just can’t quite turn this stinking mess of a movie into the comedy feast that it should have been.

Netflix will premiere “The Lovebirds” on May 22, 2020.

Review: ‘Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music,’ starring Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Irma Thomas, Robert Plant and Keith Richards

May 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Terence Blanchard (far right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

“Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music”

Directed by Michael Murphy

Culture Representation: The documentary “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” interviews a racially diverse (African Americans and white people) group of people, including musicians, concert promoters, journalists and music historians.

Culture Clash: The impact of slavery and other forms of racism have shaped the music of New Orleans.

Culture Audience: “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” will appeal mostly to people with diverse musical tastes, as well as people who want to learn more about the cultural history of New Orleans.

Allen Toussaint in “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Making a documentary about the entire history of music in New Orleans is a very ambitious project, especially if it’s edited into a feature-length film instead of being spread out into an episodic series. But writer/director/producer Michael Murphy has crafted a definitive chronicle of New Orleans music in a film with an impressive range that’s as entertaining as it is educational. Grammy-winning musician Terence Blanchard (one of the documentary’s executive producers) narrates this 104-minute film, which features a “who’s who” of people who are part of New Orleans music history or are connected to it in some way.

In addition to Blanchard, musicians interviewed in the documentary include Big Freedia, Germaine Bazzle, Jon Cleary, Harry Connick Jr., DJ Raj Smoove, Mannie Fresh, Steve Gadd, Leroy Jones, Dave Malone (of the Radiators), Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, PJ Morton, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Charmaine Neville, Ivan Neville, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Herlin Riley, Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, Reggie Scanlon (of the Radiators), Sting, Bill Summers, Irma Thomas, Reggie Toussaint, Don Vappie, Walter Washington and Dr. Michael White.

Other talking heads in the documentary include Quint Davis, CEO of Festival Productions Inc. New Orleans; Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe; Hogan Jazz Archive curator emeritus Bruce Raeburn; Black Top Records co-founder Hammond Scott; audio engineer Roberta Grace; Center for the Study of the American South associate director William Ferris; and journalists Arthel Neville (daughter of Art Neville) and Alan Light.

Interspersed through the documentary are live performances that are exclusive to the film, from artists such as Blanchard performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band; a duet with Aaron and Ivan Neville; influential R&B diva Thomas; the Neville Brothers; the Radiators; and Dumpstaphunk.

The film took several years to make, since some of the interviews took place in 2004, according the film’s production notes. And some of the footage filmed for the documentary is of people who have since passed away, such as Art Neville and Dr. John, who both died in 2019.

The movie takes a mostly chronological look at the history of New Orleans music, starting with how the brutality of slavery led to African American slaves developing their own form of music that became the foundation of jazz and the blues, which later influenced the creation of rock and roll, soul/R&B, funk and hip-hop. At times, during the documentary, narrator Blanchard gives a tour to some of the historical sites of New Orleans music, such as the Dew Drop Inn, J&M Recording Studio and the Black Pearl neighborhood that’s known for giving rise to Mahalia Jackson. The Tremé neighborhood (also known as the Cradle of Jazz) is mentioned frequently in the film, since New Orleans is the city that gets the most credit for being the birthplace of jazz.

Several influential New Orleans musicians are given praise and credit for making New Orleans an outstanding music city. Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Louis Prima, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Earl Palmer, singer Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, James Booker, the Neville Brothers, the Marsalis family and Earl King all get special mentions in the film.

In the beginning of the film, Blanchard visits St. Augustine Church, established in 1841 as the oldest African American Catholic parish in the United States. He points out how the outer pews were purchased/reserved for slaves by free people of color so that the slaves would not be shunned at the church services. “Growing up in the church, I have always believed you could never separate spirituality from creativity,” Blanchard says.

Sting (whose first band as a solo artist included Branford Marsalis and other musicians with a jazz background) comments: “New Orleans seems to have a complexity about it that other American cities lack, maybe because of the history built on the tragedy of human trafficking. Let’s be honest about that. But what was created out of that—jazz, the blues—is something that the whole human race should be grateful for. It’s not to be an apologist for that tragedy, but at the same time, it’s amazing how resilient the human spirit is.”

Wynton Marsalis notes that when the slave owners allowed Africans to play drums in Congo Square during the years when slavery was legal, this artistic freedom had an enormous impact on the music culture in New Orleans: “The fact that a slave could be free on a Sunday afternoon for five hours [to play music] made [New Orleans] different from the United States of America. That expression of freedom still echoes.”

Preservation Hall director Jaffe, whose parents founded the world-famous venue, says that New Orleans multiculturalism of Europe (especially France and Spain), Africa and the Caribbean (especially Cuba) is reflected in the melting pot of musical styles that have thrived in New Orleans. The documentary includes a segment on how the drumming styles in New Orleans also affected the rhythms that distinguished New Orleans jazz (or Dixieland jazz) from jazz in other areas of the United States.

Jazz is the most famous type of music to come out of New Orleans, so it’s the music genre that gets most of the screen time in the first half of the documentary. The concept of an instrumental solo in jazz is largely credited to influential jazz musicians such as Armstrong and Morton. Connick says: “New Orleans jazz music will never die, because the feeling we get as performers who play it is the greatest drug in the world.”

The documentary also mentions New Orleans was one of the first big cities in the U.S. that established an opera house, due in large part to composer/pianist Gottschalk, one of the first American musicians to become a star in Europe in the mid-1800s. And the influence of Cuban music in New Orleans also gets its own segment in the documentary.

“Up From the Streets” also addresses how sexism affected female artists who were part of the early New Orleans music scene. Traditionally, women performers were usually allowed to only be singers or piano players. But slowly, the barriers started to open up during the Jazz Age, when bands started to accept women in other roles besides as a vocalist or pianist.

Singer/bass player Bazzle comments on the gender barrier faced by female musicians in New Orleans: “There was a line until we started doing it [crossing the line].” She adds there’s nothing about musical instruments that say only one gender can play those instruments, but there used to be a mentality that women couldn’t play certain instruments—a sexist belief that wasn’t unique to New Orleans but it affected the opportunities that women had in the New Orleans music scene’s earliest decades.

Branford Marsalis remembers how tough his parents, especially his late mother Dolores, used to be when it came to demanding excellence from her musical children. However, he says, “I appreciated having stern parents.” And he says that his parents would constantly remind the Marsalis children about how fortunate they were to benefit from the civil-rights movement and to not take it for granted.

The movie also notes that although New York City is the birthplace of rap/hip-hop, there’s a New Orleans hip-hop scene that really began to thrive in the 1990s with Master P, Birdman, Mystikal and Juvenile, and has continued in the 21st century with Lil Wayne, Big Freedia and the “bounce” craze. However, in its coverage of New Orleans music artists who are influential in the 21st century, the documentary makes one glaring omission, by failing to mention Frank Ocean.

As for people outside the U.S. who are influenced by New Orleans music, British musicians are among the most enthusiastic. Plant says that he and his former Led Zeppelin bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were “obsessed with the music of New Orleans, so we always made it our business to ensure that when we were on tour, we came to New Orleans. It’s just about the quality of music that I could relate to and just how it really had such a profound effect.” In the documentary, Plant also cites Allen Toussaint as one of his favorite musicians, which is why Plant and Alison Krauss’ 2007 Grammy-winning duet album “Raising Sand” included a cover version of Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller.”

Rolling Stones guitarist Richards praises Earl Palmer (who worked with dozens of artists, including Little Richard and Sam Cooke) as a “real rock and roll drummer. A lot of drummers since then have been able to rock, but very few that have been able to put the roll in.” Richards also says of Ivan Neville (son of Aaron Neville), who’s worked with Richards on several of Richards’ solo projects: “I feel like his older brother or an uncle. I’ve seen him go through a lot of difficulties and pain and seen him come out of it.”

Aaron Neville says of the origins of the Neville Brothers as a musical act: “One thing our parents always wanted was to see all of us together. In New York, we got to go in the studio with the Meters. We didn’t rehearse anything. We already knew what their part was, and it just came out naturally. And we decided to do the Neville Brothers from then on.”

And, of course, one of New Orleans’ hallmarks is that it’s very common for big bands to perform in the middle of streets and have Second Line parades. Morton and Jaffe remembers that one of the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was how the city of New Orleans was like a ghost town deprived of street music for a long period of time before the recovery from the hurricane.

Davis, whose Festival Productions produces the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (also known as Jazz Fest), talks about how JazzFest in 2006—the first Jazz fest after Hurricane Katrina—was an example of how music helped bring New Orleans heal from hurricane disaster. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music (which opened in 2011) was also founded as a result of helping New Orleans rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

However, some of the people interviewed, including Wynton Marsalis and Mannie Fresh, note that although music can bring people together in New Orleans, after a concert or performance ends, people often go back to living racially segregated lives in the city. Despite the city’s problems, New Orleans has a unique culture that’s been able to thrive largely because of the music. And as Blanchard says in the film, much of New Orleans’ strength comes from “the power of music, the power that it has to change hearts and minds … The most important thing is that it’s not over. This is not the end of the story.”

Eagle Rock Entertainment released “Up From the Street: New Orleans: The City of Jazz” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 15, 2020. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund, a statewide relief initiative supporting Louisiana musicians who have lost income amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve: Lucy Hale replaces Jenny McCarthy; Billy Porter named host of New Orleans celebration ringing in 2020

November 26, 2019

The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions and ABC:

Dick Clark Productions and ABC announced that award-winning actress Lucy Hale, who previously served as host of the New Orleans festivities, will join Ryan Seacrest in Times Square as new co-host in New York for “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020.” Emmy, Tony, and Grammy Award-winning actor, singer, director, composer, and playwright Billy Porter will also join the show, taking the reins in the central time zone and making his debut as host of the New Orleans countdown. Returning to the show for her third year, multi-platinum selling artist Ciara will once again oversee the Los Angeles festivities. Ryan Seacrest, who returns as host for his 15th year, will lead the traditional countdown to midnight live from New York City on Tuesday, December 31, 2019 beginning at 8:00 p.m. EST on ABC.

“As we ring in a new decade and my 15th year hosting the show, I’m so excited to welcome the talented Lucy Hale to the stage with me,” said Seacrest. “It’s going to be a powerhouse year with Billy and Ciara and we can’t wait to celebrate with everyone!”

“Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020” marks the 48th anniversary of America’s biggest celebration of the year and will include 5 ½ hours of special performances and reports on New Year’s festivities from around the globe. The lineup of performances will be announced in the coming months.

Ciara is a Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, producer, model and actress. Over her 15-year career, her music catalogue has surpassed more than two billion streams, selling more than 23 million records and 22 million singles worldwide, including chart-topping hits “Goodies,” “Ride,” “Oh,” “1, 2 Step,” “Body Party,” and “I Bet.” Most recently, Ciara released her seventh studio album, Beauty Marks, which spawned platinum-selling hit “Level Up” and is the first release from her newly formed label Beauty Marks Entertainment (BME). In an effort to reclaim creative control over her artistry, Ciara formally launched BME as a boundless platform for her music, media, film, fashion, philanthropy, technology, and entrepreneurial pursuits. Since launching BME, Ciara, alongside husband Russell Wilson, has formed Why Not You? Productions and a management company through his West2East empire. Ciara is a devoted wife and mother of two as well as a philanthropist who sits on the board of her and her husband’s Why Not You? foundation and is dedicated to improving the lives of children and empowering women across the globe.

Multi-talented and dynamic, Hale captured the attention of millions as the star of Freeform’s smash hit series “Pretty Little Liars.” She is the seven-time winner of the Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Actress, was nominated for People’s Choice Award for Favorite Cable TV Actress in 2017 and presented with the 2013 Gracie Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Rising Star. She recently starred in the thriller “Truth or Dare” from Blumhouse Productions, and the Netflix Original film “Dude.” Hale can next be seen in the titular role of “Katy Keene” premiering on the CW on February 6 as well as in Sony/Blumhouse’s “Fantasy Island” in theaters February 14.  In addition to her thriving acting career, Hale joined forces with Rascal Flatts to release a cover of “Let It Go,” the epic anthem from “Frozen,” for the We Love Disney compilation. This followed the release of her debut album, “Road Between,” the year prior. Hale is repped by Reel Talent Management and ICM Partners.

Porter is an award-winning actor, singer, director, composer, and playwright. He most recently won the Emmy Award for Lead Actor for his appearance in FX’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated drama “Pose,” as well as appeared in “American Horror Story: Apocalypse.” A Hollywood Walk of Fame inductee, Porter has numerous theatre credits, including the role of Lola in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots,” which he originated in 2013 and for which he won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards, as well as the Grammy for best musical-theatre album. Porter’s pop single “Love Yourself” was released in June.

“Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020” is produced by Dick Clark Productions with Ryan Seacrest, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco serving as executive producers. Larry Klein is producer.

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About Dick Clark Productions
Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and DCP. DCP also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. DCP is a division of Valence Media, a diversified and integrated media company with divisions and strategic investments in television, film, live entertainment, digital media and publishing. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.

About ABC Entertainment
ABC Entertainment airs compelling programming across all day parts, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” the longest-running medical drama in prime-time television; riveting dramas “The Good Doctor,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “A Million Little Things” and “Station 19”; the Emmy® Award-winning “Modern Family” and trailblazing comedy favorites “American Housewife,” “black-ish,” “Bless This Mess,” “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs,” and “Schooled”; the popular “Summer Fun & Games” programming block, including “Card Sharks,” “Celebrity Family Feud,” “Holey Moley” and “Press Your Luck”; star-making sensation “American Idol”; reality phenomenon “Shark Tank”; “The Bachelor” franchise; long-running hits “Dancing with the Stars” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; “General Hospital,” which has aired for more than 55 years on the network; and late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”; as well as the critically acclaimed hit special ”Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons.’” The network also boasts some of television’s most prestigious awards shows, including “The Oscars®,” “The CMA Awards” and the “American Music Awards.” ABC programming can also be viewed on ABC.com, the ABC app and Hulu.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Lost Bayou’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Teri Wyble in “Lost Bayou” (Photo by Natalie Kingston)

“Lost Bayou”

Directed by Brian C. Miller Richard

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

“Lost Bayou” is a slow-paced supernatural film whose main characters are as mysterious as the powers they seem to have. The story begins with a woman—only identified in the movie as Gal (played by Teri Wyble)—who shows up at the home where her underage son lives with his father. Gal finds out that she’s a day late in going to her son’s birthday party. Her son’s father is understandably furious at Gal for being so irresponsible, and viewers soon see why she lost custody of her son. During the visit, she drops the contents of her purse, which include pills and a bottle of liquor.

Feeling guilty over her shortcomings as a mother, Gal soon finds herself embroiled in some other family problems: Her father (played by Dane Rhodes)—who lives in a houseboat on the New Orleans Bayou—unexpectedly calls and tells her to come to his home because something has happened to Gal’s mother. Gal’s father, who’s identified in the movie only as Pop, tells Gal when she arrives that her mother has died, and he doesn’t quite know what to do with her body, which is lying in a bed on the houseboat.

The problem is, as Gal reminds her father, her mother died peacefully in her sleep three years ago. The body in the bed is a mysterious young brunette (played by Rachel G. Whittle), and Pop can’t explain how she got there. Gal’s real mother, who’s identified in the movie as Maw (played by Carol Anne Gayle), is shown in flashback scenes.

During the course of the movie, Gal and Pop meet a nameless drifter (played by Hunter Burke) who may or may not have a connection to the unidentified dead woman. We also find out that Pop is a Cajun faith healer, and Gal may or may not have inherited his abilities. There’s some supernatural mumbo jumbo in  “Lost Bayou,” which implies that Gal and Pop might have the powers of resurrection.

“Lost Bayou” has a lot of long silences, as if the characters are zonked out on some the pills that Gal has. However, the cinematography (from Natalie Kingston) is very impressive in how it conveys the moody beauty of bayou life in New Orleans. “Lost Bayou’s” screenplay, written by Nick Lavin and Hunter Burke, might have gone a little too far in making the characters so mysterious, because all of the characters are under-developed.

The movie is a solid first feature film from director Brian C. Miller Richard, who could have potential if his next projects have better screenplays. It’s been a long time since there’s been an excellent, supernatural-mystery movie that’s set in New Orleans. (Neil Jordan’s 1994 “Interview With the Vampire” is one that comes to mind.) Unfortunately, “Lost Bayou” isn’t going to end up on a list of classic New Orleans movies or even classic supernatural movies.

2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: Rolling Stones, Katy Perry, Dave Matthews Band among headliners

January 15, 2019

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones (Photo by Dave J Hogan)

The Rolling Stones, Katy Perry, Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Buffett & The Coral Reefer Band, Chris Stapleton and Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band are among the headliners at the 50th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which will take place at the New Orleans Fairgrounds from April 25 to April 28 and from May 2 to May 5, 2019. It will be the first time that the Rolling Stones will perform at the event, which is also known as Jazz Fest,

Other artists announced for Jazz Fest 2019 include Santana, Van Morrison, Al Green, Earth, Wind & Fire, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Nevilles, Gladys Knight, The Revivalists, Leon Bridges, John Fogerty, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Tank and The Bangas, Bonnie Raitt, Irma Thomas, Gary Clark Jr., The Head and The Heart, The Doobie Brothers, Jimmy Cliff, Ziggy Marley, Aaron Neville, Boz Scaggs, Galactic, Jerry Lee Lewis, Indigo Girls, Rebirth Brass Band, Mavis Staples, Los Lobos, Big Freedia, Kamasi Washington, Rita Coolidge, Buddy Guy, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk,Ani DiFranco, the Radiators, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Little Feat, Anders Osborne, North Mississippi Allstars, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Foundation of Funk, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, Steve Earle & the Dukes and The Soul Rebels.

March 30, 2019 UPDATE: The Rolling Stones have canceled their Jazz Fest 2019 performance on May 2 because lead singer Mick Jagger is being treated for an undisclosed medical problem. Click here for more information.

April 4, 2019 UPDATE: Fleetwood Mac has replaced the Rolling Stones at Jazz Fest 2019.

April 8, 2019 UPDATE: Fleetwood Mac has canceled its Jazz Fest 2019 performance due to singer Stevie Nicks having the flu. The band has postponed four of its tour dates because of the illness. Jazz Fest issued this statement that said in part: “Stay tuned for updates about May 2 talent and tickets.”

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Jazz Fest

 

New Year’s Eve specials ringing in 2019 will feature Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Sting and more

December 27, 2018

by Carla Hay

Watching a New Year’s Eve special on TV is a tradition for millions of people around the world. After taking a break from a New Year’s Eve Special in 2017, NBC is back with its star-studded party in New York City’s Times Square. Here’s what is planned for the four biggest New Year’s TV specials in the United States:

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2019 

Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC)

Celebrating its 47th year, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (which is produced by Dick Clark Productions and airs in the U.S. on ABC) is still the most high-profile televised New Year’s Eve event. Mariah Carey headlined the show from New York City’s Times Square in 2018 and 2017. In 2018, another Grammy-winning diva—Christina Aguilera—is taking the headlining spot. Ryan Seacrest will once again host the show, which begins airing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m. ET. Jenny McCarthy will provide on-site reporting. Other performers in Times Square include Bastille, Dan + Shay and New Kids on the Block. Airing just after midnight Eastern Time, Post Malone will perform from a stop on his current tour in Brooklyn, New York, marking the first television performance of the new year. Meanwhile, the special has partnered with YouTube Music for the first time this year for cross-promotional programming.

Ciara will once again host the Los Angeles segments of the show that will feature performances that were mostly previously recorded. Artists in the show’s Los Angeles segments will include Lauren Alaina, Kelsea Ballerini, Bazzi, Kane Brown, Camila Cabello, The Chainsmokers, Ciara, Foster the People, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Ella Mai, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth and Weezer, as well as collaborations from Brown featuring Alaina; Macklemore with Skylar Grey; and The Chainsmokers featuring Ballerini.

Meanwhile, actress Lucy Hale (former star of “Pretty Little Liars”) will host the show’s second annual Central Time Zone celebration from New Orleans. Florida Georgia Line and Maren Morris will perform from the Allstate Fan Fest, leading up to the midnight countdown and fleur-de-lis drop near Jackson Square.  “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2019” is produced by Dick Clark Productions with Seacrest, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco serving as executive producers. Larry Klein is producer.

Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square

Steve Harvey (Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Fox)

After televising its New Year’s Eve show (hosted by Pitbull) in Miami from 2014 to 2016, Fox changed locations and hosts in 2017, with the show now taking place at New York City’s Times Square with comedian/talk-show host Steve Harvey and former E! News personality Maria Menounous. This year, Harvey and Menounous return to co-host the show, which airs on Fox from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET live; CT/MT/PT tape-delayed. Performers will include Sting, Snoop Dogg, Robin Thicke, Florence + the Machine, Jason Aldean, Juanes and Why Don’t We. Additionally, the special will include celebrity cameo appearances by comedians Ken Jeong and Kenan Thompson, as well as “Fox NFL Sunday” commentators Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson. “Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square” is produced by IMG Original Content and Done + Dusted. Guy Carrington, Katy Mullan, Mike Antinoro, Dave Chamberlin and Orly Anderson serve as executive producers; and Eddie Delbridge serves as co-executive producer. IMG also produces Harvey’s self-titled talk show, as well as the Miss Universe Pageant and “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” which have been hosted by Harvey over the past several years.

[December 30, 2018 UPDATE: Dierks Bentley has been added to the lineup performing in Times Square.]

NBC’s New Year’s Eve

Carson Daly, Chrissy Teigen, Leslie Jones, Keith Urban
(Photo courtesy of NBCUniversal)

Stars from NBC’s “The Voice” are all over “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” special, which begins airing at 10 p.m. ET from New York City’s Times Square. Not only is “The Voice” host Carson Daly hosting the New Year’s Eve show (with Chrissy Teigen and assistance from Leslie Jones), but “The Voice” coaches Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and John Legend are also performing on the special. Other performers include Jennifer Lopez, Bebe Rexha, Diana Ross and Andy Grammer.  Keith Urban and  Brett Young will perform at Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight: New Year’s Eve in Nashville. “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC” anchor Lester Holt will also appear on stage before the iconic ball drop. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” will be televised from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by the New Year’s countdown segment 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” is executive produced by Daly, Teigen and John Irwin through NBCUniversal Television Studio and Irwin Entertainment. It is co-executive produced by Casey Spira.

New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen

Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper (Photo courtesy of CNN)

For the second year in a row, longtime friends Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will co-host CNN’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. CNN’s 11th annual New Year’s Eve Show, which is telecast live from New York City’s Times Square has a more star-studded lineup this year than in previous years. Gwen Stefani is scheduled to perform from her Las Vegas residency, while Keith Urban (who also appears on NBC’s New Year’s Eve Special), Dave Chappelle, Patti LaBelle and Jack Black also round out the show’s celebrity lineup.  New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will also spotlight Broadway musicals such as “The Band’s Visit,” “Wicked,” “Tootsie” and “Come From Away.” CNN’s New Year’s Eve Show begins at 8 p.m. ET, and will end at approximately 1:05 p.m. ET. CNN anchors Don Lemon and Brooke Baldwin will host a countdown from New Orleans at 12:30 a.m. ET. In 2017, Cohen replaced Kathy Griffin, who was notoriously fired from the show in May of that year for publicly posting a photo of herself holding up a fake bloody head of President Donald Trump. Griffin and Cooper had co-hosted CNN’s New Year’s Eve Show since 2007, but the Cooper/Cohen duo brought in the show’s highest ratings so far. Cooper and Cohen have an established rapport, since they have done numerous speaking engagements together.