Friday, March 15, 2019

Tyler Perry's "A Madea Family Funeral" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Tyler Perry's "A Madea Family Funeral" as well as DVDs "Nobody's Fool" and "Mary Queen of Scots."  The Book of the Week is "The World According to Mister Rogers."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Song at Midnight."]



A Madea Family Funeral


A family reunion turns into a nightmare...and a funeral!

Sitting in the theatre about five minutes into this film, I wondered why I was there.  Then I remembered.  I had never been a Madea fan so I had never, ever seen any of the Madea films but, when I saw Tyler Perry on talk shows saying this was the 11th and last Madea film he would do, I thought I should see it.  (Plus there wasn't really anything else playing at the theatre I wanted to see)!

But that said, once in the theatre I really didn't know why I was there. 

As you probably know, Perry not only produces and directs these films, he also stars as Mabel "Madea" Simmons, a tell-it-like-it-is matriarch as well as other characters: Madea's brother, Joe, a crotchety, horny old man who likes to smoke pot and talks about it all of the time, and Brian, Joe's son, who is a criminal defense attorney and Madea's nephew.  As Brian, Perry plays a version of himself, who plays straight man to the other old folks characters, so basically he is playing straight man to himself.  

This time Perry also introduces us to and plays Heathrow, another brother, who has had throat cancer and uses a voice box to talk (Heathrow also doesn't have any legs and rolls around in a wheelchair). Sound funny to you yet?  Except for Brian, the characters are all over the top including Madea's sidekicks Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), two characters Perry doesn't play.  

The basic premise of the film is that everyone is gathering for Vianne's (Jen Harper) and Anthony's (Derek Morgan) 40th wedding anniversary. Vianne is Madea's granddaughter, but if you ask me, that makes Madea REALLY old.  Anyway, Vianne's and Anthony's sons Jessie (Rome Flynn) and A.J. (Courtney Burrell), A.J.'s wife Carol (Kj Smith) and Jessie's fiance, Gia (Aeriel Miranda), as well as their daughter, Sylvia (Ciera Payton) and the old folks are all gathering for the anniversary party.  

The problem is that A.J. and Gia are having an affair and have hooked up in a hotel before heading over for the party.  Coincidentally, Anthony and family friend Renee (Quinn Walters) are also hooking up S & M style in the same hotel but that little tryst turns out to be too much for Anthony, who has a heart attack fully erect (if you know what I mean - a joke that is made much of throughout the film ), and the whole sordid mess is not only discovered by A.J. who just happened to be in the hotel room next door getting it on with his brother's fiance, but Madea and her cohorts as well who just happened to be passing by that hotel room on the way to theirs.  So the anniversary celebration turns into a funeral and a lot of family secrets are about to come out.  

Sound funny?

Vianne wants to have the funeral in just two days, so she has put Madea in charge of the funeral.  However, having a funeral so soon is a big no-no in the black culture, where planning for a funeral usually takes a long time so everyone can get there, but Madea complies while also trying to keep her mouth shut about the circumstances of Anthony's demise. Not an easy task for blabber-mouth, Madea.  She also tries to keep the other old folks quiet, too, something that results in a lot of face slapping. 


Sound funny?


Well, Perry is having fun satirizing black stereotypes, tropes and old black folks, and it's non-stop set up and punchline as they all interact. It's one of those situations where so much is being thrown at us in the audience that something is eventually going to make us laugh. But in addition to that, Perry has the most fun satirizing the Black Baptist funeral (if you don't know about Black Baptist funerals, look up Aretha's or here, read this). Though I started out stoned-face, after awhile these characters grew on me, and I did laugh, a little, though I couldn't help but think the Heathrow character could be offensive to similarly disabled people. But then a lot of the jokes in this film could be offensive to people.  I have discovered that's Perry's humor (see review below).


But it's not all slapstick.  Perry intersperses the antics of Madea and friends with the personal relationships of the straight characters, Jessie, A.J., Carol, Gia and Vianne.

Whether or not you approve of Perry's humor (this is mostly too slapstick for me), you have to give Perry credit for the empire he has built and the popularity of his Madea character. He is a writer, a director, a producer and an actor and owns his own studio in Atlanta. In addition to the Madea films, he also produced the highly acclaimed "Precious," wrote and directed "For Colored Girls" and "Acrimony" and had roles in "Gone Girl" and most recently "Vice."

Rosy the Reviewer says...and now I've seen a Madea movie. The end.





***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


On DVD



Nobody's Fool (2018)


A little bit of "Catfish" and a LOT of Tiffany Haddish and Tyler Perry.

I am starting to wonder if Tiffany Haddish has had her day.  She burst onto the Hollywood scene in "Girls Trip" but since then, with "Night School" and now this one, I am starting to wonder if she can carry a film. She is starting to try too hard.

Another one written and directed by Tyler Perry (see "Madea" review above), I just didn't find it funny.  Not my kind of humor. 

Danica (Tika Sumpter) is a hard-working advertising executive who is rising fast in her company.  Life is good and she is ever optimistic. She is also in love with Charlie, a guy she talks to online and on the phone but whom she has never met.  He supposedly works on an oil rig and has bad wifi which is why they can't Facetime.  Right.  But Danica is happy. She is so happy in fact that when she gets out of the bed in the morning, she dances around her apartment, just like Jill Clayburgh in "An Unmarried Woman." Who does that?  Well, Jill did and we know what happened to Jill (and if you don't, watch that movie. It's a classic)!

Even though Danica has never seen Charlie in person, he meets all of Danica's requirements on her list for the perfect man.  She wants a man like her Dad so she is using her mother, Lola's (Whoopi Goldberg) list that she used when looking for a husband. Danica also just so happens to be working on an ad campaign for a perfume called "The List"  about making a list of the traits of the perfect man. Life is good.

However, Danica's world is turned upside down when her sister Tanya (Haddish), fresh out of prison, comes to live with her.  Now we have the fish out of water jokes but, sadly, really lame ones. For example, Tanya is not only impressed with Danica's apartment and clothes, but even can't believe she has hot water. Don't they have hot water in prison? She also can't remember how to wear high heels.  Yawn.  Perry even pulls out that old job application saw we've heard a million times. When Tanya is filling out a job application she asks what she should put where it says "Sex," and decides the best answer is "Plenty." Likewise, where the application asks her "What position do you want to be in?" she thinks it's appropriate to put "Doggy Style." Yawn.

So Danica is in love with Charlie, but when Tanya finds out Danica has never met the guy, she believes that Danica is being catfished so Tanya gets in touch with Nev (Schulman) and Max (Joseph) from the TV show "Catfish (and if you are not watching that show, you should)!  In the meantime, Frank (Omari Hardwick), the barista guy who gives Danica free coffee drinks every day, is clearly in love with her but she doesn't see it. But this is a romantic comedy, the word "comedy" used very loosely, so all of the rom-com tropes are here (and if you need a refresher see "Isn't it Romantic?" that makes fun of all of the rom-com tropes) - mean girl at work, your perfect man is right under your nose, female empowerment, yadda, yadda, yadda and yawn.

Perry's humor seems to rely heavily on jokes laced with sex and raunch. And even if you are a fan of that kind of thing, this is a comedy.  The jokes need to be funny, right? They weren't. I like sexual humor with the best of them but the jokes have to be funny.  

But the bad jokes aside, what is really funny as in strange about this film is that Haddish didn't really need to be in it and her gifts are wasted. The first half is mostly about her as she gets out of prison and tries to acclimate to civilian life, but in fact, the film is really about Danica, and as the movie progresses, Tanya becomes more of an afterthought and doesn't have much to do. It's sad for a comedy like this that the best part was when Nev and Max from "Catfish" showed up. And Whoopi was funny.  But Haddish's talents were wasted.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I was a big fan of Haddish early on, but now I am losing faith. Even Nev, Max and Whoopi couldn't save this.



Mary Queen of Scots (2018)


Another retelling of the story of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland.

Despite the fact that I have seen many movies about Mary, Queen of Scots, I have never really understood why she thought she should be Queen of England as well.  And this movie doesn't really help so I went back and did a little research. You should, too, because this film is no history lesson.

But if you know absolutely nothing about this, here it is in a nutshell.

Basically Mary and Queen Elizabeth I were cousins. Mary was related to Elizabeth through their mutual grandmother, Margaret, who was Henry the VIII's older sister (Henry was Elizabeth's father).  Margaret married the King of Scotland, James IV and had only one child who survived infancy, James V, who later was Mary's father.  Mary was only six days old when her father died and she took the throne, so Scotland was ruled by Regents and Mary lived most of her early life in France, eventually marrying Francis, the Dauphin of France.  After his death in 1560, she returned to Scotland.  Long story short, Elizabeth I was ruling England but many English Catholics considered Mary to be the legitimate Queen.  Elizabeth eventually considered her a threat, imprisoned her for many years and eventually had her beheaded.

That's the story in a nutshell, a very small nutshell. There is much more to this story and Mary's and Elizabeth's lives. It's all very complicated. British history is like that.

So now let's get to the movie.

Directed by Josie Rourke with a screenplay by Beau Willimon (based on the book "Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart" by John Guy), the film starts at Mary's (Saoirse Ronan) beheading and, by the way, that is not a spoiler.  If you didn't know Mary was beheaded by Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), get back to those history books! Then the film flashes back to Mary arriving in Scotland from France after the death of her husband.  It's not a welcome homecoming since Scotland had been ruled by her half-brother, James Stuart (James McArdle), and the Catholic Mary faces bitter opposition by the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, John Knox (David Tennant).

Elizabeth is also not so happy that Mary is back and plots to marry her off to loyal Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), thus having some control over Mary, but Mary falls for Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) instead, who is a libertine and has sex with everyone around, man or woman. The film goes back and forth between the two courts, following Mary and Elizabeth through all of the intrigue, and ends with the two women having a dramatic meeting, something that never happened in real life.

The film is gorgeous to look at with beautiful cinematography and costumes (though the hairdos of the Scottish women made them look like members of the Warren Jeffs Mormon cult), and the performances are outstanding, something we would expect of Robbie, Ronan and all of the recognizable and distinguised British actors associated with this film. And Margot Robbie is, thankfully, one of those beautiful actresses who isn't afraid to look less than beautiful.  Her Elizabeth goes from a relatively attractive younger Elizabeth with a very high forehead to an older woman trying to cover her age and bad complexion with heavy white powder and a bad wig.  Not a good look but right for the film.  Saoirse Ronan can always be counted on to give a good performance though here her Mary was so earnest and self-righteous, she got on my nerves after awhile.  

But in general, not sure how much of a lesson in history this film really is.  It  concentrates on the relationship between the two women, modernizing the story and giving it a feminist touch about gender and power, making it seem that if the men would just butt out, these two "sisters" would have been able to work things out.  Not sure it was as simple as that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like historically based costume dramas, see this, but don't expect to really get any better understanding of the whole Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots story because you won't.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***


103 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?


Song at Midnight (1937)
(original title " Ye ban ge sheng."
Alt. Title: "Midnight Song")


Based on "The Phantom of the Opera," a disfigured musical genius roams a burned out theatre.

The new season of a theatre company has begun and a famous acting troupe makes its way to a dilapidated theatre which has been empty ever since the apparent death there of the great opera star, Song Danping. After a rehearsal, one of the young singer/actors, Sun Xiao-au, stays behind and hears a beautiful voice coming from above and which coaches him through the song.  It is Song Danping, who we discover has not died, but has been haunting the theatre ever since.  

Song befriends the young man and tells his story in flashback.

Ten years before, Song was a rising opera star in love with Li Xiaoxia.  But one of Li's jealous admirers, Tan Jun, convinced Li's father that Song was a bad man, so the feudal lord kidnapped Song and had him whipped.  However, Li continued to see Song with her father's antipathy only increasing her love for Song.  Tang also hangs in there but Li rebuffs him so this time Tang takes it upon himself to hurt Song by throwing acid in his face.

Song's friends help him and care for him, bandaging his face, and when next we see Song, the bandages are being removed and friends and family are horrified by what they see.  Song is also horrified when he sees himself and tells everyone to say he is dead because he could never let Li see him like that. 

Next we flash back to the present and Song reveals himself to Sun and Song tells him that he has been "haunting" the theatre in search of someone to not only take his place as a singer but to also take his place as Li's lover.

This is was China's first "horror film," though present day viewers would probably not consider it very horrific.  But it's a very atmospheric, moody film, shot in light and shadow.  The music is probably not to Western tastes, but many of the songs became popular Chinese standards.  It's also interesting that in this version of Phantom, the protégé is a man and the "phantom" is not an evil character exacting revenge but rather a sympathetic, benevolent character.  Sadly, the film quality on Amazon Prime, where I found the film, wasn't very good which was distracting, and in general, these older films don't really hold up well due to the kind of overacting that was so prevalent then.  

Why it's a Must See: "Gaston Leroux's 1919 novel The Phantom of the Opera gave rise to a score of films.  Ma-Xu Weibang's...is arguably one of the most inspired."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...for me this was more of a curiosity than a masterpiece, but if you like "Phantom of the Opera" stories, you might enjoy this.
(In Chinese with English subtitles)





***The Book of the Week***





The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers (2003)


The subtitle tells it all.

All of you who grew up with Mister Rogers probably have fond memories of him.  I have to admit that I didn't grow up with him, but after seeing the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor," I wish I had (and those filmmakers were totally robbed.  That wonderful film wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary.  Shame)!  They just don't come any kinder than Fred.  I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes during the entire film.

For those of you who don't know who Fred Rogers was, his children's program "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" ran on public television for over 30 years.  But Mr. Rogers was also a musician, a writer, a producer and a Presbyterian minister.  And if ever there was a religious man who walked the talk, it was Fred Rogers.

In a forward by his wife, Joanne, she describes meeting Fred, their courtship and their family life together and ends with this:

"When I think of the entire persona of Fred Rogers, my inclination is to put him on a very high pedestal, despite the frailties that are part of being human.  Oh, did I mention what a kind person he was?  I suppose that is part of everyone's experience of Fred -- even those who knew him for only a couple of minutes.  I don't mean to sound boastful, but he was my icon before he was anyone else's.  Being Mrs. Fred Rogers has been the most remarkable life I could ever have imagined."

The book is a compilation of stories, anecdotes and insights and is divided into chapters: "The Courage to be Yourself," "Understanding Love," "The Challenges of Inner Discipline," and "We Are All Neighbors."

Here is a taste:

"Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime's work, but it's worth the effort."

"Children who have learned to be comfortably dependent can become not only comfortably independent, but can also become comfortable with having people depend on them.  They can lean, or stand and be leaned upon, because they know what a good feeling it can be to feel needed."

"More and more I've come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another.  Whether the other be an adult or a child, our engagement in listening to who that person is can often be our greatest gift.  Whether that person is speaking or playing or dancing, building or singing or painting, if we care, we can listen."

"If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be  to the people you may never even dream of.  There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."

Rosy the Reviewer says...so now those of us who didn't have the benefit of growing up with Mister Rogers or who wish they could spend more time with him can through this lovely, inspirational, little book.




Thanks for reading!





See you next Friday





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The Week in Reviews
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Before I Die Project" 







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Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.





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