Category Archives: The SIL Festival

Yesterday (2004)

Powerless to change the past . . . She lived to change the future.

To close out the SIL Festival, I wanted to watched the only movie in history to nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV Movie, Yesterday. I didn’t know that much about the movie. I heard a summary for the movie and I was intrigued to see it.

During blistering South African summer, a young Zulu woman named Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is walking two hours from her village of Roohiek to Kromdraai with her daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase) by her side.

She has had a serious cough for a while and she wanted it check out by the Doctor (Camilla Walker). Being the only doctor in miles, there is a long line to see the Doctor and she is eventually turned away. she had to wait a week to come back to the Doctor.

Yesterday waits toiling through farmland near her house until she nearly collapses. She goes back to the clinic a little earlier, but she is turned away again for being in the long line. Frustrated, she tries to satay strong for her daughter by fetching water from the communal water pump and wait for the day that her husband, John (Kenneth Khambula) to come back from a mining assignment in Johannesburg.

One day, Yesterday passes out in the doorway of her house and is take to a Sagoma to check out. A Sagoma is a kind of witch doctor. She tells Yesterday that she is holding on to some residual anger that is causing her systems. Yesterday doesn’t feel that she is angry at all.

A local Teacher (Harriet Lenabe) Yesterday has befriended gives her the money to take a taxi to the clinic so she would be the one of first in line. When she is finally examined by the Doctor, the Doctor wants to take her blood. On a follow-up visit, Yesterday receives the devastating news that she is HIV+. She has been faithful to her husband. How could she get the virus? It is now her mission to find her husband.

Being that this is the first Zulu full-length feature is  a pleasant surprise for me. I never thought that this woman who cannot read or write could be stricken with the virus that would eventually kill her. During the course of the movie, the movie becomes like The Scarlet Letter, but Yesterday wants to fight to survive. I applaud her for her courage.

Judgment: This is a great story that you wish that this disease would be gone from our lives.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

The four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Of these, I call your attention to two: air and fire. Though it is your privilege to live in the air, you will die by fire.

— Major Sherman Joy

The Tuskegee Airmen was a made for television movie for HBO back in 1995. I never heard of the movie back then, but the film was nominated for many Emmy awards. I wanted to learn more about the historic 332nd fighter squadron when I traveled through Tuskegee, Alabama on the Greyhound.

In 1942, a young pilot trainee, Hannibal “Iowa” Lee Jr. (Laurence Fishburne) has been drafted into a special government program to let Negroes fly Army fighter planes for the US. He meets others on the train to Tuskegee, Alabama like the cocky Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and a licensed pilot Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne).

Upon arriving at the base, they are greeted by their commanding officer, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly), Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald) and their liaison officer (Courtney B. Vance).

They are in for a rude awakening when Major Joy thinks that Negroes are not capable enough to fly a fighter jet. He wants to make them fail by any means necessary. It seems to be what is going on as 1/3 of the cadets were gone when they were halfway through the training. One particular cadet’s death rattles the spirits of Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).

Not to be deterred from the ultimate goal of graduating, the cadets exceed all expectations to be the the very first Negro pilots to serve in World War II. Their time to celebrate may be short-lived as Senator Conyers (John Lithgow) wants tp dismantle the program, because of unfounded evidence to their ability ti fly the planes.

I am glad that I watched this movie. I learned a part of history that is not taught in schools. We hear the name “Tuskegee Airmen”, but we never get the chance to see what they have done, what they accomplish. I thought the performances were stupendous across the board. I have to give a special mention to Laurence Fishburne who was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy and Andre Braugher who was nominated for his convincing role of Benjamin O. Davis in the Supporting Actor Category.

Judgment: It takes you on the journey of these men without boring you with facts and figures.

Rating: 8/10

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009)

There is a strange back story with Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself. During a random blackout, my family wanted to intending to see this movie when we were waiting for the electricians to come. They came before we left. It was also the same day when Whitney Houston’s interview with Oprah was coming out and I missed it. I believe it was the universe’s way of telling me to avoid this movie.

If you are not familiar with a Madea movie, I’ll give you a crash course. Tyler Perry dresses up in drag to be the brash, pistol-packing grandma and he also plays her cantankerous brother, Joe. You’re caught up.

In the middle of the night, Madea wakes up to find somebody breaking into her home. She sees that it is three kids trying to take Joe’s first generation VCR. Upon getting caught, they drop the VCR and breaks it. Madea’s first instinct was not to brandish her gun, but to offer the kids something to eat.

Sixteen year old, Jennifer (Hop Olaide Wilson) is the girl with the smart mouth that rolls her eyes at everyone. She has to take care of her diabetic/asthmatic brother, Manny (Kwesi Boakye) and her mentally challenged brother, Byron (Fredrick Siglar) when their grandmother has gone missing for the past four days.

Their only family left is their alcoholic lounge singer aunt April (Taraji P. Henson) who is having an affair with a married man, Randy (Brian White), who doesn’t like kids even though he has four going on five on his own.

When Madea takes the kids over to her house, they figure out a way for the kids to pay for the broken window and VCR by doing chores at Madea’s house. April doesn’t want to take the kids in, because she doesn’t want the responsibility and her house is in shambles when her father left it to her.

She might have a leg up when a Colombian handyman, Sandino Ramirez (Adam Rodriguez) shows up at the doorstep to find a place to stay while fixing up the place. He was sent by Pastor Brian of  the Zion Liberty Baptist Church from down the street and Miss Wilma (Gladys Knight).

This hodgepodge of a household has to work together to get through one of the darkest moments of their lives.

Tyler Perry’s movies have always been criticized for being racist. I don’t think that they are racist. I think that they are terribly predictable. He always has the same type of character in different configurations. There is the heartless bastard (Randy), the scorned woman (April), the nice guy (Sandino), the smart-ass kid(s) (Jennifer) with the loud Madea bringing up the rear.

His movies always have that “Shug Avery” moment, that moment where the lead character figures out the wrongs in their life and be open to change. They try to sell you that church is the panacea. Go to church, all your problems will be solved. You will get the good man, house, kids and life. I don’t believe that.

I was very bored with this movie. I kept looking at the time. When is this movie going to be over? The only things good about this movie were seeing Gladys sing and a brief shot of Brian White’s ass. There were a couple of chuckles in it. That’s it.

Judgment: I’m done talking about this movie.

Rating: 4/10

The Boys of Baraka (2005)

I have never heard of The Boys of Baraka until I picked the DVD at my local library. I thought it was a film about the Mortal Kombat character. Nope. It’s something much different from that.

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady spent three years following the lives of at-risk youths from a Baltimore ghetto. The only options the young boys have are either jail, death or graduating from high school. In their neighborhood only 76% of boys drop out of school.

A recruiter from the Baraka School, Miss Jackson, tells the potential students about the school in Kenya, Africa that would change their attitudes about getting an education and change the course of their lives. Only twenty students will chosen to take part in the school program.

Out of the twenty students selected, the filmmakers follow four boys. There is Richard, the boy with the determination of not being like the drug dealers that hang around every corner in his neighborhood and his little brother, Romesh. There is Devon, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up. Last, there is the troublemaker, Montrey, who wants to a chemist when he grows up.

The trouble is that most of these boys are not the academic levels that they should be at twelve or thirteen. Miss Jackson conducts the summer orientation for the Baraka School before the boys leave for Africa in September.

When the boys arrive to the school, they are greeted by the headmaster, Ray Berttula who explains the rules of the school. They have to do their work and not be physically violent towards each other of they will sent back home.

The boys explore their new surroundings by taking hikes to local villages to see other kids, play in the streams and watch the native animals roam around. Their time there makes them homesick and some of the kids act out in frustration. Will the school actually changes these boys before it’s too late?

When I heard that the y filmmakers spent three years filming this movie, I had to ak myself, “Where is it?” It feels like a hollow documentary that barely scratched the surface of what these boys are going through.

Judgment: I felt that I was cheated out of 1 1/2 hours of my time.

Rating: 4.5/10

Talk to Me (2007)

 I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’. This is Petey Greene’s Washington.

— Petey Greene

I did not mean for this to be a Kasi Lemmon’s double feature, but I was taken aback when I saw her name as the director of Talk to Me. I vaguely remember the movie when it was in theaters in 2007. It seemed like a nice enough movie, but I never got the nerve to watch until now. I’m glad I did.

An uptight radio program director, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his brother, Milo (Mike Epps) in prison. He comes out of obligation. They overhear an abrasive voice coming over the loudspeaker. It belongs to do Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, Jr. (Don Cheadle) who is broadcasting his show out of Warden Smithers (Peter MacNeill) office. Milo has been writing Dewey about Petey.

The station that Dewey works for, WOL is sagging listenership and is looking for a new deejay to replace Sunny Jim Kelsey (Vondie Curtis-Hall) in the morning shift. Dewey doesn’t like Petey’s delivery and tries to leave the prison. Dewey is cornered by Petey’s main squeeze, Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) to give him a chance when he gets out of the joint.

Dewey blindly agree to it. When Petey is released from prison and come barging through the doors asking for the job, Dewey acts stupid about it. After not getting the position, Petey decides to protest the station doors until he could get the position. Dewey asks the station owner, Mr. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) to give him an opportunity.

After a shaky start, Petey becomes a prominent voice of the black community during the civil rights movement in the late 60s. No other station was talking about black issues at the time. People needed to hear the stories that are happening in their community.

I was laughing my ass off with this movie. Don Cheadle has a delivery that make you believe that he is this character. I enjoyed the way that Petey told it like it is. He didn’t give a damn about who he offended. Some things needed to be said. I loved that. Chiwetel Ejiofor was great as Dewey. He even won the Indie Spirit Award for his performance. It was well-deserved.

Judgment: I love watching a story about a person that I never heard of and I would like to get the chance to know more.

Rating: 8/10

Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old.

— Eve

It has been a decade since I have seen Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou. I remember that it was sitting in my grandmother’s VHS shelf for years gathering dust for all I know. I saw a copy of the movie that my library and picked. I remember certain parts of the movie, but it’s good to have a refresher.

1962 Louisana is where we have the story of the Batiste family. Eve (Jurnee Smollett) named after an ancestor that saved her master from dying, is being treated unfairly by the family. Being the middle child, she is left out in the cold.

During a house party one night, Eve caught her father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) being intimate with a woman, Metty Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson) in the carriage house where she was hiding. Traumatized about what she saw, Louis tries to keep his secret quiet from his wife, Roz (Lynn Whitfield).

She tries to tell her older sister, Cisely (Meagan Good) about what she saw, but Cisely chooses not to believe her. She thinks that she is lying. Cisely spins the story to say that they were drunk and falling on each other.

Eve begins to have terrible nightmares or maybe they are premonitions of what things are to come. She hangs around her Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) who is the psychic around the bayou and possibly practices voodoo.

Roz knows deep down in her soul that Louis is being unfaithful to her. She regrets leaving her family for a snake in the grass. Walking down by the bayou, Roz and Mozelle stumbles upon Elzora (Diahann Carroll), a rival psychic of Mozelle’s. Curious Roz decides to have a reading that warns her of impending doom in her family. Unimpressed by Elzora, Mozelle asks for a reading. Elzora tells her that she is a “black widow” cursed with having the loves of her life dies in front of her very eyes.

Slowly but surely, the secrets that were long-buried deep come up in unexpected ways. The family lives turn upside down.

It is refreshing to see a black movie that has complex characters. They are fully realized. I especially enjoyed watching Debbi Morgan’s performance. She won nominated for a couple of awards for her performance and won the Indie Spirit Award. It was well deserved.

Judgment: A movie that has heart, but tends to veer into the melodramatic at times.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Great Debaters (2007)

I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.

— Melvin B. Tolson

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters since it was in theaters at the end of 2007 when it nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Picture. I went to see it because it had the Oprah stamp of approval on it. It was there. I liked the movie, but then it waned when I heard if this movie was based on any semblance of truth.

Back in 1935, a small Marshall, Texas college named Wiley is home to one of the best debate teams in the state. They want to prove themselves that they could be the best debaters of the entire country. The outspoken Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to ensemble the best team that he could find to carry out his goal.

Forty-five students auditioned for only four spots on the team. The lucky four are the core debaters; the troublemaker Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), the bookish Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) and the alternates, the fourteen year old prodigy, James Farmer Jr (Denzel Whitaker) and the first female on the team, transfer student, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett).

The chemistry between the team members is shaky at best when the shy James likes Samantha, but the alpha male, Henry swoops in to get her first. James, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) does not take to kindly of having a girl on the team to distract Junior from keeping his eyes on the prize.

There is something deeper with this story when James Jr follows Professor Tolson one night after a party to find him leading a sharecroppers meeting calling for a union. It is raided by the police and James swears to never speak a word to anyone about it.

The debate team first tries to challenge the top Negro colleges.  After a series of victories, it can open doors for debating the best White colleges going all the way to the grand daddy of them all, Harvard.

The reason that I have hesitation with this movie is because even though this movie is based on true events. Some of the people in the story were made up or an accumulation of several people. The only one that were real are the Farmers and Professor Tolson. The debate team did not challenge Harvard. They went against the University of Southern California and they could not be declared winners, because they were not considered in debate society at the time.

A movie about people debating is nice to see it snippets, but not a whole movie about it.

Judgment: I know that it’s supposed to be inspirational, but something was lost in translation for me.

Rating: 6/10

Just Wright (2010)

In this game every shot counts.

I have decided to start this “SIL Festival” because my sister-in-law has been busting my chops for not reviewing black movies. It’s not like I don’t enjoy black movies. My reasoning for not reviewing them as much is because they are not that many black movies to choose from. These movies are representing me and my culture. I don’t want to support a movie that is trash just because black people are in it. I want to see quality movies that are not Pootie Tang, Soul Plane or Car Wash. I saw that Just Wright was on cable over the weekend. Perfect timing.

Queen Latifah plays Leslie Wright, a physical therapist living in a fixer-upper house with her god-sister, Morgan (Paula Patton) who is determined to marry a NBA player and be a basketball wife. Leslie’s father, Lloyd (James Pickens, Jr.) tries to be the handyman of the house with disastrous results. Leslie’s mother, Janice (Pam Grier) constantly nags Leslie about finding a husband.

Leslie is a huge New Jersey Nets fan. She is following the winning streak of star player, Scott McKnight (Common), but Morgan is looking to score a baller husband. A chance meeting at a gas station changes the course of everyone’s life when Leslie is invited by Scott to his house for his birthday party.

Leslie thinks that she is vibing Scott when fate steps in the form of Morgan trying to scoop up Scott for her own. It seems to works. Scott falls for Morgan and they have a whirlwind courtship that lands them getting engaged.

Everything was going great with Scott being selected for the All Star Game, having a beautiful fiancéand possibly re-signing with the Nets for a tenth year when he injures his left knee. His whole life turns upside down when he loses his fiancé, career and self-respect. It wasn’t until a determined Leslie gives him the chance to build himself back up their relationship changes.

I was surprised that Scott was not portrayed as the typical NBA player with a huge ego to go with his huge contract. Scott was a humble, low-key, down to earth kind of gentleman that was not followed by an entourage full of agents, bodyguards, groupies and wannabe ballers. Common as Scott is a breath of fresh air and he is not bad look at either. I did enjoy the chemistry between Queen Latifah and Common.

Judgment: I felt that the movie was a little too sickly sweet and some parts for me.

Rating: 7/10

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