Thursday, April 28, 2016

HENRY GAMBLE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY OPENS IN VOD MAY 3

A SENSITIVE COMING-OF-AGE AND SEXUALITY FILM  IS BALANCED WITH HUMOR AND PATHOS

by Dwight Casimere

HENRY GAMBLE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY is a film that deals with a rather weighty subject; a teenaged boy coming into the reality that he's gay, with a delicate balance of humor and humanity. Though it approaches a serious matter and has a message, the film's director , Stephen Cone doesn't  hit you over the head with it.

The plot unfolds over a single day as Henry and his family, in their Evangelical Christian world, prepare for his 17th birthday party. His mother is a 40-something single mom, who doesn't quite know what to do with her two nearly grown children. Henry, himself, is not quite sure of which way he wants to go in terms of choosing partner amidst his burgeoning sexuality.

The film opens with Henry (Cole Doman) and his brest friend Gabe (Joe Keery) holding a masturbation session as they talk about their imagined conquest of a local girl. The two wind up downstairs with their Evangelical circle of church leaders and friends, holding hands in a prayer circle. The irony of the scene is stunning. That seems to be the tone throughout, with an odd mix of family, friends and church leaders passing in and out of slamming doors, drinking and watching forbidden soft porn on cable and getting in fights fueled by sexual jealousy; it's all so pathetic and hilarious at the same time and yet, so gloriously human. At the end of the day, everyone winds up swimming in the family pool, which is sort of a metaphor for life itself. That's the beauty of this film. We can all see ourselves in these pitiful, yet heroic figures, who are all grappling with their own inner demons and insecurities, yet holding their heads up in spite of the frailties and outright bumbling. Even Henry himself, in his final scene, approaches his own destiny with an awkward self-doubt. In the end, we've all been their at one time some point in our lives, and that's precisely what makes the film so magical and endearing.

 HENRY GAMBLE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY DEBUTS ACROSS ALL DIGITAL PLATFORMS TUESDAY MAY 3rd INCLUDING  iTUNES, VIMEO ON DEMAND AND WOLFEONDEMAND.COM AND DVD VIA WOLFE VIDEO AND MOST MAJOR RETAILERS



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2016-THE RETURN

"REFUGEES" IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY-THE RETURN EXAMINES THE PLIGHT OF TWO
EX-CONS' DIFFICULT RETURN TO SOCIETY FROM LIFE IN PRISON

Kenneth Anderson, a returning inmate who is one of the subjects of THE RETURN

TribecaFestival 2016 ScreenPremiere:
Sunday, April 17 at 5:30pm, Regal Battery Park
Press & Industry Screening
s
:
y, April 20 at 12:00pm, Regal Batter
Word Premiere Tribeca Film Festival 2016, Sunday, April 17
Additional Public Screenings Wednesday, April 20 and Saturday, April 23
visit tribecafilm.com for theatre and time information



Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Nothing exemplified the unjust laws that disproportionately incarcerate men of color more than California's three-strikes law, which sentenced thousands of non-violent offenders to life in prison for petty crimes. At least 20 states around the country have adopted similar laws, but California's was the harshest, putting thousands of Black and Latino men behind bars for something as minor as a purse snatching or shoplifting food at a convenience store; an echo of the racial caste system under apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow in America.  In 2012, California voters amended the three-strikes law, to give new hearings to those convicted for non-violent offenses, marking the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten the sentences of those already incarcerated.

With The Return,  directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway follow newly released inmates Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years behind bars.

Kenneth Anderson's ex-wife Monica Grier and one of their grown daughters anxiously await his fate at a California court hearing on his early release

Directors de la Vega and Galloway met while they were students at Berkeley High, a traditional hot-spot of radical thought and activism in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their fathers were both Civll Rights lawyers. Their last feature film, BETTER THIS WORLD told the story of two radicalized Texas friends who became the targets of an anti-terrorism sting operation at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Even with the support from family and local outreach and rehabilitation programs, the road to repatriation is long and hard for both men. Both ostracized and traumatized by their experience in prison, the film compares their plight to that of returning war veterans and their post-traumatic stress syndrome. The specter of drug addiction and mental illness hangs heavy over these men, and even the healing balm of loving open arms cannot heal them, as is the case with one of the film's subjects.

An empty California jail cell following the release of hundreds of lifers after the amendment of California's harsh sentencing laws

Kenneth Anderson, one of the film's subjects, was sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent drug offense. He was released in March 2013 after the three strikes law was amended.  In the film, we see his ex-wife Monica Grier and four grown children in the courtroom as lawyers argue for his early release. With difficulties finding and keeping a job with the stigma of being an ex con hanging heavily over him, Anderson returns to the streets and the drug life that earlier imprisoned him both literally and figuratively. He now continues to life in a re-entry home with visitation and support from his family.

Bilal Chatman is the undisputed success story of "The Return." A junior college grad how worked in the logistics field, he lost his job in the financial markets crash of the 1980s and descended into the world of crack addiction and crime. He was sentenced to 150 years to life after selling $200 worth of drugs to an undercover police officer. Since his release, he has become a supervisor for a major logistics company with a second with an American sports team and continues to travel and speak, making numerous tv appearances and participating in Congressional panels on behalf of The Return Project. He speaks out frequently on the injustice mass incarceration and its negative impact on communities around the country.

THE RETURN is a difficult film to watch. For myself, I cried repeatedly throughout the film, recalling the fate of many personal acquaintances and family members who were put in jail and had the keys thrown away for petty crimes. Many of them are still fighting their way back to some semblance of normalcy, hindered by the dual stumbling blocks of racial prejudice and criminal history.

THE RETURN is an excellent film, even if it is a bit preachy at times, but, so be it, its one of the few voices out there speaking to one of  the horrors of the American justice system and its institutionalized racism. The film adds faces and voices to the heartbreaking state of a condition that impacts individuals, families and communities that ultimately eats away at the fraying fabric of society. THE RETURN makes all of us face it in an up front and personal way. For that fact alone, the film's creators are to be applauded. For more information on the film and The Return Project, visit their website at thereturnproject.com







Monday, April 18, 2016

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2016-"KICKS" REVEALS TEEN VIOLENCE SURROUNDING EXPENSIVE SNEAKERS OBSESSION

KICKS IN WORLD PREMIERE, US NARRATIVE COMPETITION AT TRIBECA 2016





by Dwight Casimere





Freshman director Justin Tipping says he used his personal experience to develop the story behind his debut feature narrative film KICKS. Growing up in the hard-scrabble streets of Oakland, California, in San Francisco's East Bay area, Tipping was assaulted by a group of neighborhood toughs when he was seen wearing a pair of expensive Nikes. "I remember feeling absolutely destroyed. My older brother said, 'Oh, it's okay, you're a man now.' In that moment I was somehow really proud that I'd been through a rite of passage. But when I had time to reflect on it, I couldn't disagree more with how backwards our idea of what it means to become a man and masculinity is, for me to have just been the subject of nonsensical violence."

His experience led him to develop the film Kicks, with his writing partner, Joshua Beirne-Golden (currently, in post-production for Universal's Lowriders, due for summer release and NANI, world premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival).

KICKS tells the story of Brandon (actor, rapper, former national tv commercial child star and Junior Olympic track champion Jahking Guillory-in fact, the film begins and ends with a scene of him running) who is jacked up by by the town bullies in his native West Oakland and robbed of his pair of rare Air Jordan's. The neighborhood tough, Flaco (a stellar Kofi Siriboe, the great grandson of a Ghanaian King who debuted in Ice Cube's "The Longshots" and acted in the Academy Award winning film "Whiplash") snatches Brandon's precious Air Jordan 1 sneakers. The movie is then set in motion with Brandon and his sidekicks Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace; Will Ferrell's "Everything Must Go," also played the younger version of the rapper Notorious B.I.G. in the film "Notorious") and Rico (Christopher Meyer, currently seen in the second season of the Fox hit mid-season series "Wayward Pines")  set out to retrieve the sneakers.

The overriding sense of the film is the obsessive nature of the sneaker-fetishizing subculture that permeates poor communities around the country, where young people are willing to maim and kill each other over a pair of sneakers. Many of the shoes costing $200 - $300, in communities where poor housing and the lack of educational and employment opportunity is rampant.

The realism of the violence and the message it brings  home is executed with stunning clarity. The unfortunate reality is that, even as this film plays on the screen at Tribeca, the exact same drama is unfolding somewhere in the streets of America. Tipping and his filmmaking team do an excellent job of driving the message home in a simple story well told. Hopefully, the parable he portrays in KICKS will make a lasting impression on audiences. For additional Tribeca screening times and locations, visit tribecafilm.com.

The cast of KICKS on the Red Carpet at Tribeca Film Festival 2016


TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2016 WORLD PREMIERE-LIVE CARGO

LIVE CARGO-World Premiere US Narrative Competition-Tribeca Film Festival 2016

                                      

by Dwight Casimere

This stylish first feature film from director and co-writer (with Thymaya Payne of the award-winning Somali piracy documentary STOLEN SEAS),  Logan Sandler  uses exquisite black and white cinematography to plunge the viewer deep into the world of human trafficking and illegal immigration in a tropical paradise . Although the topics are ripped straight from today's headlines, they are played out in a small seaside village on a Bahamian island where a young, inter-racial couple Nadine (played by dazzling newcomer Dree Hemingway, STARLET) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield, now starring opposite Don Cheadle in the Miles Davis biopic MILES AHEAD) retreat to the island where Nadine was practically raised in her family's long-time home following the devastating loss of their child. But, all is not well in paradise. Nadine returns to a once pristine refuge in the midst of moral and political decay even as her own relationship with Lewis is imploding.

Director Sandler unravels a tightly woven drama that peels away the thin veneer of this deceptively idyllic locale to reveal the ugliness and danger lurking beneath its surface. The stunning black and white cinematography by Daniella Nowitz in a production designed by Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise, is reminiscent of the film noir drama's '40s and '50s. A killer original score by Brooke Blair and Will Blair further sets the backdrop for this highly emotional and atmospheric drama. 

The film's premise is based on the real-life observations of the director, who grew up part time in the islands and witnessed first hand the tragic outcome of human trafficking when 30 Haitians died in the Bahamas and rescuers struggled to save the surviving stranded refugees. This real life drama became the impetus for  Sandler's first feature film.

With a top-notch cast that pits the island's upstanding and savvy mayor, Roy, played by veteran tv actor Robert Wisdom of HBO's "The Wire" and currently recurring on HBO's "Ballers" with Dwayne Johnson, against human trafficker Doughboy, played with deliciously smarmy aplomb by Leonard Earl Howze, of Barbershop and Barbershop 2 and currently as a regular on TNT's "Memphis Beat. Doughboy ropes in the local impressionable homeless teen Myron (Sam Dillon, a Spike Jonze discovery in the indie short SCENES FROM THE SUBURBS and Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD, to be the point man in his smuggling operation, much to his later regret. Myron is driven by his secret desire for Nadine and his jealous envy of the relationship she has with Lewis. 

An impending storm and the darkening mood of the island act as the heartbeat of the film, driving both the psychological maelstrom of the main characters and the unfolding tragedy of the Haitian refugees. he all converge to propel  the plot to its climax which is navigated with a skillful hand by director Sandler. The director displays an uncanny assuredness for someone on his first outing. This is a must-see film that is sure to garner recognition and acclaim long after its run this week at Tribeca Film Festival 2016.

The film had its World Premiere Friday, April 15 at the festival and will have additional screenings this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 19-21. Visit tribecafilm.com for tickets and details.



 Dree Hemingway as Nadine in LIVE CARGO
 Dree Hemingway and Keith Stanfield in the title roles
 LIVE CARGO Director Logan Sandler
 TV's Robert Wisdom, Roy, in LIVE CARGO and (below) Dree Hemingway and Keith Stanfield on the Red Carpet

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

MET LIVE HD MADAMA BUTTERFLY ENCORE PRESENTATION WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6, 6:30PM LOCAL TIME

SOPRANO KRISTINE OPOLAIS AS BUTTERFLY, TENOR ROBERTO ALAGNA AS PINKERTON GIVE DRAMATIC RESONANCE TO LATE FILMMAKER ANTHONY MINGHELLA'S VISION

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera


by Dwight Casimere

The late filmmaker Anthony Minghella's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly got an appropriately sweeping treatment from Live HD Director Gary Halvorson and the producers of the Met Live HD performance series, seen on movie screens around the world this past Saturday. Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30pm local time  brings an Encore Presentation of this sterling production to select theaters. Check local listings for locations near you.

Having seen this production both live at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and on the big screen Live in HD, its remarkable how vivid Minghella's vision becomes in the hands of a master Tv director and his multi-camera crew. Its as if Minghella envisioned his production as playing out on the big screen, with the subtleties of lighting, costume, props and accents of Japanese traditional puppetry theatre and other ancient theatrical elements and dance, all interwoven in a seamless production. Add to that the superlative voices and dramatic capabilities of soprano Kristine Opolais as the central character Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) and the heroic tenor Roberto Alagna as her Pinkerton, and you have a production that is one for the books.

Met soprano and HD Host Deborah Voigt lent her illuminating questions in backstage interviews at intermission, which highlighted the importance of the puppetry which represented Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton's love child and the wedding scene between the two principals as ably performed by the movement experts of Blind Summit Theatre, one of whom also turned in a brilliant solo performance in the puppetry scene reenacting the "wedding" of Pinkerton and Butterfly.

Visually, the production is stunning. Parts of the story are told through dance and [puppetry sequences emphasized by costume effects, such as broad red sashes representing the blood Butterfly will shed in her ritual suicide and the paper lanterns and sliding sheer panels framing Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San's foundation-less love nest and the likewise shaky foundation of their union. With the able conducting of conductor Karel Mark Chichon in the pit with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the production built in suspense to its ultimate climax, which was spine-tingling. Even if you've already seen last weekend's Live HD transmission, this landmark recreation deserves a second look. For details, visit www.metopera.org or fathomevents. com.
 Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

NAKOM, A RARE FILM FROM GHANA, MAKES ITS NORTH AMERICAN DEBUT MARCH 18-19 IN NYC

First feature film made in Kusaal language captures dilemma of family responsibility in the village versus urban education and opportunity

by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--NAKOM is a beautifully filmed, sensitive portrait of a Ghanaian medical student, Iddrisu (Jacob Ayanaba) who is suddenly called to return to his family's remote African farming village from his studies in the capital city of Akkra, when his father suddenly dies.

Directed by Kelly Daniela Norris and  co-director and writer TW (Trav) Pittman, with writer  Isaac Adakudugu, the film features a hauntingly beautiful film score by acclaimed Senegalese composer Daby Balde.   This is Norris's second debut feature. Her first, Sombras De Azul, won the audience award at its premiere at the 2013 Austin Film Festival.

TWPittman is making her feature directorial debut with NAKOM. The film is unique in that is it filmed entirely on location in Ghana, primarily in the rural village, from which the film derives its name, and in which Pittman once served as a US Peace Corps volunteer. Previously, she produced the feature Sombras De Azul, which was set in Cuba, and is the only Cuban-American co-producton in the 50 year history of the U.S. embargo.  NAKOM breaks similar ground. It is a Chanian-American co-production, which is co-written by Isaac Adakudugu, who is a native of the title village. Their mutual involvement and experience shines through in this brilliantly executed film.

From the outset of the film, we get a sense of the dichotomy experienced by Iddrisu. We hear a car speeding down the highway and immediately see the sun rising over the awakening village of Nakom. Herders and the other villagers are going about their daily routines and, a moment later, we see the hustle and bustle of the morning rush hour traffic in Accra. Issidru is joyfully going about his daily routine as a medical student at the university. Kibitzing with friends as he rushes, late to class and trying to charm his disgruntled professor with that winning smile of his. Back in his dorm room, he gets a call with the bad news. His father has just been killed in a motorcycle accident and he's needed urgently back home. Arriving on a crowded bus, he gets a  ride on the back of a motorcycle borrowed by his kid brother from the pastor's wife. Along the way, Iddrisu gets a visual crash course, reorienting him to the world he left behind

His sister is cooking the evening meal and sarcastically says to him that she is surprised that he still speaks Kusaal, their native language. When he visits his mother in mourning, we get a clear picture of the dilemma he will face. When he tells her that he will only be there for a short time to attend the funeral, she lays a guilt trip on him, saying that she knows he will live up to the responsibilities he owes to his family and the village.

A visit to his Junior Mother (apparently the men who rule the villages have more than one wife), doesn't go much better. We learn from her that the father left a significant debt behind that has to be repaid and it is up to him, as the oldest son, to repay it.

Finally, he lets loose his grief, removing the shroud from his father's face and shedding tears.

Nakom quickly trades in his school books for a pickax and begins the sequeless transition into village life. While he struggles to dig his father's grave in the drought-hardened earth.  His brother and another villager tease him as "the bachelor chief" because of his new position as an unmarried man who now occupies his father's house. Iddrisu doesn't take kindly to the teasing. "Do your arms work, or only your mouth?" he retorts, throwing the pickaxe in their direction.

The uncle has sent word that he refuses to come to the funeral, apparently angered by a property dispute.  An impatient Iddrisu decides that the show must go on without him. We then witness a traditional Muslim burial, with the body carried to the grave by Iddrisu and his brothers and the women of the village trailing behind, wailing and crying. The sun sets, and with the evening prayer, the events of the film are set in motion.

Iddrisu visits his uncle, attempting to broker a compromise. "How can I fight with him?" the uncle says of Iddrisu's father. "It''s like one arm fighting the other!" A deal is brokered, and Iddrisu agrees to take charge of the harvest of the next crop, using the profits to settle his father's debt. The uncle  kill a live chicken in celebration of the deal.

Iddrisu tells his mother that he plans to return to the university once the debt is repaid from the harvest. His mother isn't having it and derides him for being a coward for turning his back on his family and his responsibilities as the new head of the village.

Mobilizing the village to begin the planting and harvest, he decides to move the farm to his uncle's richer soil. He then develops a new marketing strategy to increase his profits once the harvest is complete, thus earning the money the village needs to pay his father's debt.

The behind-the-scenes facts of NAKON are as ground-breaking as the film itself. It is the first fiction feature produced in the Kusaai language. The entire cast is of nonactors, mostly from the village of Nakon. Ghanaian filmmakers play key roles in all aspects of the production. The cast and crew stayed within the village for the entire time of the 4 month shoot, sleeping in a two-room schoolhouse and sharing beds with mosquito nets. This was a full immersion experience!

The film inches toward the protagonists' crucial decision; should he stay in the village as its leader or return to the university to continue his education. Perhaps he has already gained a more vital one by coming back home.

NAKOM  has its North American Premiere at the New Directors/New Films 2016 Festival

Festival Screenings:
Friday, March 18, 8:30pm, Walter Reade Theatre
Saturday, March 19, 2:00pm, MoMA Titus 2


Monday, February 22, 2016

NEW PRODUCTION OF PUCCINI'S MANON LESCAUT FEATURES ROBERTO ALAGNA IN ROLE DEBUT

by  Dwight Casimere


Roberto Alagna has become the "go to" tenor  at the Metropolitan Opera. This month, he stepped in to save the day after famed tenor Jonas Kaufman withdrew from the Met's new production of Manon Lescaut, which opened February 12 to rave reviews. Fortunately, he had learned the role some years ago for a series of performances that were ultimately canceled. so he was able to assume the lead role of Chevalier Des Grieux in his role debut opposite super hot soprano Kristine Opolais in Puccini's passionate love story, Manon Lescaut. Saturday, March 5 at 1pm, audiences in 2,000 movie theaters in 70 countries around the world will have the opportunity to see this dynamic due in action when the opera will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD Series.

With Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi in the pit as Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the production by British director Sir Richard Eyre, who previously staged Carmen in his Met debut in 2009,  features set design by Rob Howell of London's National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Costumes are by Fotini Dimou, who also designed the costumes for the same production at the festival Hall Baden-Baden in 2013. Lighting designer Peter Mumford, also of London,  has previously lit Met productions of Werther, Carmen, Peter Grimes, Faust Madama Butterfly (debut in 2006) and the 125th Anniversary Gala.

Choreographer Sara Erde of New York has worked as assistant stage director for the Met's Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly and La Donna del Lago.

Sir Rihard Eyre sets the action during the Nazi occupation of France in 1941, giving the production a bit of an historial edge, over its original setting in the salons and boudoirs of late 18th century France.

Manon Lescaut is a production that bristles with sensuality, fantastic singing and superb acting. Roberto Alagna gives a visceral performance as Lescaut's ardent lover, Des Grieux, who pursues her love even to the gates of hell. Although this is his first time playing the role on stage, it seems as if it were written for him. Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais sings the  doomed heroine with abandon. The sexscenes between she and Alagna are among the most sensuous to ever play out on the Met stage. Opoplaise is also currently burning up the Met stage in her debut as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly.

The Met is in the midst of a sort of undeclared Puccini festival  this season with productions old and new of La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Turandot either previously ended or returning for a spring run with new casting.


Met Live HD's offering last month was Puccini';s Turandot in a lavish production, which was transmitted Saturday, January 30 with an Encore Presentation February 3. Swedish Soprano Nina Stemme soared as the enigmatic Turandot, whose ruthless riddles spelled doom for her wealthy suitors who came from around the globe in search of her hand in marriage. Only brave Calaf, sung with force and conviction by Marco Berti, ultimately conquers the vengeful Turandot with his ardor. This was truly and inspired, eye-popping production.