Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #50

December 20th, 2007  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report

Contents
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2008!
A CONVERSATION WITH DENZEL WASHINGTON
DEBATERS: WORDS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
IS SMITH LEGEND?
A LOOK AT A TEEN PREGNANCY FROM SMART SCRIPT
SWEENEY TODD DISTURBINGLY DELIGHTS
TOP OF THE ROX – RFF COMES BACK TO FIRST NIGHT
AMH AT THE WHITE HOUSE
UP-COMING


LOOKING FORWARD TO 2008!
436 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50All of us at KBAR wish you a happy and safe holiday season. We feel blessed to be able to share with you what is going on in the community and beyond. It is because of you that we feel energized and inspired to bring you the very best in what cultural organizations and talented individuals have to offer. Please continue to support KBAR and share it, generously with others. Look for the launching of the KBAR website in 2008!

This issue is mostly about the movies. Holiday vacation time should be spent relaxing and catching up, so we’re going to give you some ideas on what’s out there at your local theater.


A CONVERSATION WITH DENZEL WASHINGTON
by Lisa Simmons
442 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50DENZEL WASHINGTON recently spent an hour talking to a number of college students across the country via a telephone conference call. KBAR had a chance to listen in to the questions and conversations regarding Denzel’s latest directorial achievement, the movie ‘THE GREAT DEBATERS’.

Often times enamored, and sometimes giddy, the students posed questions to the celebrity icon that ranged from “When you retire from acting, what will you do?” to “Why this movie and why now? ”

First of all, rest assured that Denzel is NOT retiring from acting, as he says, “You don’t have to retire from acting. George Burns was 99 and he was still acting….They’re going to have to wheel me out.”

On what inspires him, he simply states that “life and the opportunity to influence others inspires me. I wake up every day looking for an opportunity.” In his humble way, and his background of working with children through the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, he has already inspired so many. His portrayal of African American characters is rich and diverse, and the stories he has chosen to helm are inspirational.

Then, there was the question of what draws someone with his stature to act in a movie, let alone make it? Denzel says it’s about the script. “You know, when I read the script, I just liked the script. I thought it was an interesting story. I also just was attracted to the fact that it was about the spoken word. I mean, one of the dominant aspects of our culture now is hip-hop or rap and poetry, so I kind of, in some odd way liked that link and recognized the link. I mean this was sort of the – I won’t say it’s the rap of that time, but it was, you know, a real spectacle sport, if you will.”

Mr. Washington was gracious and focused, answering each question as if he was in the room alone with each one of the students. It was energizing to hear their well-crafted questions and their analysis of a film that speaks to them as students, especially those who are students of color. The call ended at the close of the hour but it could have gone on for at least one more, nobody wanted to hang up, including Denzel.


DEBATERS: WORDS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
by Lisa Simmons
440 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50In 1935, the country was in the midst of a major depression. People were desperate, out of work and wondering how they were going to care for their families. Hard times. But out of hard times can come joy. Joy came for some Black folks in The Federal Theater, The Federal Music and Federal Writers project, and also in a program that had been almost forgotten – The Wiley College Debate Team

The inspirational movie THE GREAT DEBATERS, a Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey project, delivers a cinematically rich film that tells the story of an all- Black college debate team whose outstanding season earns them the opportunity to debate Harvard College. Inspired by true events, the film takes some liberties (and changes in venue) to tell its dramatic story (the final debate actually took place at USC, not Harvard) and succeeds in creating a film that is both uplifting and poignant.

In his second directorial attempt, (remember ‘Antwone Fisher’) Washington has found in Black history the kind of story Americans love – the underdog triumphs!

Washington‘s portrayal of Melvin Tolson, Wiley’s debate coach, is of a passionate man who demands a lot from his newly chosen team: Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams); Henry Lowe (Nate Parker); 14-year-old James Farmer, Jr. (who grows up to be the renowned Civil Rights leader) (Denzel Whitaker), and, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett). They are drilled and pushed to be the best that they can be. {In real life, debate coach Melvin Baunorus Tolson (1898 – 1966) was also a noted post-Harlem Renaisssance poet whose “Harlem Gallery & Other Poems” has enjoyed a contemporary re-evaluation, bringing Tolson new critical praise. A modernist, in his poems he depicts African American concerns in long poems modeled on T. S. Eliot and Hart Crane. Tolson also wrote novels and plays, founded a theater and was the mayor of a small town.}

Set in the backdrop of the deep south, we see and feel the racism that surrounds not only these four debaters, but the town and the community where they live. From an incident with an accidental death of a farmer’s hog to the first debate with a white “Anglo Saxon” as Tolson says, college which is held offsite for fear of some kind of riot or sabotage, the tension builds and releases as issues and situations resolve themselves.

This is not a stand on your feet and scream with excitement kind of film. But it will leave you feeling good long after you have left the theater. And as you think back on it, will make you stand a little bit taller remembering that in a time when race issues sometimes resulted in lynchings and burnings, there were Black students from Black colleges who would not be deterred from demonstrating their intelligence.

‘The Great Debaters’ is filled with intense dramatic moments told with quiet, subtle storytelling. It shows another side of the African American experience that is often left untold.


IS SMITH LEGEND?
by Mervan F. Osborne
438 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50Dr. Robert Neville as portrayed by WILL SMITH in the sci fi adventure ‘I AM LEGEND’ (Warner Bros. Pictures) is a military scientist charged with discovering the cure to a devastating viral mutation that has wreaked havoc on the earth’s population. What began as a potential cure for cancer has morphed into a devastating killer virus that has wiped out ninety percent of humanity and transformed the rest into rabid, nocturnal flesh-eaters. Set in a wonderfully realized post-apocalyptic Manhattan (set decoration from 3-time Oscar nominee George Titta, Jr.), ‘I Am Legend’ is a complex and, ultimately dark portrayal of a man who has lost everything on a Sisyphus-like quest to alter the seemingly inescapably dire wheels of fate. Neville grapples with his human limitations, his abject solitude and the guilt of having survived while everyone else, including his young family has perished (a daughter is played by 8-year-old Willow Smith, younger sister to Jaden who acted with dad in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’). The film is directed by Francis Lawrence, previously known for directing music videos for Britney Spears, Aerosmith, and yes, Will Smith.

Part of Legend’s effectiveness derives from the connection to cancer, mankind’s impotency in the disease’s wake and the irony generated by the disaster that the ‘cure’ has wrought. In addition, Neville goes about his mind-numbing routine in a manner so methodical as to preclude much of the potential sentimentality that might easily have been injected, given the circumstances- think ‘Castaway‘- yuck.

When Dr. Neville loses his canine companion in a showdown with a pack of the zombies, his one connection to a sense of sanity is taken away and he throws himself into an effectively suicidal confrontation with the creatures. Things unfortunately head south from here.

Anna (Alice Brager), a young woman who, along with her mute ten-year old traveling companion, Ethan (Charlie Tahan), rescues Dr. Neville from certain death, at the hands of the zombies. She and Ethan are on their way to a survivors’ haven in Vermont. When Neville informs her that she is chasing a pipe dream, Anna tells him that the haven’s existence was revealed to her in a vision from God. This enrages Neville, given all he has endured; he adamantly assures her that not only is there no safe haven but there can certainly be no such thing as ‘God’. The messianic implications that are now introduced feel decidedly perfunctory at this late stage of the film as the giggles from the audience at Anna’s claim corroborate. From this point, the film careens through the final act and culminates in a big ole’ explosion-filled, zombie-killing, martyr-creating bonanza.

For a film with such a mammoth budget, the 1 hour and 40 minutes running time seemed somehow too short. Too many possibilities are left unexplored; there isn’t enough pre-apocalyptic build; the potential rivalry between Neville and the head zombie-freak is unrealized; why introduce a main character, Anna, so late in the film and provide her with virtually no backstory and only one dimension? And it’s mildly gutless to introduce a concept as charged as the existence of God in one moment and then to speed toward the end credits without further development.

Third act aside, however, ‘I Am Legend’ hits enough positive notes to earn a mildly enthusiastic endorsement for Smith and his dog’s performances and for the incredible work done to create the eerily devastated island of Manhattan.

Official website of I AM LEGEND


A LOOK AT A TEEN PREGNANCY FROM SMART SCRIPT
by Josiah Crowley © 2007
443 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50JUNO: Smart, hilarious comedy about teen pregnancy: this is not an AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL.

Unlike most Hollywood product, JUNO is a hilarious comedy that never condescends to its audience. With a whipsmart script by Diablo Cody and impressive direction from Jason Reitman (who gave us last year’s impressive THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING), this is the comedy to see this Christmas season. The film also contains a breakout performance from young Canadian actress Ellen Page.

Most films portray the plight of teen pregnancy unconvincingly – usually, as a morality tale. JUNO dares to focus on an intelligent 14-year-old who is very much an individual, not a cliche. Juno, the title character, has sex for the first time with her best friend, the class nerd, and finds herself pregnant. The working-class teen decides to search for a middle-class couple who can give her unborn child a better life. Juno’s wry view of the world and sarcastic take on life is unique and side-splitting. The dialogue is unlike anything one has ever heard from a screen teen’s mouth in the past. The story follows Juno’s 9-month journey in a way that is unique and multi-dimensional: at turns, hilarious, spellbinding and surprisingly moving.

Canadian actress Ellen Page – so good in last year’s sleeper HARD CANDY - once again displays enormous screen presence and acting talent in the title role. The film also boasts great turns by the gifted character actors, JK Simmons and Allison Janney as her parents; Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are very good indeed as the yuppie couple set to adopt Juno’s child who turn out to be not as perfect as they seem. And the eclectic score must also be mentioned.

If you want to be highly entertained, see JUNO. You will be thinking about it long after the credits roll.

Official Website of JUNO the Movie


SWEENEY TODD DISTURBINGLY DELIGHTS
by Josiah Crowley © 2007
439 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50STEPHEN SONDHEIM‘s stage musical SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, it always seemed, was impossible to make into a movie with the same shivery results. But TIM (‘ED WOOD’, ‘BEETLE JUICE’,'THE CORPSE BRIDE’) BURTON, a master of the macabre and a visual genius, is the perfect director to transfer this dark tale to film. The “look” of the film (astounding sets and cinematography) is classic Burton.

And star JOHNNY DEPP, in the title role of the insane, vengeful barber, is nearly perfection. This actor is unique. There is no other movie star today whose choices are so off the mainstream (think: his cross-dressing ED WOOD; his schizophrenic patient in DON JUAN DEMARCO), yet remains a genuine box office draw. Here, in yet another skilled performance, he presents an impressive, if untrained, singing voice as the crazed, vengeful “demon barber of Fleet Street”. Helena Bonham-Carter is nearly his equal as the dotty Mrs. Lovett, who makes the “worst meat pies in London”. Together, these two team up to seek vengeance on all those Sweeney Todd thinks have wronged him. An impressive supporting cast must be mentioned, particularly Alan Rickman as the corrupt judge and Timothy Spall as his creepy assistant.

Some Sondheim purists may frown at the excising of several major songs, but this film is better than one would’ve imagined could be possible. For those who criticize the vocal abilities of the two leads, it is suggested that they listen to the original Broadway cast: Angela Lansbury‘s Mrs. Lovett won the actress one of her four Tonys for musicals, and her singing voice isn’t exactly classic or pure. Depp and Bonham-Carter are terrific here because they are such talented actors, not singers; the same as Lansbury.

Overall, SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET – seedy, atmosphere – works as a film.For those unacquainted with the stage show, you too are in for a treat.

Official Website of SWEENEY TODD


TOP OF THE ROX – RFF COMES BACK TO FIRST NIGHT
Photo Credit – Lolita Parker, Jr.
441 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50TOP OF THE ROX FILM FESTIVAL – New Years Eve. Its some of the best films from the 9th Annual Roxbury Film Festival. In conjunction with First Night Boston, we will be screening films from 7-10:30pm at the Hynes Auditorium in Copley Square. This is a great opportunity to see some of the films you may have missed. Admission is only the price of a First Night button.

7:30pm – OPEN SECRETS
Directed by Faith Kakulu
Narrative Short, 7 minutes
Docile teenager Justin has more pressing concerns than a sore sister like Rhys. Like the recurrent childhood dreams slowly upending his world in nightly dread. But as Justin puzzles out nightmare from reality, Rhys becomes his unlikely constant. And his discovery not only shatters all security, it presents a new charge, hurting a loved one to help another.

7:45pm – SPIN
Directed by Tamika Lamison
Narrative Short, 24 minutes
On the eve of a big press conference with nation’s top critics, premiere book publicist ALEX BURKE and her lover JAMES HUGHES, a former National Fiction Award winner, whose last three novels bombed, joyously celebrate that she hooked the New York Times and he negotiated the printing of 100,000 more copies of the book. Yet, a horrible betrayal deals a deathly blow to their relationship.What follows is a series of events that make us question the reality of artistic integrity–do we ever really know the truth behind who wrote a famous novel, movie, song? In the end, Alex learns that every lie has a consequence. Even her own.

8:10pm – NINA BABY,
Directed by Cam Mason
Narrative Short, 14 minutes
Inspired by turning thirteen, Nina Wright, an aspiring jazz musician, decides to take a journey. She walks through the streets of Los Angeles giving her take on what’s wrong with Hip-Hop music, people’s prejudices, her loves, her dreams for the future, and peppers her soliloquy with beautiful interludes on her trumpet. No one listens to her or her trumpet playing, so she uses the camera as her sole audience. She talks to the camera, gets angry with the camera, and laughs with the camera. On her journey we see flashes of her dead brother, her chess obsessed father with whom she shares a tent in downtown Los Angeles, and, most importantly, we see her decide to take the biggest gamble of her life.

8:25pm – WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE HOMELESS
Directed by Andre Woodberry
Documentary Short, 11 minutes
What’s it really like to be homeless? Filmmaker and high school senior Dre Woodberry has given voice to homeless people from greater Boston and delves into the real story. After experiencing homeless, Woodberry offers insight into a world into a world that many of us fear and few of us truly understand.

8:40pm – I’M THROUGH WITH WHITE GIRLS
Directed by Jennifer Sharp and
Produced by Phyllis and Lia Johnson, Chris Adams and Camilla Rantsen
Narrative Feature: 89 minutes
The only Black guy in his indie-rock social scene, Jay Brooks (30 going on 21) is witty and opinionated. A story board artist by trade, and sci-fi junkie, he is quite the sexual overachiever in his indie rock world. Still, Jay feels unfulfilled as he watches Drake, a high school buddy, preparing for marriage.


AMH AT THE WHITE HOUSE
444 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #50The magnificent 18-foot Fraser fir located in the White House Blue Room is adorned with 347 handmade, round ornaments representing the country’s National Park Service sites.

Called “The African Meeting House under the Blue Skies of Boston,” the 2007 White House Tree Ornament pictured to the left, was created by the Museum’s L’Merchie Frazier to represent the Boston African National Historic site. Congratulations to L’Merchie!


UP-COMING

THINK GLOBALLY, SHOP LOCALLY! ONE MORE WEEKEND! The Gallery at the Piano Factory is pleased to present “SMALL WONDERS: Holiday Arts and Crafts show and sale” THIS WEEKEND: December 22, 23, 2007. Shop for the LAST weekend before the holidays, with convenient hours of Saturday, 10a.m.-6p.m. and Sunday, 1p.m.-6 p.m. Shop from your favorite local artists and craftspeople: Dale Patterson, L’Merchie Frazier, Cynthia Scott, Bobby Crayton, Paul Goodnight, Essence Rare, Vernell Jordan and many others. Displays feature handcrafted gifts including jewelry, scarves, hats, handmade soaps, calendars oils, tribal crafts, music CDs, fine art, prints, cards and more. The Gallery at the Piano Factory, is located at 791 Tremont Street, Boston.

HALEY HOUSE BAKERY & CAFE has prepared beautiful healthy and fairly traded holiday baskets on sale now at both the Haley House Bakery Café in Roxbury and at the Haley House Corner (at the corner of Dartmouth and Montgomery in the South End). The baskets come in two sizes and includes homemade, dairy-free figgy pudding, caramel nut bars, an iced gingerbread man and woman, and a half pound of Equal Exchange Organic Love Buzz coffee. The large size includes Equal Exchange’s organic cocoa mix. Call for holiday hours: 617-445-0900.

KWANZAA means “first fruits” in the African language Kiswahili, and is a cultural celebration of family, community and heritage observed for seven days, honoring Nguzo Saba, the seven principals of Kwanzaa. Listed are free community events sponsored by The Black Community Kwanzaa Committe/The Black Community Information Center.
DECEMBER 26 7pm / UMOJA (Unity) at Smith Leadership Academy Charter School 23 Leonard Street Dorchester, around the corner from Adams St./Fields Corner post office. Sponsored by: Smith Leadership Academy Charter School, Boston Bengals Pop Warner, Stajez Center for the Arts.
DECEMBER 27 7pm / KUJICHAGULIA (Self-Determination) at St. Catherine/Drexell Church (formerly St. John’s/St. Hughes) 517 Blue Hill Avenue, Grove Hall Sponsored by: State Rep. Gloria Fox, Women’s Circle of Color and Art of Black Dance and Music. DECEMBER 28 7pm / UJIMA (Collective Work and Responsibility) at Roxbury Boys & Girls Club 115 Warren Street, Dudley Sq. Sponsored by: Louis Brown Peace Institute, Human Resource Developement Institute of MA and the Veteran’s Benefit Clearinghouse.
DECEMBER 29 7pm / UJAMAA (Cooperative Economics) at Muhammad’s Mosque #11, 10 Washington Street, Grove Hall Sponsored by: The Nation of Islam, Sisters On The Move and Brothers On The Move (Springfield, MA)
DECEMBER 30 7pm / NIA (Purpose) at The Freedom House, 14 Crawford Street, Grove Hall Sponsored by: Association of Black Social Workers (Boston Chapter) Roxbury Action Program and Pyramid Builders.
DECEMBER 31 7pm / KUUMBA (Creativity) KARAMU FEAST NIGHT at Roxbury Community College, Student Center’s Cafeteria (2nd floor) 1234 Columbus Avenue. Sponsored by: RCC, Historic Boston Equal Rights League, National Black College Alliance.
JANUARY 1 4pm / IMANI (Faith) at Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, 300 Walnut Avenue, Roxbury. Sponsored by The Black Community Information and United Negro College Fund. Center and the Boston International Track Club.

BOSTON CHILDREN’s THEATER presents PINNOCHIO, the delightful classic about the puppet who wants to become a real boy in BCT’s new performing space in Paul Revere Hall, located in the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, 186 Tremont (at the corner of Boylston Street) in Boston’s theatre district. Ticket prices range from $12, $18, $20. Appropriate for children ages 3 and up. 2pm shows DECEMBER 28- 31. For tickets click here.

The Eight: Reindeer Monologues “a tart alternative to candy cane cheer…” New York Times. December 20-30th, The Factory Theatre, South End. Featuring: Ed Peed*, Eliza Lay, Melissa Baroni, Curt Clump, Brett Marks, Anthony Goes, Hannah J. Barts, Greg Mariao. All proceeds to benefit the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. Directed by Jackie Davis

TOUCH 106.1 FM, VIBE 105.3FM and Boston All About You News presents The Ulimate New Year’s Eve Gala for the mature and classy. Doors open at 9pm, proper dress, hot buffet, party favors and noise makers included. Ticket available at Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan Boston Check Cashiers, Skippy White’s, Funky Fresh Records and A Nubian Notion. For more info call 617-334-4639

If you missed Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and a panel of elected officials discussing the topic: “Electing a Black President,” at RCC, the Museum of African American History and the WGBH Forum Network present the lecture on-line. To view, click here.
Dr. Dyson is professor at Georgetown University, where he teaches theology, English and African American Studies. He is the best selling author of ‘I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.’; ‘Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur’; ‘Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line’; ‘Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster’ and his latest book, ‘Debating Race’.

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