Monday, 18 October 2021

Retro Review: Hustle & Flow (2005)

Hustle & Flow
Cast: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, DJ Qualls, Ludacris, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes 
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $23 million

Plot: With help from his friends, a Memphis pimp in a mid-life crisis attempts to become a successful hip hop emcee

'One Of The Few Fulfilling Music-Based Movie Dramas'

A hip-hop themed rags-to-riches drama that plays out like Pretty Woman meets Cadillac Records and 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow was a deserved winner at the Sundance Film Festival & is directed by writer-director, Craig Brewer. Whilst 8 Mile walked a line between realism and being a musical artist, the film starred an established rapper in Eminem. Hustle & Flow is in the same vein as the former movie as a character redemption & underdog study - only it is harsher, grittier and rougher around the edges but with actor, Terrance Howard, who beforehand, wasn't and isn't known for playing so-called anti-heroes and truly despicable bad guys. 

& still, Hustle and Flow possessed that energy and spirit of what being a music artist is all about, in his/her attempts at making it big, whilst at the same time, depicting the harsh realities of living through the ghetto slums of the deep down dirty South. Bought by MTV films and released through Paramount, the title of the film paints a portrait of the world of hustling & surviving through the 'Hustle' part and the term, 'flow' alludes to rapping itself. 

Terrence Howard is at his sheer best, and he has never been as better as he is here with a performance that far outstrips his other roles and one that showcases his rap skills and acting talent; he inhabits this character with a swagger and a natural ability and so could easily convince as a rapper with his flows and rap delivery of his lines. A pimp by day (or be it night) in a small town in Memphis, DJay exploits women and often acts like a thug and treats them like dirt -, and yet, by nature, he is not a callous and evil person who lacks compassion and empathy. He is having a mid-life crisis; with that, in a last-ditch attempt, Djay sees music as his way out of it. With the help of a few hookers, a stripper who has a son from a previous marriage and a chance encounter with technician friend, Key & a sound mixer, DJay puts together his material and seizes the opportunity, while impressing a famous hip hop artist, Skinny Black (played by rapper Ludacris aka Chris Bridges) who has arrived in town. Both Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson as pregnant Shug benefit with worthwhile performances as the prostitutes in DJay's life, whereas Anthony Anderson was impressive in a much- toned down role, compared to his general comedy-based turns, but it is Howard, himself, who as the lead, runs away with the film. The performances, all-around, encompass so much depth due to the dynamically layered characters', and also it allows the audience to feel for and empathize with them & their hardships.

What makes Hustle and Flow stand out from the pack of many other music-related films is the authenticity in its portrayal of hip hop which isn't sugar-coated and Brewer's direction that whilst it is raw and has that indie-like feel, it is still entertaining & hugely compelling with a great soundtrack and a narrative in tandem with Djay's growing confidence behind the mic. It could be said that Hustle & Flow isn't really about actual music (I would digress) and more about DJ, who, at the beginning of the film, is someone you'd loathe and the story is more about him transitioning towards being a better person & to fulfil his life long dream. The hip hop rap theme which is interwoven into the subtexts of prostitution and narcotics is done in an energetic way that allows the audience to have a better understanding of and respect for and towards rap and what it embodies and what it highlights to audiences, especially those who are unfamiliar with or aren't fans of hip hop.  

A formulaic story, this one makes every attempt not to follow in the same path as so many music-based drama films as it descends towards the darker and grittier territory, but also there is a heart lying within the story and a glimpse that as much as things can get desperate and murkier, there is also light and hope, as long as s/he keeps believing in it. Through this, it prevents Hustle & Flow from being relentlessly grim and tawdry, which would have been too much to endure for many people -, & probably for me.

Final Verdict:

For music lovers, and more so hip hop and rap lovers, this film is and has to be up there as one of the best onscreen representations of the rap game and sub-culture; Hustle & Flow is massively underrated it was truly worth it for me and stands up as one of the most fulfilling, sincere and gratifying music-based features I've sat through, both fictional & non-fictional-wise. 



Monday, 11 October 2021

Retro Review: Ali (2001)

Cast: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Jada Pinkett-Smith
Genre: Biographical Sports Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $87 million
Plot: A biography of sports legend, Muhammad Ali focusing on his triumphs and controversies between 1964 and 1974

'Boxing Biopic That Doesn't Fly Like A Butterfly, Nor Sting Like A Bee'

By all accounts, a biographical film on sports legend, Muhammad Ali, Ali chronicles the life of heavyweight boxing champion, formerly known as Cassius Clay, from his first-ever in-ring fight, subsequent doomed and short-lived relationships up to his conversion to Islam and the infamous Rumble in the Jungle' bout with George Foreman.

When Ali tanked at the box office and missed winning best actor for Ali, (Will) Smith spent the next two decades on sequels and a stream of popcorn, mainstream fodder that turned out to be duds - IRobot, Hancock, After Earth, Suicide Squad and recently, 2019's Gemini Man & Bright, as well as flirting with Scientology.

Haphazard and brazen, excluding the boxing scenes, Ali is undeservedly long-winded and bloated and but for the short spells involving his relationships with the three women he comes across, I was utterly disconnected with the story, which didn't attempt to pull me in, but rather bore me to death and omitting any insightful events and aspects of Ali's career and personal life; speaking of which, the film's telling of events is both sluggish and unengaging and lacks what the real Muhammad Ali possessed: firepower and character, -something Will Smith's portrayal cannot tap into. Smith is an entertainer, a good actor when the right movie and character role comes along; back in 2001, this was deemed by many as the breakout role of his career, as he tried as he might to cement his position as a leading Hollywood actor; fast forward 20 years on unfortunately, despite his efforts as one of the greatest boxers of all-time, Smith appears to be miscast. I wasn't watching Muhammad Ali onscreen - I was watching Will Smith impersonating Muhammad Ali and this is exemplified by his deep voice. I actually liked this Ali less, the longer the film went on. 

Michael Mann aims for style over substance, and being flashy and showy. This should have been extraordinary as a film; whilst it tries its best, instead it settles for ordinary - and ordinary doesn't cut it when it comes to Ali's legacy. The ending is plausible, but it doesn't make up for the lack of depth that it has. The performances just about save this from being what would otherwise be a poor movie. 

Whilst the extra mark I give seems generous, Ali should have amounted to something special, explosive and memorable. & unfortunately, it didn't. The script (courtesy of the writers of the remake of A Star is Born, Forrest Gump, Heat and Nixon) ought to have brought out the best out of the cast - had it been better developed.

Muhammad Ali has landed many punches towards his opponents in the ring, - yet contrary to that, this biopic, due to Michael Mann's style, & Smith's inability to convey Ali's charisma, doesn't make inroads in ways that I expected it to have; thus forth, this bog-standard drama doesn't manage to land that much-needed knockout blow.   

Gripping and provocative, it was thus certainly by any means not.    



Final Verdict: 

Ali is Oscar bait, and still it didn't and doesn't make for a great movie.  

To me, this was a disappointment.


Monday, 4 October 2021

Movie Review: Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016)

Barbershop: The Next Cut
Cast: Ice Cube, Cedric The Entertainer, Regina Hall, Anthony Anderson, Eve, J.B. Smoove, Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Deon Cole, Common
Genre: Comedy 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $55 million 

Plot: As their surrounding community has taken a turn for the worse, the crew at Calvin's Barbershop come together to bring some much needed change to their neighbourhood

'Belated Sequel That Is Better Than Expected -, Yet Missing The Old Characters'

10 years have passed since the second Barbershop movie; set in the southside of Chicago and the third movie in the trilogy and fourth in the series, if you include spin-off, Beauty shop, Calvin, Eddie and the gang must save their shop from the trigger-happy gang members. Now, a father, Calvin also has a son in now 14-yr-old Jalen of whom has grown up. Barbershop: The Next Cut is directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the cousin of Spike Lee & sees Calvin's shop (once a male sanctory) merging with a ladies beauty parlour and is now co-ed; whilst it feels like a play and doesn't seem to be evolving and ambitious, it addresses black issues in a serious matter and gets the conversation started. The plot is casual and loose and a simple watch and was easy to follow. A lot of people may feel the message and the serious tone it evokes is overdone and heavy-handed, but I was okay with it.

It wasn't earth-shattering, but it never mind tried to attempt to be both humourous in the comedy aspect and insightful in addressing the topic of gun violence by speaking directly about its issues, some of which are political and social (the battle of the sexes), and compared to the previous two Barbershop movies, the subplots and the added new characters made this instalment slightly more watchable and nuanced & gave the film more room to breathe.



Specifically, about gun violence, there were a few subplots with Calvin's son, whom I didn't care much for. His character seemed very, well, we are supposed to feel for him, but he came across onscreen as being forgettable and someone I wasn't fully able to get behind.

And Eve, Nicki Minaj and Common's storyline, whilst the quasi-love triangle was well thought out -if a little shallow, I just didn't like how it ended. Whilst it is catered towards Black audiences, it still manages to entertain and insight through its storylines and characters, although my favourite was probably Jerrod (played by Lamorne Morris) and I did miss seeing Isacc, Ricky and Dinka. Yes, Isacc did appear in the opening scene, but it was brief and it was a shame that the writers never brought him back for this movie. Meanwhile, so-called show-stopper/headliner act, Nicki Minaj's performance has divided audiences, but I liked that she performed it the way it was and is, and honestly, there was never a moment in the film whereby I felt she overacted or her character rubbed me up the wrong way. That, and she looked great here. The rivalry between Eve's Terri (who is maturer and older, and wiser now than ever before) and Minaj's Draya, as skittish it might have been, had me glued. The other characters played by Rashad's Common, Utkarsh Ambudkar as the token South Asian character, the sarcastic Raja, Deon Cole as Dante, J.B Smoove never, well, never made a huge impression on me. In particular, with Raja, the writers could have done a lot more with that character instead of making him a throwaway type. The overlong 2-hour runtime was also not necessary to have for a film like this.

It's interesting: I prefer the ensemble in the first two Barbershop movies, yet those films were all right at best, it just was too earnest and played things too safe and lacked that one plot to get me hooked into those films; whereas with Barbershop: The Next Cut, the casting (quality) is somewhat lacking- and yet still, this was more riveting through the gang subplot and entertaining than Barbershop 1 and 2

As for the beauty shop, it would have been preferable had it been Queen Latifah's beauty shop by bringing her back and its cast of characters into this movie; instead of having a new beauty shop and its set of staff.  


Final Verdict

I enjoyed Barbershop: The Next Cut out of the three films in the series - I just wished that Isacc, Ricky and Dinka were still in it and weren't written out in the first place, whilst getting rid of one or two of the newer characters, who never really clicked and despite being labelled as a 'comedy' I'd much file this one under the comedy-drama category.




Monday, 30 August 2021

30 Favourite RedOne Songs

By Waiching 

Nadir Khayat, known by his stage name as RedOne, is a multi-Grammy award-winning Morrocan-Swedish music producer, lyricist and record executive of RedOne, his self-titled label. He has worked with many high-profile singers such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and cites ABBA, Europe and Roxette as his main musical influences. His U.S breakthrough came in the form of 'Whine Up' that was recorded by Kat Deluna; from then on, he produced nine of the songs for her debut LP. It wasn't until the year 2008 when RedOne launched Lady Gaga's career with Just Dance, Bad Romance, Pokerface and LoveGame. In 2012, he said, in an interview, his initial goal was to find the next Madonna or Britney (Spears), and with that came Lady Gaga. 

Before the arrival of Timberland and RedOne, mass pop audiences, particularly those used to the Cheiron and Max Martin euro-pop formula, never quite bought into the type of dance music that seemed more in line with Ibiza clubs. With energetic club beats and melodies, RedOne, as well as Lady Gaga, was heralded by Merck Mercuradis for single-handedly putting electronic dance music on the radio & changed the sound of pop music for more than a decade.

His hard work and dedication paid off and from the late 2000s until early-late 2010s, RedOne churned out song after song; although arguably, compared to say Max Martin and Norweigan song makers, Stargate, he doesn't quite have a prolific record of big hits and chart successes as his other Scandinavian counterparts.


''The projects I had success with were through the major label machine, but it's difficult to do it on your own; it isn't as easy as it sounds.''

He had a good run up until 2012 - where without Lady Gaga, he turned to J-lo, but his subsequent follow-ups haven't truly blown up.

I did enjoy Backstreet Boys' Straight Through My Heart, however, as well as some of Austin Mahone's efforts; Mahone, himself, was marketed as RedOne's answer to another young-then teen pop heartthrob, Justin Bieber, and the song, Kings and Queens by Ava Max has shades of late 2000s Lady Gaga. & there are several songs & dishonourable mentions of RedOne's that if I were to hear them on the radio, I'd walk away (J-Lo's On The Floor, Enrique Iglesias's I Like It, Mohombi's insufferable In My Head which samples The Cranberries' Zombie & Marc Anthony & Pitbull's Rain Over Me - I just don't like their compositions). 

Other than that, I'd say he is all right. His sound has evolved, or be changed a great deal over time. At times, this works for some of those songs, yet not so for other songs. And Nadir lacks the pedigree of Max Martin (& Max Martin in the Cheiron era), of whom for me along with Brit producers, Stock Aitken and Waterman, were each notably consistent in their rollout of chart pop hits and successes.

This is a rundown of 30 of my favourite songs that he has produced and recorded:

1. Alejandro - Lady Gaga, 2010


2. Kings & Queens - Ava Max, 2020; written and produced by Redone, this has Lady Gaga vibes and could have been a song for circa 2009 Lady Gaga  

3. Papi - Jennifer Lopez, 2011

4. Mistreat Me (You'll Be Sorry) - Emilia de Poret, 2001 

5. Run The Show - Kat DeLuna feat. Busta Rhymes, 2007 



6. In The End - Kat DeLuna, 2007

7. Feel What I Feel - Kat DeLuna, 2007


8. Party O'Clock - Kat DeLuna, 2010

9. Dirty Dancing - NKOTB, 2008 


10. If I Knew Then - Backstreet Boys, 2009; my favourite from their 'This Is Us' LP 

11. Do Me Right - Mohombi, 2011

12. Fight For You - Jason Derulo, 2010; samples Toto's Africa 


13. Save You Tonight - One Direction, 2011

14. Bumpy Ride - Mohombi, 2010


15. Turn Me On - Kevin Lyttle, 2003  (Dancehall version); made the top 5 charts across several countries including Italy, the U.S. and U.K.

16. Slam - A*Teens, 2002 

17. no hay 2 sin 3 (Gol) - Cali y El Dandee feat. David Bisbal, 2012

18. Can't fight this love - Austin Mahone, 2014 


19. The One I've Waited For - Austin Mahone, 2014  


20. Paper Gangsta - Lady Gaga, 2008


21. Bad Romance - Lady Gaga, 2009

22. LoveGame - Lady Gaga, 2008 


23. Hair - Lady Gaga, 2011 

24. Hypnotico - Jennifer Lopez, 2011 

25. Straight Through My Heart - Backstreet Boys, 2009 




26. What is Love - Darin, 2005


27. See U At The Club - Darin, 2005 


28. Handle Me - Robyn (RedOne Radio Mix), 2008


29. La Cintura - Alvaro Soler, 2018


30. Laissons Les Rever - John Mamann, 2014

Honourable mentions: The Way I Love Her - Stanaj, Crash - The Cheetah Girls, Frozen - Tami Chynn, Start Without You - Alexandra Burke feat. Laza Morgan, How We Do It - Now United, Seal It With A Kiss - Prince Royce, Killer Love - Nicole Scherzinger, Killa Love Song - Tami Chynn, ...To The Music - A*Teens, You Don't Hear Me - Darin, All of Your Life (You Need Love) - Backstreet Boys, Rock The House - Kat DeLuna, Automatik - Livvi Franc, Miss Me - Mohombi feat. Nelly, Love In America - Mohombi, Pound The Alarm - Nicki Minaj, Encore Une Fois - Khaled, Till I Find You - Austin Mahone, Next To You - Austin Mahone, We Run The Night - Havana Brown

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Retro Review: The Parkers (1999)

Duration: 1999 - 2004 (UPN) 
No of seasons: 5
Release date: (U.S) 30 August 1999
DVD release by Visual Entertainment 
Produced by Big Ticket Television/Saradipity Productions
Cast: Mo'Nique, Countess Vaughn, Jenna Van Oy, Ken L., Dorien Wilson, Yvette Wilson

Acting as a spin-off to Moesha, the show initially received mixed reviews and was criticised for its outrageous characters. Co-created by the makers behind Moesha, The Jeffersons and Family Matters, the plot centred on Kim and her mother, Nikki Parker studying at Santa Monica jr college and earning their degrees. After becoming a young mother after giving birth to Kim, Nikki dropped out and never got the chance to finish high school, let alone go to college, and with that, the now older-yet none-the-wiser Nikki enrols at the same college as her daughter. Though it is not groundbreaking by any means, as a genuine comedy, The Parkers was broad and accessible enough that it managed to put a smile on my face, as well as make me laugh several times. 

Entertainment-wise, it was also one of the better sitcoms that didn't come from one of the big four networks and was the first spin-off African-American show since A Different World and Family Matters to have a female character as the lead; I have to say I wasn't an avid watcher of Moesha, which was more teen-orientated, but The Parkers got my attention because of the comedic nature it gave off. The running gag with Nikki chasing the Professor, with it, this can be seen in today's lenses as problematic as it glamourises stalking and toxic relationships and characters such as Kim being dumbed down and being a white blonde stereotype. Nikki degraded herself in her attempts to gain Professor Stanley Oglevee's affection. Many sitcoms present the ''will they/won't they'' romance saga involving the male character and female character, with one of them developing their feelings towards the other person - but this is played out in the Parkers with the rejection element construed as obsessive, degrading, desperate and way out of line through Nikki's tactics. Tactics of which that had this been a male character going after a female character, words 'restraining order' & 'sexual harassment' would spring to mind. 

As Moesha's slightly ditzy friend, the supporting character, Kim then became the joint lead, as well as breakout character, along with her mother, Nikki and in 1999, UPN launched The ParkersBy 2000, The Parkers emerged as one of cable TV's standout comedy hits during its debut year, at the time when sitcoms on mainstream U.S TV were being phased out in favour of reality TV and dramas. In the U.K, the show aired on weekdays on the then-satellite TV channel, Trouble from 2000 to 2004. The channel, whose key demographic were teenagers and young adults, primarily aired 1990s to 2000s U.S sitcoms. 

There were some problematic episodes; Nikki believing she was pregnant by the professor and of whom was going to trick him into marrying her, and any episode where she was lusting after the professor when he said no multiple times, and some not so good ones, i.e. Stanley's no-good twin brother lusting after Nikki, and Nikki believing it was the professor being in love with her, Kim looking after her niece and her turning out to be the demon spawn from hell from season 1. 

The fact that the personality-devoid Stanley Oglevee treated her badly -and yet somehow, in the end, realises he has feelings for Nikki, that they get together and fall in love and get married. All this after she stalked him and was dogging him for nearly 5 years, that he showed no actual interest in Nikki in the romantic sense and that he hated every minute of her presence. Given everything that has happened and the 'efforts' he went into to stop her from getting anywhere near him, especially when he was dating other women such as Stanley's on/off girlfriend, Veronica, it was... absurd how the writers came to this conclusion. & Nikki dumping the guy who she was about to marry, in Johnny. Of course, many fans wanted Nikki to get together with Johnny, rather than the professor, after being rejected by him time and again - Yet because it is sitcom law the writers had to pair Nikki up with Stanley, as Stanley is one of the main characters, alongside Nikki. Nikki was clingy and Stanley was a jerk, - and still, according to the writers opposites attract, somewhat as they try to convince us that Stanley was made for Nikki. 

The mother-daughter combo dynamic, with the casting of Mo'Nique and Countess Vaughn, worked better than the professor/Nikki storyline, as it evolves over time. Nikki realising that Kim is no longer little anymore and is old enough to take care of herself and Kim seeing to that Nikki has a whole lot more to offer than just being her mum; aside from that, overall, it was hilarious and amusing. But when it tried to be deeply thought-provoking and serious, with Nikki's progression, because of the silly and goofball nature The Parkers elicited, that and the romance storylines with Nikki pursuing/chasing the professor and the T and Stevie thing that felt forced and shoe-horned in, I couldn't take the series seriously enough. Another problematic thing about Nikki was of her s**t-shaming skinny women, which back then was amusing, yet viewing it today, it was pretty cruel and mean in nature. 

The supporting characters, predominately of African-American actors and actresses and stars, were good, Stevie and T, who together with Kim were Freestyle Unity, an R&B musical outfit. Jenna Van Oy, who made a name with audiences on the 1990s' teen sitcom, Blossom played the token character in the rich girl, Stevie, and whilst she didn't have a major impact, thanks to Van Oy's portrayal, she still made Stevie one of the few likeable characters during its five-season reign; she was acerbic, witty - yet smart. Ken's T was the smooth operator, cool cat; if Stevie was the token White girl, T was the only male member of Freestyle Unity, and one who wasn't a male chauvinist. The late Yvette Wilson, who played the level-headed Andell, was relatively good. Unlike Moesha, The Parkers' outlandish and over-the-top screwball comedy vibe, reminiscent of that of I Love Lucy, and Fox's Martin attracted Black audiences, particularly with younger Black viewers. 

Whilst the wackiness and absurdist comedy will take some viewers out, for other audiences in search of laughs and humour, The Parkers is, nonetheless, occasionally silly and hilarious, with its nutty, screwball approach to sitcoms; many of which tend to go down the serious route through its storylines. It is a different show compared to its predecessor, Moesha; it's arguably more entertaining with more emphasis placed on generating laughs, although the last few episodes of the final season of The Parkers steered the series not quite so in the wrong direction, - rather it headed in a direction that by the last episode, it practically ran out of steam, as well as with an ending that is in hindsight & regarded by many fans of The Parkers, as one of the worst TV sitcom series finales of all time. 

Everything else was on point, but for the romance part, which I really didn't buy into. When I first watched The Parkers as a 20-year-old, I was more focused on the humour and comedy aspects (which still does it for me), and less so on the messages, the show tries to convey - nowadays with 'woke' culture, what seemed to be harmless back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, isn't socially acceptable today and is, therefore, not only open to interpretation, but it is also questionable as well.

With all that said, as a TV show, The Parkers was and still is a whole lot of fun and it was anything but dull. 


Season ratings:

Season 1: 8
Season 2: 8.5
Season 3: 8.5 
Season 4: 8
Season 5: 8

Final score (out of 10): 8.5

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