So, in spite of the cheesy, truly craptastic trailers, I went and saw Beyond the Lights this weekend. I truly can't remember the last time I paid to see a movie in the theaters, but I knew I wanted to support this because I wanted to support Gina Prince-Bythewood. I loved Love & Basketball and Disappearing Acts. Secret Life of Bees? Not so much, but you can't win them all.
At any rate, this movie is indeed worth seeing for the following reasons and more:
1. Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Hot off of a notable performance in Belle, Gugu did all of her own singing in this film and basically commanded attention every time she was on screen. Her performance was very strong, turning what could've potentially been cheese-ball moments into opportunities to allow the audience to relate to R&B/Pop singer Noni on a purely emotional level. You understood this girl. You rooted for her. You ached for her. When she looked at Kaz (played by the wondrously hot Nate Parker), you felt why she was so connected to him, why he was the one who was able to see through her carefully constructed layers. And in the emotional scene where she finally confronts her momager, Minnie Driver (who was fantastic), you feel her betrayal, desperation and pain. All in all, Gugu was terrific and this should be the role that solidifies her arrival as a true up and coming contender in Hollywood.
2. Nate Parker. Yes, his abs and biceps are quite Yum-able. But the quiet intensity that he brings the role of Kaz, carefully balancing manly, authoritative strength with the vulnerability and sensitivity sure to make women swoon is really what makes him special. Gugu was so great in her role it would've been easy for Nate to be overshadowed. Instead, he played it perfectly. Kaz was the passionate conscience to Noni's aloof, cool, his level-headedness balancing out her outburst as she struggled to find out who she really was and assert herself in an industry aimed at exploiting her. Kaz's backstory fittingly parallels Noni's in the film (only he has an ambitious father and political goals while Noni has an ambitious mother with an eye on superstardom), and while not as thoroughly executed (this is, after all, Noni's story) it allowed viewers a deeper look into his character. Without Nate's nuanced performance this film probably wouldn't have worked.
3. The subtle examinations of race, music industry dynamics and female empowerment. This easily could've turned into a preachy film about the ills of the music industry and its exploitation of young, naive girls, and to a lesser degree, even racism. And while it definitely showcased the negative, dirty aspects of the business, it allowed the audience to make the final call on how they felt about it, choosing not to shove the perspective down your throat. As Odie Henderson for RogerEbert.com pointed out:
“Beyond the Lights” makes unapologetically damning statements about the music industry’s treatment of women, yet it never feels preachy. It strikes a risky, though successful balancing act between being immensely entertaining as a musical feature and making dramatic, important statements about depression, self-worth and female empowerment."
I didn't mention Danny Glover here because honestly, he was sort of a non-factor as Kaz's father. Minnie Driver, as I mentioned, was truly great, turning in a pretty powerful performance that captured all of the elements of a mom who often pushed too far, too hard, but was still grounded by the love she had for her child.
All in all, this is a film worth supporting. Odie Henderson (quoted above) went as far as to compare it to Lady Sings the Blues, and while I definitely wouldn't go that far, it's a great movie that I'd say adequately showcases the talents of all involved and could even serve as great inspiration for today's young girls.
“You look incredibly appropriate, Kitten."
:: “What are you doing the rest of the day?” Zay was asking.
It’d been almost a week since we’d had our pancake night and we hadn’t hung out since. I shrugged, watching as the rest of the guys made their way up the stairs. Bam was saying something about meeting up over somebody named Trent’s house before the football game that was going on later in the afternoon.
“I dunno,” I said, moving to sit on my favorite crate. “I’m not really used to having free time.”
Zay eyed me as he leaned against the wall next to where I was seated, casually crossing his legs as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. He was wearing his regular uniform of a t-shirt and worn jeans. Today’s was dark gray and matched his eyes.
“Well, I wanted to see if maybe you wanted to ride with me?”
“Ride with you where?” I asked, tilting my head up to look at him.
He smiled. “It’s a surprise.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t do surprises.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “You don’t do relationships, you don’t do surprises… what do you do, Kitten?”
He’d lowered his voice an octave and he fixed a look on me that I guess was supposed to be inquisitive but was just sexy as hell. I couldn’t help but smile when he was looking at me like that. I let the question linger in the air because any answer seemed like it might get me in trouble.
“How do I know you’re not gonna try to abduct me or something?” I asked instead of answering.
He grinned, showing his adorable half-dimple. “You don’t.”
I bit my lip as I stared up at him, trying to suppress another smile.
“That’s not much incentive for me to run off into the unknown with you,” I said, pointedly.
He pushed himself off of the wall and moved to stand in front of me.
“Being abducted and running off into the unknown with me would be life-altering,” he said, grabbing my hands.
I let him pull me up and he didn’t move back like a normal person would’ve. He just stood there so that I was practically pressed against him.
“Is that right?” It took everything in me not to back up.
“Yep,” he said, grinning cockily, tilting his head to the side as he studied me.
“Am I dressed appropriately for this allegedly life-altering experience?”
He let his eyes travel slowly down my body, from my gray Jimi Hendrix long-sleeved t-shirt to my tattered jean skirt and pink converses. He met my eyes again, desire evident in his.
“You look incredibly appropriate, Kitten,” he finally answered, his voice low and sexy. “You look so appropriate, it’s difficult for me to be appropriate. You look so appropriate all I really want to do is show you exactly how appropriate we could be together if you gave me the appropriate chance.”
Happiness in Jersey by Jacinta Howard, Available Now- http://ow.ly/Bsjbz
This week’s Scandal opens with the Isley Brothers’ “Summer Breeze” playing as Olivia has a nightmare about swimming in an Olympic-sized pool, interspersed with scenes of her having sex with Fitz. Or is it Jake? Or is it Fitz? Or is it Jake’s Stubble? Papa Pope kills all the drama by appearing at the end of the pool and yelling, “Wake up, Olivia!” THANK YOU. Because that dream was really creepy.
Having witnessed the breathless, tragic aftermath of Liv’s dream, Abby decides the best course of action is to bumrush Fitz in the Oval Office because this is Scandal and on this show, the Oval Office is about as important as the front desk at the DMV. Abby wants to talk about why Fitz won’t let Olivia see Jake. Fitz gets all President-ish and warns, “There’s an edge to this cliff, Gabby, and you are dancing very close to it.” He called her the wrong name on purpose, so he totally means business. Undeterred, Abby drops the bomb—Olivia has been waking up screaming from nightmares, which causes Fitz to waver. Abby then literally runs from the Oval Office.
Fitz, being the Fitz that he is, decides it’s imperative that he pay a visit to Liv’s apartment. She opens the door and they share weepy eyes and then Fitz refers to Abby as a “bitch” for cornering him and also asks for wine. Liv doesn’t share her wine and she doesn’t appreciate Fitz calling Abby a “bitch” so she launches into a speech on respecting women in power and feminism and...whatever, she just wants to see Jake. Fitz says, hell no, because Jake killed his son. Liv says he didn’t, she knows Jake like she knows Fitz and there’s no way he could’ve done that. This pisses Fitz off. “You don’t know him like you know me,” he snarls, not once, but twice. “Why are you being such a…” He stops but Liv finishes for him, “Bitch?” —Fitz gets the mopey eyes but says nothing. He leaves and Liv guzzles a huge goblet of wine.
Later, Papa Pope and Fitz are bonding over scotch. Papa Pope asks for Jake back because he wants to “discipline his own dog.” But Fitz argues that he wants Jake to be executed in front of the entire world for murdering his son. Papa Pope starts talking about how strong Fitz is because he like, totally never thinks with his emotions and makes solid, sound, tough decisions. Um, what is Fitz’s degree in again? Clearly not Reverse Psychology.
Totally manipulated by Papa Pope, Fitz basically kidnaps Liv and takes her to see Jake for her last goodbye. Poor bloody Jake tells her to listen to him carefully and proceeds to give her his offshore account number so that she can give his money to his mother. Liv totally has a photographic memory because she memorizes it after hearing it just once. Jake knows his word doesn’t mean anything to Olivia because he realizes in the end she’s not going to choose him, and that, for some unearthly reason, is okay with him. What? How is that okay? Seriously, Jake? Jake and his bloody eye looks away from Olivia as Fitz monitors their visit from behind the prison chamber glass.
Later, Jake is in the Cell of Death with Papa Pope. Papa Pope tells Jake that he gave him his “greatest treasure” on a platter, all Jake had to do was respect him but he couldn’t do that, so now he must die. Not sure how to feel about Liv being referred to as Papa Pope’s “greatest treasure” but, okay. Papa Pope brags about having played Fitz like a fiddle and reminds Jake and his bloody eye that, “You can’t take Command, Command takes you.” Jake and his bloody eye blink their understanding.
Back at the White House Fitz is talking to Olivia and says they’re ruined because “too much has happened”... and yeah. He says they don’t have a chance. Olivia takes this as an opportunity to threaten Fitz, saying that if Fitz gives Jake to Papa Pope, there is no hope. Um, but didn’t Fitz just say the same thing? Fitz asks, “Are you saying there is hope?” Olivia just blinks and heaves so Fitz again, asks if there is hope. Olivia says there is hope. I really hope this is the last time they use the word “hope” on this show.
Oh, and in the totally crazy Sub-Plot of the Week, Liv gets played by the man who tried to assassinate dead President Cooper back in the 80s and there’s lots of talk about the “truth” and the “sun” and how the truth will always shine… and whatever. Also, Mellie is about to make her triumphant return after being inspired by dead President Cooper’s feisty martini-drinking, weed-smoking, country-running widow, Bitsy. Seriously, we need more Bitsy; she had the best line of the episode: “There’s a joint in my purse and it’s not going to smoke itself”. Hee. Also, Abby apparently has no name in this episode, since Fitz calls her either “bitch” or “Gabby” the whole time and Cyrus repeatedly refers to her as “Red” when he’s yelling at her to find out where “the leak” is coming from, because sleeping with Evil Ken Doll has turned Cyrus into a total idiot this season.
In the end of the episode montage, Al Green sings “Love & Happiness” as Cyrus courtesy of Abby, finally realizes he’s been played. Evil Ken Doll is totally going to die now. Huck has been playing video games this whole time with his kid and still hates Quinn despite the fact that her hair was really cute this episode. Quinn hits pay dirt with the blue locker she opens with the key from the dead girl's stomach and realizes “they’ve” been tracking Olivia, and Fitz decides to move Jake and his bloody eye to Super Max instead of giving him to Papa Pope, because you know, there’s hope. Olivia is swimming in the Olympic Pool again, all alone, when Papa Pope shows up demanding to know if she muddled in the whole Fitz-Jake affair. She lets him know she has powers he’ll “never have” and it’s clear she’s talking about her hoo-ha. Take that Papa Pope. Or actually, don’t because that would be weird, gross and also illegal.
"I definitely can’t stay inside of the lines anymore.”
:: “Hey,” she said lamely, leaning her back against the closed the door.
He didn’t respond immediately, just continued studying her, his expression unreadable. “You disappeared on me,” he finally said, breaking the awkward silence.
She bit her lip and looked away, releasing another breath. There wasn’t any disappointment or anger in his tone. He said it the same way you’d tell someone that the sky was blue. It was a fact. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“I…” she paused, looking down at her hands before pushing out a breath. “I didn’t mean to.”
She looked up at him again. His expression was still muted. He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. He finally broke their gaze and looked down at the floor, shaking his head slightly. His eyes were dark when he looked at her again.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he said, his voice low, causing her pulse to accelerate.
“You didn’t,” she answered immediately.
He got up and ran his hand over his head, pacing to the other side of her small living room.
“I’m sorry I didn’t answer your calls,” she said after a long minute. “I’m just… I’m scared.”
“Of what?” he asked. He stopped pacing and turned to look at her. She inhaled.
“Of losing you.” She exhaled and she felt embarrassment coursing through her but she didn’t look away.
His expression had shifted, and the ache she’d been experiencing the past couple of days was there, in his eyes.
“I’m not sure what this is, Brian,” she continued, waving a hand between them. “But it’s like, sudden. And new.”
“For you,” he said, meaningfully, staring at her. He was still standing at the far end of the room and walked over to the futon again, seating himself on the edge.
“What does that mean?” she asked, her heart thudding in her chest again.
“This,” he mimicked her earlier movement and waved a hand between them. “It’s new for you. Not for me.”
“Oh.” She bit her lip, studying the floor. That meant he’d been attracted to her for… how long? She looked up at him, her eyes questioning.
“I was trying to give you time to get used to the idea,” he answered. “But that didn’t work. Obviously.”
She felt like he was speaking in code.
“You mean you were trying to give me time to get used to the idea of us being attracted to each other?”
“I didn’t want to rush you,” he said, meeting her eyes. “I wanted for you to come to the conclusion on your own, I guess.”
“Come to the conclusion on my own?” she repeated, beginning to feel mentally challenged.
He sighed. “I knew you needed to be able to do that… and I didn’t want to push you. I wanted you to figure out that there’s more than just friendship between us on your own, in your own time.”
He hesitated and she bit her lip, her breath increasing as she looked at him uncharacteristically struggling to say the right words.
“But being around you and seeing you again…” he paused again, looking her directly in the eyes, “I have a hard time pretending like I don’t feel what I feel when I’m with you, Destiny. I definitely can’t stay inside of the lines anymore.”
•Better Than Okay by Jacinta Howard, Available Now- http://ow.ly/DdLgh