YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION
Leaving for the theater to see SPARKLE, the boyfriend wrinkled up his nose. "Is that that Dreamgirls remake?" he asked rhetorically. He doesn't care about movies (...I know!) so I just said "yes" rather than getting into it. Sparkle, like Dreamgirls before it, does pair an "American Idol" alum in her big screen debut (Jordin Sparks / Jennifer Hudson) with a genuine legend (Whitney / Beyoncé) to tell the story of a troubled female pop trio in 1960s Detroit attempting to make it big as Motown explodes. But the similarities are cosmetic. (Which is not, unfortunately, to Sparkle's benefit. If you're going to load up your screenplay with familiar clichés, rob from superior work!)
The immediate jarring difference between the two films is first noticeable in the Jennifer/Jordin throughline. In both stories the biggest talent of the trio has to play second fiddle to "the hot one" but only in the earlier property does the Major Talent bristle mesmerizingly against her runner-up status; Jordin's "Sparkle" is a willing wallflower, happy to let her sister (the crazy gorgeous Carmen Ejogo) sing all of her songs whilst shimmering in the warmth of the spotlight. Sparkle's sister's name is "Sister" and their group is called "Sister and Her Sisters" and the men competing dramatically for their hands (that's a euphemism for vaginas) are named "Stix" (Derek Luke) and "Satin" (Mike Epps). So any moviegoer with a sybilant "S" should avoid all discussions of the movie.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...
The first few reels are all about setting up the game pieces. Sister and Her Sisters have obvious talent which the men in their life hope to either showcase or exploit, depending on how you read the performances. (Derek Luke in particular keeps you guessing about which it is for Stix and suggests that the man himself doesn't even always know when he's romancing Sparkle.) The first hour is somewhat bland with repetition but scene-stealing cameos from the late Whitney Houston as their very strict bible-studies mama, offer lively punctuation. You don't have to be a great screen actor to have camera-seizing charisma, and Sparkle knows just how and when to use Whitney. Her late film solo of the gospel classic "His Eye is On The Sparrow" is tough to take in some ways what with her raw staccato delivery in such contrast to her vocal legend (this is the same woman who held that note for that long on The Bodyguard soundtrack?) but no matter; it works for the movie and every single Whitney scene energized the crowded theater. It's almost like every single ticket buyer was there for one reason only.
Once Sister brings Satin home to meet Mama during Sunday dinner, Sparkle the movie steps up its game. The dinner sequence is compelling in every way that counts for this movie: complex familial dynamics, racially charged politics, and the tug of war between spirituality and sexuality. But just as the movie steps up its game it throws away the game board insisting on being both a terrible movie and a good one simultaneously for the final hour.
For every sharply acted sequence like that abbreviated Sunday dinner, there are sequences where the actors just can't act their way out of the cardboard clichés (Jordin Sparks in particular has trouble. She doesn't actively embarrass herself but the most generous thing one might say in terms of screen acting is "adequate.") For every piece of smart direction like one static overhead shot of Mama walking Sister right out of her house (richer in feeling than a series of generic closeups would have been), there are moments where the director Salim Akil just loses control of his camera altogether --most noticeably in two violent climaxes which had the audience I saw the movie with laughing with each use of slo-mo or weirdly affected 'This is A Violent Climax Score!' For every beautiful visual touch like a moment in the Jordin's "One Wing" song finale in which the dazzling hard reds of Sparkle's form-hugging gown are backgrounded by soft pink backup girl dresses which are themselves backgrounded by warmly lit white robes of a full gospel choir, there are plentiful bizarre or incoherent visual choices especially the movie's on again off again attempts at 1960s period. When Sparkle takes the stage for her concert finale it's almost as if they've left a time machine subplot on the cutting room floor because we're definitely not in the 1960s -- the filmmakers aren't even pretending anymore.
Finally, Sparkle proves herself no Dreamgirl with the lack of any showstopping performance. That's a difficult weakness to overcome in a movie musical. Still, there's so much rage and struggle permeating Sparkle's best performances (Carmen Ejogo taking top honors) and mother/daughter scenes that the movie almost works. But Sparkle just keeps making Sparkle duller. The bombastic uplift of the finale leaves a falsely bland aftertaste, like you've chased a brutal breakthrough therapy session with a handful of Disney Branded Anti Depressants. Shut out the pain. Replace it with big meaningless vocal runs ["Text 1 (866) IDOLS 06 to vote for Jordin Sparks!"] and a blazingly white perma-smile that never falters no matter what the singer is singing about.
What was she singing about again?
Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.
Have civil liberties you're not using? Turn 'em into cash, AFTER THE JUMP ...
Brian Moylan, late of Gawker, teaches Guardian readers how to be gay:
Everyone used to know to glance over your shoulder after three steps if you were interested in that sexy stranger on the sidewalk. There was a complex network of looks and signals that men used to use to attract each other, something that made gay men much more attuned to body language and perceptive than our straight counterparts. Learn how to do that. Not only will it improve your gay experience, but the way you interact with everyone. Street cruising is mostly dead – no, it can't be done on Grindr – but a trip to a bath house will teach you all you ever need to know.
The AP recaps the volleys of recrimination following the FRC shooting.
Moscow Pride deferred for a century.
In Britain, Tory support for marriage equality may cost them at the polls:
Almost six out of 10 people who attend [church] services regularly say they are less likely to vote Conservative at the next election because of the plans to redefine marriage.
More than a third of those polled said it had no effect on whether they would support the Conservatives but most of them would never vote for the party anyway.
Support among churchgoers for Labour and the Liberal Democrats was also damaged by their stance on the marriage question but the biggest impact by far was on the Conservatives.
... Gary Streeter, the Tory MP for Devon South West and a committed Christian, said: “Whatever the merits or demerits of the policy it is not smart politics.”
Russian clerics forgive Pussy Riot:
"We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities." Archpriest Maxim Kozlov expressed similar sentiments on state television, but insisted that the church hopes the women and their supporters see the errors in their ways.
The words from the two top clerics came after the church reiterated its criticism of the women but called “on the state authorities to show mercy to the people convicted within the framework of the law, in the hope that they will refrain from repeating blasphemous actions." The remarks were widely seen as an indication that the powerful church would not object if the government moved to pardon the women or reduced their two-year sentences, points out Reuters.
Octomom is now a musician.
Craving something nasty? Read some of these epic takedowns, courtesy of Longform.org. My favorite's the Peter Bart story.
Bill Cunningham says farewell to Anna Piaggi.
In an interview for the forthcoming issue of Fortune Magazine, Mitt Romney explained (finally!) some specific things he'd do as president of the United States. Some of his plans were excellent, though outside the actual bounds of presidential power. (Presidents cannot, say, single-handedly will an American return to industrial dominance.) Presidents really do have extraordinary control over the United States' federal budget, however, so it's worth taking Mitt seriously when he says:
... there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs -- the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.
At WashPo, Ezra Klein why this won't actually save very much money, though it'll certainly delight math-impaired deficit hawks.
SB 1172, the bill currently kicking around the California legislature that would outlaw the administration of "reparative therapy" to children, is likely to move to the full assembly next week. If the houses can agree on the bill's wording, it'll head to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who either will or won't sign it sometime in September. It's a story worth watching.
FOX News has certainly been paying attention. They've published a pretty good overview of the story so far -- though, being FOX, they do include an unnecessary number of paragraphs like this one:
"[The law] unconstitutionally prohibits speech…violates privacy and personal autonomy rights, intermeddles in theological disputes, clashes with other laws and creates significant unintended consequences," Matt McReynolds, a staff attorney with Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, said.
A lot of people are agog over the bill, and none moreso than the "Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays" (PFOX), who've penned an open letter to State Sen. Ted Lieu (right), the architect of SB 1172, to cease promoting his "harmful, anti-family bill." Speaking to the Christianist website OneNewsNow, PFOX's Executive Director, Regina Griggs, defended coercive reparative therapy for minors by saying:
If you look at the CDC report kids 13-24, youth who have been diagnosed by HIV increased by 44 percent ... Of those people ages 13-24 that were diagnosed by the CDC, 89 percent was attributed to men having sex with men. I don't think 13-year-olds are grown-ups. I don't consider them men; they are children. Talk about endangering children. He's talking about denying them help so they become trapped in a relationship that is increasing, constantly subjecting them to a possibility of AIDS, of which there is no cure.
Ms. Griggs, it is safe to assume, does not have a background in statistics.
Incidentally, PFOX recently publicly excoriated Exodus International, once America's premier organization of de-gayers, for their softening stance on the rights of gays to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This was after Exodus updated its "Policy Statements" webpage to read, in part:
... we stand with the LGBT community both in spirit, and when necessary, legally and physically, when violence rears it’s head in Uganda, Jamaica or anywhere else in the world.
PFOX characterized this assertion as "supporting sodomy rights elsewhere in the world," a development it called "troubling."
What occasioned the corrupt old shaman's suggestion was a letter, read aloud on the air by co-host Kristi Watts, from a woman expressing frustration about her dating difficulties, which she believed stemmed from her having adopted three young girls from different countries. Kristi Watts was sympathetic. Robertson was less so. The Christian Post has transcribed Robertson's remarks:
"A man doesn't want to take on the United Nations, and a woman has all these various children, blended family, what is it – you don't know what problems there are. I'm serious. I've got a dear friend, an adopted son, a little kid from an orphanage down in Columbia. Child had brain damage, grew up weird. And you just never know what's been done to a child before you get that child. What kind of sexual abuse has been, what kind of cruelty, what kind of food deprivation, etc. etc." the televangelist said.
Robertson continued: "You don't have to take on somebody else's problems. You really don't. You can help people – we administer to orphans all over the world, we love helping people. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to take all the orphans around the world into my home.
Russell Moore, the massively influential Evangelical writer and dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offered a swift and -- in the very best sense of the word -- Christian rebuke:
I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.
Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.
... The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years ... For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.
Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned ...
And he didn't, according to Robertson's Bible, even though the kid might've turned out "weird."
Robertson, aghast at and unused to being called "of the devil," promptly issued an apology:
Today, on live television, I misstated my heartfelt dedication and commitment to helping orphans. For decades, I have supported adoption, and have helped tens of thousands of children worldwide.
I wanted to say, but it didn’t come out the way I intended, that adoption is not for everyone.
The mother of three adopted children, who wrote in about her boyfriend’s issue with her children, did a wonderful, unselfish act to adopt and I respect her immensely. Yet, adoption might not be a fit for her boyfriend. If that is the case, she needs to find someone who better shares her passion for adoption.
Adoptive parents are taking on enormous responsibility, both emotionally and financially. Quite frankly, they need as much disclosure as possible about the child’s background and health to assure the best fit and be prepared.
In answering the letter writer, this is what I meant to say. If any doubt remains, I ask you to please look at what I’ve done over the years to help orphans.
In a report published Thursday and publicized in Ukraínskaya Pravda, the Commission identifies several cartoons and children's entertainments, SpongeBob among them, which encourage the "destruction of the family, and the promotion of drugs and other vices." SpongeBob's gay, anime's sexist, and The Simpsons, Family Guy, Fururama and The Teletubbies are just rotten.
EITB has provided a helpful partial translation of the Pravda article:
According to Irina Medvédeva, a psychologist quoted in the study, children aged between 3 and 5 years, after being exposed to such series, “pull faces and make jokes in front of adults they don’t know, laugh out loud and repeat nonsense phrases in a brazen manner.”
The report goes on to say that “The Teletubbies deliberately aims to create subnormal (men), who spend all day in front of the television with their mouths open swallowing all types of information,” behaviour which, it claims, complies with the “psychology of losers”.
The Commission is may soon propose a Ukraine-wide ban on some or all of these entertainments. As Andy reported last month, Ukrainian lawmakers are also currently considering a St. Petersburg-style ban on pro-gay "propaganda."