No one can ever fill legendary singer Nina Simone's shoes, so whoever was going to play her in an inevitable biopic had a daunting, if not impossible task to begin with. No matter who was going to be cast would be faced with the questions of, "Can she sing like Nina?" (probably not), "Does she look enough like Nina?" (probably not), "Can she capture the essence of a woman who was a pivotal, important entertainer and figure during the 60s and throughout history?" (probably not).
Actress Zoe Saldana already had the chips stacked against her when she signed on to play the "My Baby Just Cares For Me" crooner, but the backlash was almost immediate. When it was announced that the 34-year-old Star Trek star would take the lead in Nina, a film that chronicles the life and legacy of Simone, there was fury around the Internet that Saldana — a woman of Domincan and Puerto Rican descent — should not be playing the iconic African American artist. (Mary J. Blige was originally attached to the project, but dropped out).
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From an online petition to "replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone" (to date, it has over 10,000 supporters) to blog posts calling out Hollywood for giving a "mainstream look" for its black stars, it looked as though Nina (which is being brought to the big screen by Cynthia Mort and also stars David Oyelowo) and Saldana, especially, was becoming a symbol for everything the cultural icon Simone stood against.
Even Simone's own daughter had reservations about the decision, telling Ebony, "As an actress I respect her process, but I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother. The one actress that I've had in my heart for a very long time, whose work I'm familiar with already, is Kimberly Elise. Many people have spoken to me about Viola [Davis]. I love her look. I love her energy. Both of the actresses that I've mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft. I also have no problem introducing someone we've never heard of before who can play my mother."
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Saldana, who graces the cover of the May issue of Latina magazine, opened up about the controversy surrounding her casting. Saldana, who said in the cover story interview that the negative response has had an impact on her, plainly stated: "The reality is that nobody knows the story as to why this collaboration came to be — nobody knows the full story — and at the end of the day all I’m going to say is that every person that is a part of this project came together for no other reason than the unconditional love for Nina Simone’s music, her persona, her life, what she did, what she left for us, what her music still continues to do not only to women, but to Americans, and African Americans, and also people of color, just everything. On all spectrums, Nina Simone’s story is worth telling and with the members that it came to be, like it’s just…you have to give it a chance."
Of course, even with the online scrutiny, Hollywood will likely still have her side on this one, in the end: look no further than controversial casting decisions like Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kinglsey in Gandhi for evidence of that. The actress — who also opens up in the piece about her alleged post-Avatar mental breakdown ("That was completely blown out of proportion") — added that the naysayers should "Watch it and then make up your mind" and that she has "no regrets" about making the film and how the long-in-the-works project took shape.
[Photo credit: Latina Magazine]
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.