Tyler Perry's most famous character Madea is actually the least obnoxious part of his latest movie Madea's Witness Protection. Given that Madea is Perry in drag as an overweight gray-haired woman who delights in threatening people with violence this is pretty amazing.
The Madea movies aren't supposed to be nuanced character portraits they're Teachable Moments. In this case it's about shady businesses and Ponzi schemes — Bernie Madoff is even referred to by name. Although there's no doubt we're all feeling the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis and will be for some time to come Madoff isn't exactly breaking news any more. Perry also wants to have his cake and eat it too showing the greed and corruption of big companies while also offering at least one of the people at fault both the benefit of the doubt and a shot at redemption. None of it adds up and half of the movie is taken up by a tiresome group of snobs who deserve their comeuppance at the hands of Madea.
The Needlemans are a rich white family whose patriarch is inadvertently involved in a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. The mob is somehow involved — don't ask — so the Atlanta ADA Brian (also Perry) puts them up at the safest place he knows: his Aunt Madea's house. George played by Eugene Levy's eyebrows is such a schmuck that he had no idea he was being set up to take the fall or that the company he worked for was stealing millions of dollars from charities. Denise Richards plays his typically brittle and much younger housewife Kate whose main interests seem to be yoga ("yoda" in Madea-speak) and carbs. They both let George's daughter Cindy (Danielle Campbell) walk all over them and George and Kate's son Howie (Devan Leos) is the subject of many "fat loser"-type jokes. George's mother Barbara (Doris Roberts) is either senile or pretending to be or is just pilled out from all the Valium they give her; she's also a horny old broad that keeps making googly eyes at Joe (Madea's brother Brian's father and of course Tyler Perry in old man drag). Cindy is so awful that it's a relief when Madea lets loose on her even though it's a truly cruel prank that sets the girl straight. They are all totally boring and incredibly annoying so much so that any time Madea or even Joe appears it's a relief.
The other half of the Teachable Moments equation is Jake played by Romeo Miller. Jake was living a life of crime until he got straightened out and then his dad a sickly preacher played by John Amos trusted him with all the money to pay off the church mortgage. Unfortunately he invested it in a company in New York that's no longer answering their phones. Jake tries to hold up Madea for cash after she leaves the grocery store. She gives him a sound talking-to the gist of which is he should get a job and stop trying to rob old ladies who have worked hard all their life. (True!) However he's just trying to raise the money he lost investing in a company in New York the money his sick father gave him to pay off the church mortgage that's now lost. In case you can't follow the dots that would be the company George worked for that lost all the money for his dad's church leading him to a life of robbing little old ladies for pocket change. Besides the tragic waste of Amos Marla Gibbs plays a nosy neighbor for about half a minute.
Perry's writing shows a disturbing amount of cynicism if not downright meanness for a family movie. When Kate and Madea have a heart-to-heart about Cindy Kate confesses that Cindy thinks her dad cheated on her mom with Kate. Kate says "What kind of person do you think I am?" And Madea purrs sotto voice "A woman." There are also plenty of jokes about Madea's previous life as among other things a stripper especially in conjunction with her weight. (She had to use a telephone pole when she danced. Get it? 'Cause she's fat! Hah!) It's unfortunate that the spoof reel that plays after the credits is more entertaining than the movie itself -- even if those jokes include Charlie Sheen grabbing Madea's boobs Madea/Perry pranking room service about the bidet and Eugene Levy making prison rape jokes.
I was one of the few people who were impressed by Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls a well-intentioned attempt to bring the feminist experimental play by Ntozake Shange to life. That didn't compel me to seek out any of his other movies though so Madea's Witness Protection was my first foray into the franchise that's made him a very very rich and powerful man. The weirdness of Perry's vision is well-documented and he has fans across the board. Unfortunately I'm just one of them.
S11E4: Why do you have to make me look bad, American Idol? I was just writing the series’ praises, saying how it had ditched its gimmicky ways, eschewing the usual ridiculous spectacles for a few less-than talented but not obnoxious contestants. Enter the Aspen auditions, wherein all those praises are put to shame, but we’ll get to the main offender in a bit.
We begin in the snowy Colorado town with Ryan’s apparent goal to see how many references to the altitude he can possibly make in an hour. And to go along with that, all of our terrible contestants are paired with such high-minded overlapping images as thunderous avalanches when they fail to hit that high note, or a mooing cow when they’re just plain awful. Classy, Idol. Still, the judges managed to hand out 31 tickets by the end of the trip – even if there wasn’t a single contestant that really left an impression on me. Are we just getting restless while waiting for Hollywood Week or were the contestants really average this week?
“You may kiss the judge.” –Randy
This young music teacher may have had the chops, but she was still pretty grating. Everyone’s got to have their “thing” so she tells Ryan about her “list” (the celebs you can kiss and it’s not cheating list) and says that Ryan is on her boyfriend’s list. She asks for a kiss for her BF, but Ryan leaves her hanging and says there will be hugs on the other end. OUCH. Then she tells Steven about her list and he says she’d better be able to sing “good.” Double OUCH. It turns out she can actually sing; she does “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar; she’s a solid rocker chick, but nothing spectacular. She avoids the high notes, but they still give her a ticket – and Steven finally gives her that kiss. And no, it wasn't innappropriate or creepy - pipe down, overzealous naysayers.
“I’ve been singing since I was a young buck.” -Curtis Grey
If there’s one thing celebs hate, it’s people seeing them when they’ve still got sleep in their eyes and their hair is still standing on end. So if Curtis Grey ever gets famous as a result of his time on Idol, he’s going to have to demand that his intro footage is destroyed. We start out by meeting him via flip cam as he wakes up at the crack of dawn looking and sounding like a gremlin. And as the series moves on, he’ll be recognizable to at least those of us dedicated enough to watch every episode of Idol, because he sings with character, and an almost Boyz II Men flair. He’s going to Hollywood, obviously.
And now for the rapid fire Hollywood-bound contestants that I feel compelled to mention since one was pretty great, one was a maniac, and one was the second coming of Scotty McCreery.
Richie Law Age 19 This young guy garners smiles and emphatic “yeses” and “yeahs” from the judges, and truthfully he’s a good singer. It’s just too bad he auditioned the year after Scotty McCreery, because he sounds just like last year's champion and Idol ain’t big enough for the two of them. Devan Jones Age 26 This guy has an almost Seal-like quality, very natural, no need for little flourishes or embellishments. He’s just got a pure, great voice. Mathenee Treco Age 25 This guy is obviously a dance instructor, judging by the physical performance he pairs with his singing. His rendition of “Hey Jude” is a little over-the-top, but to be fair, he’s into it and he’s not shy about it. Plus he’s got the voice to back it up. So he can pull it off.
“Why hello, dog.” –Randy Tealana Hedgespeth Age 19 And now we get our first “sob story.” It’s a tale of one twin’s fear of being inferior to her sister, citing times when she was younger and her friends would tell her how talented her sister was. “It sucks,” she so eloquently explains. And that’s why she’s on Idol - to outshine her sister. She tries to start out with a joke, telling Randy he can call her “dawg,” but he apparently doesn’t get it because he blatantly calls her “dog” like he’s really unaware of his own catch phrases. While Tealana tries to sing (and fails) Steven and JLo giggle like sugar-high school girls, eventually trying to make up for being mean girls by telling her how cute she is while simultaneously telling her she didn’t make it. Sure, it’s mean that Idol pushed her through just to humiliate her, but her entire family is there, couldn’t they have like encouraged her to do anything else? That’s pretty cruel too. “You’re right out of my era, and I’m honored to be here listening to your voice.” –Steven Haley Smith Age 18 And now we have not a sob story, but a simple story of being someone who works hard and can actually sing. You’d think we’d see more of that, but well-rounded doesn’t always sell. Haley has three jobs, one of which is making sausage even though she’s a vegetarian, but when she sings, we’re not worrying about how she possibly fits all those shifts into her schedule. Everything, from her almost-stoned way of speaking to her 70s get-up and singing style screams flower child. She does “Tell Me Something Good” and puts a singer-songwriter spin on it, showcasing her smoky, character-filled voice. The judges love it and she gets a golden ticket. She’s almost refreshingly real, but say goodbye to this notion now, because Haley is the last sign of reality we’ll see this episode. ”Have you eaten those prairie oysters?” –Steven Alanna Snare Age 22 This girl may have come up with the lamest “it” factor in recent Idol memory: she’s a bartender at bar that’s famous for Rocky Mountain Oysters, a.k.a. bull testicles. And miraculously, they manage to talk about this the ENTIRE time. That is, until the girl butchers “Jolene” and they overlay her auditions with never-ending cow sounds. You could have at least used an actual bull, guys. She obviously doesn’t get a ticket. ”I love that song too, but somebody’s really gotta sing it.” –Jennifer Shelby Twenten Age 17 And here’s the obligatory dose of adorable. Shelby and her cute little Minnesotan accent explain that American Idol has helped her deal with her bi-polar disorder. I worry a bit that potentially being famous could ignite the side effects of her condition, but then again, it’s her dream. And when she sings, you know she deserves a shot. She’s got a strong country voice, and a good range. Her version of “Temporary Home” showcases her sweet, slight rasp. The judges love her and she goes through to Hollywood. ”You’re a lover.” –Jennifer Jairon Jackson Age 19 Alright, so this guy’s original song wasn’t some cheesy pandering jingle like these things usually are, but did Randy and Jennifer have to praise it so highly? He’s a descent singer who sounds like the definition of a generic post-2010 R&B singer and his song didn’t completely blow, but it’s just a typical tune. He makes it through, but I’m guessing his success will be short-lived. “People call me Lady Gaga sometimes when I’m walking down the street.” –Angie Zeiderman Angie Zeiderman Age 25 While this girl is no Lady Gaga – and claiming that in any capacity is just asking for viewers to hate her – she is likable in her own unique way. The judges love her eccentric look, with her purple hair and cute flower dress. She starts off with an aerobic performance of “If You Got It, Flaunt It” from Gypsy. While they should be voting, this starts an argument between Randy and Jennifer because he hates Broadway style singing and complains that it employs “that vibrato that I hate.” JLo says he has to admit Angie’s talented and asks her to sing another song. When singing normally, she has a sweet tone, and she’s fun, albeit a little delusional. This completely changes Randy’s mind and they all send her through. “No one talks to me because I’m frightening and I look homeless.” –Magic Cyclops Magic Cyclops Age Unknown because this guy is a nutjob Finally, Idol gives me – and apparently Randy – reason to lose my mind. After three episodes of good behavior, the series dips back into its tired gimmick well to present this joke of a character from Iowa with a mind-blowingly terrible fake British accent. He wears long 70s locks, an American flag t-shirt, sunglasses and headscarf that says “Magic” in cartoon letters while boasting about his lack of hygiene and his air guitar collection. Seriously, why do we let these staged performances go on? He should have been an aside between legitimate auditions. He gets actual audition time and gives the judges a choice: Neil Diamond or “James Buffet” (buff-ay) and he means Jimmy Buffet (Buff-ett), but Randy doesn’t get it. (Probably because he doesn’t care.) We won’t waste time talking about how he sang – if you really want more, use your googling skills and find his Twitter and website. I’m not doing it for you out of self-respect, though I do know both of those things exist because I've shamefully seen both of them. To end the episode, Randy is enraged by this nonsense and storms off to the bathroom, asking “what is this s**t?” Yeah, we’re tired of it too. Let’s hope that’s the last we have to see of this drivel. Who was your favorite contestant from Aspen? Or did you think they weren’t all that memorable too? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The Simple Life star has linked to the official website of little Devan, four, who is facing a race against time to find a donor so that he can undergo a potentially life-saving operation.
And Hilton has reached out to her online followers to help him.
In a heartfelt post, she writes, "Hey guys, 4 yr-old Devan has leukaemia. Looking for bone marrow donors www.matchdevan.com. Please help."