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Cardi B Is the Red Hot Boss Bitch of the Pop Moment

Around 10 p.m. at her release party Thursday night in New York’s meatpacking district, Cardi B inhabited her role as Boss Bitch of the Pop Moment with endearing sass and insouciant verve. Swinging a luxuriant blonde ponytail above a tailored white-lace dress jacket, the 25-year-old rapper, who only two years ago parlayed a notorious Instagram feed into a breakout role on Love & Hip Hop New York, introduced each of the new tracks from her major-label debut in between sly callouts to haters and shout-outs to fans. A blur of impromptu gesticulation, she flawlessly lip-synched her rhymes as they played, prompting protective label reps to stop audience members from recording her direct to YouTube.

One of the most eagerly anticipated major-label debuts in years, Invasion of Privacy was preceded by too many quality independent releases for anyone to believe it would be bad. Even before the pop chart–topping success of last year’s “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B’s work — online, on cable TV, on stage, and on record — had been too consistent for any but the most hardened or clueless cynics to underestimate her potential. Favorable early comparisons to Lil’ Kim ignored how she evoked other distaff pioneers, including the raw spunk of Sha-Rock, the succinct flippancy of Salt ’N Pepa, the hardness of MC Lyte, and the relaxed authority of Queen Latifah. When Atlantic released “Bodak Yellow” last June, Cardi B’s trajectory toward stardom was already in place, built on mixtapes, guest performances, online videos, and pure charisma. By October, she was up for nine BET Hip-Hop Awards and had the number one single on the Billboard Hot 100.  

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To her credit, Belcalis “Cardi B” Almanzar made an album she herself would want to buy, and as a result Invasion of Privacy abounds with equal parts true grit and potential hits. She admits that the material here slants more commercial in sound and subject matter than she might prefer, but is quick to assure you it’s all part of a bigger plan. Don’t let her cusswords fool you; Cardi is a brave, smart, determined, industrious tyro. A hood superhero. A drive-or-die bitch. If you already own Gangsta Bitch Music, Vols. 1 & 2 then you know all this. As she told you on “Sauce Boyz”, she never defrosts. “Bronx Season” (lead track on 2017’s Vol. 2) is the unapologetic autobiographical statement that vindicates every drop of love her larger-than-life personality extracts from her loyal followers.

A line like “How much times do I got to prove these niggas wrong,” might seem like a yen for external validation until you realize Cardi’s so confident she doesn’t really care what anybody else thinks. “Get Up 10,” the lead track on Invasion of Privacy, picks up where “Bronx Season” and “Bodak Yellow” leave off. It’s the continuation of the historical novel of Cardi’s life; a spooky psychological memoir that explains her determination to prove all doubters wrong while simultaneously laughing and popping off in their faces. The hook, “Knock me down nine times, but I get up ten” is no brag, just fact for all the tough urban strivers she represents. A frequent adolescent runaway with gang affiliations who nonetheless finished high school and briefly went to college between earning on a stripper pole, she’s not soft, she’s not stupid, fearful, or dependent on anyone but herself. Hers is the kind of female energy recent #MeToo warriors really want to channel but somehow can’t seem to own.

The genius of Cardi launching Invasion of Privacy after her 2016–2017 stint on VH-1’s Love & Hip Hop New York, is that she used her time with the show in the most strategic way possible. Zany onscreen antics helped immortalize her Instagram persona, but she used those two seasons of reality television to set up her mixtapes, pump up her social media following, and facilitate her indie-label’s fifteen-city tour. One might say that this 25-year-old ’round the way girl has improved upon the Paris Hilton and Kim K. methods of celebrity advancement. “I want a certain type of respect,” she confided on the Breakfast Club. And if the past three years of stellar collaborations, talk show appearances, and awards-show nods are any indication, she is willing to work her ass off to get it.

Shrewdly interpolating lines from Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” into the current single “Be Careful,” Cardi reminds us she not only drops bars but can also sing. Although it’s clear she alludes to Hill as a form of homage rather than demanding comparison, one can imagine Cardi B as a more Millie Jackson-ish version of Hill, fertilized by the cautionary tales of Amy Winehouse and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes. After collaborating in 2017 with the Migos on “MotorSport,” and performing alongside Bruno Mars on his remix of “Finesse,” Cardi B successfully bridged the two poles of hip-hop credibility and paved the way for the range of material on Invasion of Privacy.

From the aggressive bounce of “Get Up 10” to the sultry melancholy of “Ring,” Cardi migrates easily from classic trap and Fugees-style hip-pop, to bachata-meets-boogaloo hybrids. She rides with reggaeton greats Bad Bunny and J. Balvin on the Spanglish party record “I Like It,” and keeps pace with guest crooners like SZA and Kehlani on melodic downtempo tracks like “I Do” and “Ring.” The influence of genre-bending releases from Beyoncé and Solange make even moody odes to heartbreak want to percolate with polyrhythmic swing. While Chance the Rapper taps into Cardi’s lesser-known spiritual side by injecting Christian optimism into the song “Best Life,” it doesn’t stop her from bringing us sex and pornography with tracks like “She Bad” and “Bartier Cardi.”

People now talk about the rise of Latino trap as if crunk didn’t blend with reggaeton and dancehall way back when Lil Jon was working with Pitbull. If you draw lines of evolution between the subgenres of Miami bass, crunk, and trap music, you find one common denominator that particularly typifies Southern and Southeast corridor hip-hop: Each produces defiant party music rooted in a non-white cultural reality (simultaneously grim and glorious) that insists — with a militant rhythmic attitude — upon self-affirmation, no matter what. No matter how dark the lyrical content, all three styles command you to dance, offering an almost ritualized opportunity to liberate your ass with the hope that your mind will eventually follow. And as Cardi B, Ginuwine, and Luther Campbell can tell you, all three drew inspiration and commercial momentum from the world of strip clubs. “Bickenhead” is Cardi B’s salute to the Dirty South via allusions to the 2001 single “Chickenhead” by Memphis artist Project Pat. Fast and feisty, it’s a showcase for an artist willing and able to embrace all of rap’s regional histories. Judging by her eclectic taste and sense of humor, Cardi B seems to be a unifier by nature. She manages to avoid high-profile feuds with fellow female MCs by generalizing her disputes: Lyrics mostly accuse “them bitches” and “these hoes” without naming names. It’s enough for Cardi that the guilty know who they are.

Even Cardi’s detractors can’t deny the palpable strength of will that makes these tracks vibrate with personality. Cardi convincingly morphs from battle rapper to shrewd business woman to vengeful girlfriend. Her carefully slurred intonation and pronounced accent shifts implied meaning, which injects ambiguity and subtlety into lines about sex and violence that might otherwise be taken too literally (or not literally enough). She sells all of this not only because of what she says, but how she says it.

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In her multi-culti fluidity, Cardi comes across like a wonderfully bizarre amalgam of Lil’ Kim, La Lupe, and Keny Arkana — a pretty unexpected fusion that carves out ample territory in which to grow her talent without competing in any direct way with Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj, Princess Nokia, Ivy Queen, or the many other current, recurrent, and future rap divas. In fact, the most relevant comparison I can remember to Cardi B as a catalytic force in the music industry may be Roxanne Shanté, whose debut single “Roxanne’s Revenge” shook up the rap game in the mid-1980s. It was Shanté, along with Queen Latifah, who first overturned existing gender inequalities by becoming a female boss of her respective crew, as seen on the new Netflix biopic Roxanne Roxanne.

What I like to remember about Cardi B is that she was a professional entertainer — yes, a stripper — and a TV star long before Atlantic Records begged to sign her. In that 1990s Mickey Mouse Club sense of multimedia grooming, this petit entrepreneur of Trinidadian and Dominican extraction had more going for her as a debut recording artist than any random Orlando-bred Britney- or Justin-come-lately.

And let’s stop sneering at strippers, shall we? I can name successful rock stars, filmmakers, a former member of the Voice’s copy department, and the president of a groundbreaking record label who all did time in exotic dance clubs. Moving through that world (as Eve, Amber Rose, Channing Tatum, and Diablo Cody can attest) prepares those clever enough not to get old on the pole for — as Cardi might put it — bigger money moves. 

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Sisterhood Is Powerful — and Pugnacious — in “Girls Trip”

Truth in advertising: Girls trip hard during their New Orleans getaway in Girls Trip, which maybe doesn’t need that possessive apostrophe after all. Malcolm D. Lee’s comedy, written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver — the same creative team behind last year’s uneven Barbershop: The Next Cut — pops with next-level ribaldry and smack talk, especially in its first half. But in the remaining hour, the laughs arrive less often as the gender politics grow weirder.

The Big Easy–bound women are four friends from college (class of ’95), so tight that they gave themselves an enduring sobriquet: the Flossy Posse. Each pal is sketched out in the obligatory decade-spanning, coiffure-changing montage, with some biographies more detailed than others. Dina (Tiffany Haddish), the quartet’s most libidinous and short-fused member — “It’s chlamydia, y’all! That shit is treatable,” she rejoices to her devoted crew in a clinic lobby sometime during the Clinton administration — has just been sacked from an unspecified office job after socking a co-worker for stealing her Go-Gurt. Divorced several years ago, Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) currently leads a sexless, virtuous life as a nurse and overly attached mom. Once a rising star in legacy media, Sasha (Queen Latifah) now runs a gossip site and dodges overdue bills. And Ryan (Regina Hall), the film’s occasional narrator and author of the bestseller You Can Have It All, is about to expand the already flourishing self-help brand she created with her charismatic ex-NFLer husband, Stewart (Mike Colter).

Speaking of brand: The Flossy Posse reunion in the Crescent City is occasioned by Ryan’s invitation to give the keynote address at Essence Fest, an annual music celebration sponsored by the magazine that’s been held in New Orleans since 1994. Much of Girls Trip was filmed at last summer’s event, and the egregious corporate synergy fatigues a little. Fleeting scenes of New Edition, Maxwell, MC Lyte, Mariah Carey, and other WBLS staples onstage, not to mention other, non-singing luminaries such as Ava DuVernay, clutter the movie, as does the incessant product placement of Ciroc (for which Sean Combs, who also appears here, coincidentally or not, serves as an actual brand ambassador). Why cut away to high-end vodka or a lyric or two of “Ascension” when it means less time with Haddish, the filthy, intransigent, furiously funny supernova of Girls Trip?

The venom with which Dina spits out “place of work,” a banal expression she mocks even further by putting it in spiky air quotes while she’s being fired, never loses its potency. Thrown out of a luxe NOLA hotel for brandishing a broken bottle at Stewart, whose infidelities with Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), an “Instagram ho,” Dina has just learned about, the fiercely loyal friend does some IRL Yelping: “That place is haunted. A ghost tried to fuck me,” she warns passersby outside the four-star lodging’s entrance, just one of a multitude of unhinged, X-rated scenarios that Haddish can make seem all too possible with her laser-precise timing and riotously indignant delivery.

Though Haddish’s character gobbles up the most jokes, her co-stars — two of them, anyway — also kill. With icy, annihilating elegance, Ryan schools her black-slang-abusing Caucasian agent (Kate Walsh); Pinkett Smith brings a limber appeal — and an always-game willingness for toilet humor — to Lisa’s predictable transformation from an uptight scold, bedecked in sex-repelling granny skirts, to young-stud magnet.

As for Queen Latifah, usually the brightest force in anything she’s in, the performer is strangely recessive here — a combination, perhaps, of a long-established star gallantly ceding the spotlight to Haddish’s ascendant cutup and a patchily written part. While Dina and Lisa indulge in deeper levels of debauchery and Ryan negotiates both her business deals and her marriage, Sasha doesn’t do much more than hold a selfie stick up high and disparage TMZ.

The Queen still has terrific chemistry with Pinkett Smith, with whom she last co-starred in F. Gary Gray’s Set It Off (1996), featuring another all-distaff African-American foursome. That rightly worshipped action movie is affectionately, if strenuously, saluted here, as the Flossy Posse, sporting the wigs and sunglasses worn by Gray’s bank-robbing band, enters a dive bar. (For those who may not get the reference, more aid is on the way: Dina rallies her pals with “Come on, bitches. Let’s set it off.” Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah nod and smile in recognition.)

The acknowledgment is cute — but counterproductive. Across the room, the women spot Simone and her crew. There’s a brief dance battle (which I’m always a sucker for), followed by a nasty, prolonged melee, a tangle of female fists slugging female faces. The brawl is defiling, as is a segment in which Ryan seems to blame her biology for her spouse’s straying. Sparked by the shout-out to Set It Off in Lee’s movie, I thought of what those lawless women were fighting: a corrupt, racist system. In Girls Trip, a comedy about female camaraderie and uplift, the enemy that must be rooted out is another woman.

Girls Trip
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Universal Pictures
Opens July 21

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Queen Latifah Didn’t Come Out After All

Remember when it was announced that Queen Latifah was going to play a gay event in Long Beach and everyone started shrieking that this meant the woman had come out?

I seized the opportunity to weigh in with the sense that this might be a teeny tiny act of inching out a wittle bit–or it might just be another paying gig.

Well, guess what?

It was just another paying gig.

She wasn’t coming out–AT ALL!

Latifah explains that she has never dealt with her pesonal life and she never will.

Gee, isn’t it heartwarming to know that a major star has decided that her lesbianism is completely off limits when it comes to on-the-record discussions through eternity?

With so many celebs coming out, Latifah publicly cementing her glass-closet status is a bizarre act of defiance.

But on the bright side, she certainly didn’t say, “I did not come out because I’m not gay!”

Her shtick is to be gay but not say so, and I guess we’re going to have to deal with it.

And my way of dealing with it might be to go to her next gig and scream, “Yay, lesbian!”

Now which way is Long Beach?

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Is Nothing Sacred? Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, Sullied, in Joyful Noise

A holy hot mess of the sacred and the inane, Joyful Noise, about a small-town Southern gospel choir, lifts from Usher’s “Yeah!” to give us this inspirational lyric: “Now God and I are the best of homies.”

The film is Jesus for Gleeks—no surprise, since writer-director Todd Graff’s first movie, Camp (2003), which tracks the dramas of a bunch of junior show-tune queens, presaged the popular Fox TV series. Speaking of camp, the diva battle teased in the trailer for Joyful Noise between its two stars, Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton (in her first major movie role in two decades), flatlines, as do most of the movie’s jokes. Less Bible-thumping than, say, a Tyler Perry project, Joyful Noise is still on an ecumenical outreach mission, its gags overshadowed by its focus on weightier, bluntly shoehorned-in subjects, like economic calamity and Asperger’s syndrome.

Pacashau, Georgia, where every home and local franchise seems to have a (repeatedly cut-to) “For Sale” or “Going Out of Business” sign, pins the little hope it has left on the Divinity Church’s multiracial choir, once again in the semifinals for a national gospel competition. After the opening-scene death of the singing group’s leader, Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson, appearing mainly as a specter), the pastor (Courtney B. Vance) appoints Vi Rose (Latifah) to replace him, ruffling G.G. (Parton), Bernard’s widow and the church’s main benefactor. Brooking no sass, righteous Vi Rose works as a nurse to support her two teenage kids—Olivia (Keke Palmer), also in the choir, and Walter (Dexter Darden), whose difficulty in social interactions manifests itself in hiding behind sunglasses and spouting off his encyclopedic knowledge of one-hit wonders—while her husband is stationed hundreds of miles away on an army base. Vi Rose insists the choir stick with traditional arrangements, “traditional” a term broad enough to encompass Olivia’s repurposing of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” as an ode to Him. The secular and the ecclesiastical further mix when G.G.’s grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan, an Efron-esque annoyance), kicked out of his mom’s house in New York, dons a purple robe in Pacashau to sing Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Latifah and Parton, two effortlessly charismatic performers on-screen, are pleasing enough matriarchs, doing their best when forced to deliver nonsensical mouthfuls as country wisdom. “There’s always free cheese in the mousetrap, but trust me—the mice there aren’t happy,” Vi Rose threatens one of Olivia’s would-be suitors. Her warnings to Randy once he starts smooching her daughter sound even loopier, though these rebukes are preferable to her potted consolation when her son asks why “God made me this way.”

Latifah, who executive-produced, at least has a somewhat rousing rejoinder in the film’s final third, demanding the respect owed her, as a selfless provider forced to take a second job, by the increasingly insolent Olivia. Parton, however, is stuck with corn like “Trying to fool me is like trying to sneak sunrise past a rooster.” (The country-music legend also takes several digs about her ghastly plastic surgery; her willingness to be made fun of does not make looking at her any less traumatic.)

The climactic sing-off is gaudy, Vegas-style maximalist mega-church entertainment, more piled on top of more, kicked off by a real gospel star (Karen Peck) who looks like Paula Deen as styled by Callista Gingrich. The Pacashau choir’s number is an ungodly medley, and there is now a special place reserved in hell for those responsible for making Parton sing a few lines of Chris Brown’s “Forever.” Jesus wept. So will you.

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‘Addams Family’ Star: This Show Has Been Shat Upon!

Broadway funny lady Jackie Hoffman is furious about the eight months of obsessive critical abuse that has been flung at The Addams Family, in which she plays salty, weed-smoking, burnt-out Grandma. But she also seems a little pissed at the musical itself.

In fact, Jackie is just mad at life, which has always been her shtick—one she worked out with amusing bitterness in her Jackie Five-OH! show at Joe’s Pub last week, commemorating her 50 years of rotten opportunities and terrible luck.

As Jackie told the audience, The Addams Family “is the most reviled, hated, loathed, shat-upon, criticized, financially successful group of people since the Jews.” She seemed most annoyed by the review in USA Today—”my go-to paper for theater,” she smirked—that called her performance many things, most notably “irritating.” Perhaps they would have had more compassion if they’d considered that Jackie’s virtually the only one onstage without a big song (“Lurch has a song,” she joked. “Fucker doesn’t even talk!”); she was only brought into Act Two to cover a noisy set change; and most of her dialogue involves giving Pugsley straight lines (she called it “a shit, humiliating part where I set up his fat, 12-year-old ass!”).

Most tragically of all, said Jackie, while Broadway musicals generally attract “gays and smart straights” at first and then get the dumb tourists, this one skipped the middle-men (“We’re the only musical that doesn’t appeal to gay people”).

But the woman’s got other problems to distract from the horror of a hit Broadway musical. Most notably, she lost her SAG health insurance after being replaced in a Cameron Diaz rom-com by Queen Latifah, of all people (“She’s in everything!”). After bitching about that and belting a number about how she desperately wants to star in a Holocaust movie, our woebegone star announced, “Oh, look at the time. Three more intelligent plays have closed, and The Addams Family just made a million more dollars.” Still, I’d gladly trade places with the woman; she happens to have an attractive and wildly patient husband.

Raising the Barre

Speaking of things that are creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky, it’s the year of straight camp movies, with The Fighter and Black Swan going for broke with florid character studies about the pervy perils of success. I’ve seen the latter, and it’s a riveting tale of creative obsession that goes lusciously over-the-top while probing the way a Svengali can torture and tease a woman into committing to a great performance. I’m referring to the Vincent Cassel character, not to Darren Aronofsky, ahem.

At a performance of the alien-invasion spoof Devil Boys From Beyond, I ran into John Epperson, a/k/a drag diva Lypsinka, who plays a male rehearsal pianist in Black Swan. Epperson happens to be a male rehearsal pianist in real life, too, so this was perfect casting, though he told me he’s pretty sure his tinkling was dubbed in the film (probably by Queen Latifah).

But he does get to spit out a line to a ballerina diva—”I’ve got a life!”—and on one take he even impulsively added “dearie.” According to Epperson, Aronofsky promptly told him, “Cut the ‘dearie.’ It’s too queeny.” OK, princess.

Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

Two young women battle it out for the lead dancer role in Burlesque, but this time it’s gay camp, and the smart straights might want to stay home and order Moonstruck. I paid to see the movie in Chelsea, where the sellout audience consisted of hundreds of gay men over 35 and four women who must have been dragged along as cosmetic assistants. And it wasn’t completely unsatisfying. The first half is actually enjoyable in its reckless and defiant embracing of showbiz clichés (“Who do I have to flirt with to get from here to the stage?”). Alas, the second half turns into a drippy love story between Ruby Keeler–ish Christina Aguilera and a cute bartender/songwriter, who she thinks is gay, but isn’t (though I still say he is, and I oughta know).

Cher plays an obstinate but basically caring club-owner whose face doesn’t move except for her fake lashes. And Stanley Tucci once again is the wise and funny gay righthand man, making you wonder if you’ve walked into The Devil Wears Nothing. (PS: His and Cher’s characters had sex 25 years ago on a drunken night in Tahoe. I swear, dearie. Maybe it’s a coded reference to the writer/director’s ex, David Geffen, who, according to legend, once dated Cher.)

Anyway, the one-named Oscar winner gets to sing a sort of pop “I’m Still Here” that’s filmed in the darkened club, with nothing but a hazy follow spot on her, as if real light would startle you. Fortunately, Cher just happens to have a sequiny top on under her layers as she unexpectedly decides to run through the song before crowbar-ing the bitchy dancer’s car and heading home.

Practically all the other numbers are about burlesque, but the movie has less to do with the revival of that genre that started percolating in clubs over 10 years ago than with Vegas hooch revues and strutting music videos. When things can’t get any gay-campier, Barbra Streisand‘s husband turns up in a cameo, and it all has to do with the lounge’s future (“Marcus is gonna tear down the club and build a skyscraper!”). Suddenly, it’s Rock of Ages, but serious—or maybe Cabaret without the Nazis, unless you count the writer/director and his current boyfriend, who reportedly fought loudly throughout the production. Add some real Nazis and you’d have a great Jackie Hoffman vehicle.

Alas, Burlesque is a PG-13 affair—”You poured tequila on your Cheerios” is about as harsh as the dialogue gets—which critics have found way too tame of a venue for ritualized crotch-thrusting. Maybe now they’ll finally recognize the brilliance of Showgirls and its underwater blowjob.

Even cuter than that bartender is Flynn Ryder, the long-nosed male lead in Tangled, and I’m ashamed to admit I have a huge fangirl crush on him. How embarrassing: I’m in love with an animated character! But one more adorable reaction shot of Pascal the chameleon and I would have surely reached for the screen and choked him to death.

Cute and animated David Campbell is singing showtunes at Feinsteins at Loews Regency, where he also talks about the time the very short Daniel Radcliffe begged him for the number of a female trumpet player. “So I’m basically Harry Potter’s pimp,” quipped Campbell, and I was completely shocked: Radcliffe is straight?

Armed with suitcases full of gossip like that, Richard Johnson is leaving Page Six to head a digital newspaper on the West Coast, explaining to me, “Time for a change. You should try it.” This was at the Four Seasons party to honor Johnson, who New York Post editor Col Allan correctly told the crowd is “the gold standard” of gossipers and has an amazing ability to “assassinate with a smile.” (Katie Couric unrepentantly talked all through Allan’s speech. I wanted to throw a drink with a smile.)

Johnson then took the stage and said, “I want to thank my agent, my hairdresser. . . . Oh, wait a minute. I’m not in California yet.” He more seriously gave praise to Rupert Murdoch “for believing in newspapers—and believing in iPads.” As Johnson was gifted with a large “Page Six” surfboard to use in California, I started believing I’d better learn to surf, and to drive, too. Just don’t replace me with Queen Latifah. I’m queen enough.

musto@villagevoice.com

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Here’s Jimmy!

Since Conan O’Brien’s tragic dismissal from NBC and now with the cancellation of Law & Order, the only reason worth tuning in to the faltering network is to catch Jimmy Fallon play beer pong. Fallon won us over with his Saved by the Bell reunion and his awesome hot and bothered portrayal of Robert Pattinson and the Lost parody—“Last.” A while back, we previewed a talk featuring the hilarious writers of Fallon’s show, who have helped turn the awkward funny man to the now charming late-night prince. Tonight, the spotlight shines on Fallon, with a talk moderated by Brian Williams that will surely swing back and forth from his early beginnings on SNL, the recent late-night wars, and whether or not he is teaming up again with Queen Latifah on Taxi 2 (we’re kidding!).

Thu., May 27, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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No Chemistry in Just Wright

Another movie, not as awful as this one, might one day find better use for the easygoing vibe between Queen Latifah and Common, the stars of Just Wright, a romantic comedy (for the ladies) with basketball and cameoing NBA players in it (for the fellas). That absolutely no chemistry exists between them as love interests is the first of the many flaws in a film that also demands we believe the New Jersey Nets could become Eastern Conference champions. Earthy, virtuous physical therapist and hoops fanatic Leslie Wright (Latifah) shares her house with her hyper-femme, gold-digging childhood friend, Morgan (Paula Patton). The p.t. meets Net Scott McNight (Common) and develops a crush—but Rules-playing Morgan gets the All-Star’s marriage proposal. A midpoint ligament injury allows thick girls to triumph over thin ones: Leslie and Scott share cocoa bread, a quick kiss, and, eventually, a bed. Writer Michael Elliot distinguishes himself by putting words into Latifah’s mouth that she probably hasn’t uttered since Living Single went off the air: “I’m a Jersey girl. I gotta represent!” Though no pheromones could ever be secreted in a love triangle this square, watching Leslie and Scott’s relationship shift from platonic to romantic is as weird and wrong as watching siblings kiss each other on the mouth.

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Latifah Inching Out of the Closet

Oscar nominee Queen Latifah has gone to New York’s hottest weekly lesbian party twice in a row, accompanied by sizzling dishes of womanhood, according to Page Six. The singer/actress/whatever’s official stance has always been that she doesn’t care if people think she’s gay, so that works out just fine!

But Queenie, maybe next week you can bring Missy Elliott?

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No Breathing Life into Third Ice Ages

Though hardly landmarks of narrative or animation art, the first two Ice Ages were warm and goofy and appealing; John Leguizamo’s adorably sibilant Sid the Sloth remains a much-quoted guy in our household. But as with Shrek and countless other over-extended studio franchises, the well has run bone-dry. Part Three sends woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano), a very pregnant Ellie (Queen Latifah), and the rest of their cobbled-together family of misfits to a lush land below the ice that’s fraught with dangers—like a burping purple plant that ingests foreigners—and teeming with the endlessly marketable dinosaurs so carelessly dispatched in the first movie. However spuriously gussied-up with 3-D, this verdant underworld is a playground for animation geeks, but its narrative pull hovers around zero, unless you count the lame post-millennial jokes about helicopter parents and single dads doubling as single moms, and even those are nothing but an excuse to float a raft of cuddly prehistoric babies for audience tots and their elders to coo over. Even with the addition of an (obligatory Cockney) weasel (Simon Pegg) to steer the herd through the usual slalom ride of hot lava and hostile beasties, there’s no breathing life into a formula that ought to have bowed out gracefully while the going was good.

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PRISON PALS

Because they were one of the first hip-hop acts to have both street cred and enormous pop success, because “O.P.P.” is still a golden anthem 18 years later, because they haven’t hit New York in ages, because they’re finally back on track after a troubled decade of inner turmoil, arrests, and divorce . . . Naughty by Nature is playing a tiny Women’s Prison Association fundraiser in Park Slope. What? OK, Treach had a role in Oz, but still. This is madness! There is no logic! Opening acts: Ice Cube juggling his Kids’ Choice Awards, Gang Starr solving a Rubik’s Cube, and Queen Latifah racing chariots, probably.

Wed., March 18, 9 p.m., 2009