Sparkle

Sony Pictures

Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, drug use, smoking, mature themes and domestic abuse.

Singing Siblings Seek Fame And Fortune In Remake Of Musical Morality Play

Emma Anderson (Whitney Houston) didn’t want her daughters to follow in her footsteps by having babies as teenagers while squandering their future in the futile pursuit of celebrity and bad boys who wouldn’t treat them like ladies. That’s why the overprotective single mom feels fortunate to be able to raise them in a middle-class suburb of Detroit where she keeps them on the straight and narrow path via a steady diet of Christianity and high expectations.

All three siblings have inherited the ability to sing from their mother, a blessing they put to good use for the Lord in the church choir every Sunday. However, each girl also has her own distinctive personality yearning to express itself.

Brainy Dolores (Tika Sumpter) has her mind set on attending Meharry School Of Medicine. Self-effacing Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is a gifted composer who’s too shy to perform any of her heartfelt ballads in public. But seductive Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is just the opposite, being a confident extrovert who craves the limelight and the attention of men.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that Sister might rebel and run away from home rather than abide by her mother’s restrictive house rules. She’s only been back in town for two months, but already has a couple of suitors competing for her hand—Levi (Omari Hardwick), a penniless, perfect gentleman, and Satin (Mike Epps), a flashy, silky smooth operator.

Given Sister’s materialistic nature, it’s easy to guess that she would opt to entertain the overtures of the latter, a misogynist with a dark side yet to reveal itself. Meanwhile, Sparkle starts dating Stix (Derek Luke) who encourages the talented sisters to form a trio and take a shot at superstardom.

So unfolds Sparkle, a modern morality play with a sobering message made all the more telling by serving as Whitney Houston’s cinematic farewell. Several of the late pop diva’s lines in the movie induce goose bumps, such as when she matter of factly asks, “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”

The film features standout performances by Whitney and Ejogo, with Luke and Epps appearing at their best as well. Sparks certainly holds her own when called upon to sing, but she comes across in this big screen debut as not quite ready to handle a title role, at least acting-wise.

Written and directed by the husband-wife team of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, respectively, Sparkle is very loosely based on the 1976 musical of the same name, with the point of departure, the timeline, plot developments, and the score being tweaked for the overhaul, and all for the better. A must-see between Whitney’s sentimental swan song and Carmen’s coming out party.

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 116 minutes

 

Somewhere Between

Long Shot Factory

Unrated

Adoption Documentary Traces Four Teens’ Chinese Roots

When the People’s Republic Of China implemented its one child policy in 1979, it was suddenly open season on female infants there, given the misogynistic nation’s culture’s preference for boys. That development dovetailed nicely with the increased demand for babies in the U.S. where working women often put off procreation until it’s too late for them to have kids.

Forced to face up to their infertility, thousands of childless middle-agers flocked to Asia to adopt, a place where girls are a dime a dozen, given that families allowed only a single child are eager to dispose of their fairer sex rejects. While this arrangement met the diametrically opposed needs of the adoptive American and biological Chinese parents, not many of the participants in intercontinental human trafficking ever bothered to pause to wonder what effect it might have on an Asian child from a Communist dictatorship to be raised by Caucasian folks in a capitalist country located half a world away from their birthplace.

However, that question did occur to film director Linda Goldstein Knowlton when she decided to adopt an Asian toddler of her own. She wanted to know the unanticipated pitfalls, long term, associated with what she was getting into. How would little Ruby react to racism and looking different? Would the kid grow up to be a resentful time bomb curious about her first pair of parents or would she merely make a smooth adjustment to America and enter the ranks of the so-called Model Minority?

To get some answers, Knowlton decided to follow four teenagers around with a camera, asking them probing questions about what their lives have been like since being adopted. And the net result of that effort is Somewhere Between, a heartbreaking biopic which, as one might guess from the title, shows its subjects to be little lost souls who have each made peace with living in a lonely limbo not of their own making.

They describe themselves as “Bananas” or “Twinkies,” a play on the term Oreo used for some blacks, because they’re yellow on the outside but white on the inside. And I can’t say that I blame them.

When 13-year-old Haley devoted her summer vacation to tracing her roots, she schlepped herself all the way to the remote peasant village in a remote region of rural China, where the records said she was born. But her own mother couldn’t be bothered to take a day off from work to say “Hi!” or better yet to apologize for having abandoned her as a helpless infant.

However, the sperm donor did submit to a DNA test, which only confirmed that, yes, this was the gene pool from which Haley had sprung. Talk about a Hello Muddah-Hello Fadduh-level letdown.

Listen, even people in the States are generally underwhelmed when they track down their biological parents. Just watch any episode of that Maury Povich paternity test reality show.

After all, it generally ain’t exactly the cream of humanity, or of any species for that matter, that rejects its young and refuses to nurture their own flesh and blood. Still, those parents who do surrender their babies for adoption shouldn’t be faulted for at least recognizing that their offspring might be a lot better off raised by strangers.

A very informative, thought-provoking and ultimately moving documentary exploring both the bright and dark sides of the transnational, Asian adoption controversy.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

In English, Chinese and Spanish with subtitles.

Running time: 88 minutes

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening August 24, 2012

The Apparition (PG-13 for terror, frightening images and sensuality). Haunted house horror flick about a young couple (Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan) who enlist the help of an expert in the supernatural (Tom Felton) to rid their home of a ghost that arrived in the wake of an experiment in parapsychology gone amuck. Cast includes Julianna Guill, Rick Gomez and Anna Clark.

Hit And Run (R for sexuality, violence, drug use, graphic nudity and pervasive profanity). Romantic road comedy about a getaway driver (Dax Shepard) in the Witness Protection Program who risks blowing his cover to drive his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) cross-country while being chased by both the Feds and the gang he’s scheduled to testify against. Featuring Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, David Koechner and Kristin Chenoweth.

Premium Rush (PG-13 for violence and profanity). Peripatetic action thriller about a Manhattan bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being chased all over New York City after picking up an envelope at Columbia University containing incriminating evidence about a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon). With Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung and Aasif Mandvi.

Death By China (Unrated). Outsourcing exposé explaining why America has been in economic decline since the People’s Republic joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 at the behest of Congress and multinational corporations.

General Education (PG-13 for sexuality and a drug reference). Teen comedy about a high school senior (Chris Sheffield) who has to hide from his parents (Janeane Garofalo and Larry Miller) that he still has to complete a science course over the summer in order to graduate and enter college in the fall on a tennis scholarship. With Bobby Campo, Elaine Hendrix and Maiara Walsh.

Hermano (Unrated). Overcoming-the-odds saga about a couple of siblings (Fernando Moreno and Eliu Armas) from the slums of Caracas who make the most of the opportunity of a lifetime when they are offered a tryout with their hometown’s pro soccer team. Featuring Beto Benites, Gonzalo Cubero and Marcela Giron. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Knight Knight (Unrated) Medieval comedy about a couple of knights in training (Tom Eykelhof and David Wayman) who embark on a zany adventure in search of cash and comfortable underwear. With Jonathan Hansler, Christina Bucher and Mingus Johnston.

Little White Lies (Unrated). Ensemble dramedy about a Parisian restaurateur (Francois Cluzet) whose annual summer getaway to Bordeaux with his wife (Valerie Bonneton) and friends turns confessional after one of the guests (Jean Dujardin) is left near death by an auto accident. Cast includes Marion Cotillard, Benoit Magimel and Gilles Lellouche. (In French with subtitles)

The Revenant (R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, drug use, sexuality and graphic nudity). Horror comedy about a recently-deceased Iraq War vet (David Anders) who comes back to life as a bloodthirsty zombie. With Annie Abbott, Senyo Amoaku and Amy Correa.

Samsara (PG-13 for sexuality and disturbing images). Non-narrative meditation exploring assorted wonders of the world from the mundane to the miraculous while delving into the unfathomable depths of humanity’s spirituality.

Teddy Bear (Unrated). Asian bride drama about a lonely, 38-year-old bodybuilder (Kim Kold) desperate for true love who travels from Copenhagen to Thailand to find the girl of his dreams (Lamaiporn Hougaard). With David Winters, Elsebeth Steentoft and Barbara Zatler. (In Danish, Thai and English with subtitles)

The Victim (R for profanity, drug use, graphic sexuality and gruesome violence). Psychological thriller about a woman (Jennifer Blanc) who comes to rely on help from a hermit (Michael Biehn) she meets in the middle of the woods while being chased by the perpetrators (Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood) of a murder she’s just witnessed. With Danielle Harris, Tanya Newbould and Dana Daurey.

Wild Horse, Wild Ride (PG for profanity). Equine whisperer documentary chronicling the efforts of entrants in an annual bucking bronco competition to tame wild mustangs in a hundred days or less.

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