Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Brief synopsis: successful blues singer, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), heads north to Chicago to meet up with her band to make a recording of some of her songs. One of her band, Levee (Chadwick Boseman) causes a rift with his ambition and passion.

Is it any good?: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a little too stagey and more of a collection of monologues than a coherent story or film. From a play written by August Wilson, the screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson does nothing to disguise the stage play roots. 

With good performances from everybody on show and standout performances from Davis and Boseman in his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a watchable film but not a must watch film. 

Spoiler territory: in a tent, down south in America, 1927, black people come from all around to see blues singer Ma Rainey perform. The tent is packed out and Ma Rainey is performing to great acclaim in front of an appreciative crowd. 

With emancipation having happened in the north, black people had begun to migrate in numbers in search of work and a new life. Ma Rainey’s reputation and fame continued to grow down south, her and the band playing in bigger venues. 

At one of the shows, her trumpeter, Levee, steps into the spotlight, add-libbing a solo. A little while later, the band arrive in Chicago. They are there for a recordIng session at Sturdyvant’s (Jonny Coyne) Hot Rhythm studio. 

Ma’s manager, Irving (Jeremy Shamos), is at the studio preparing for their arrival. Sturdyvant is not especially happy about the upcoming arrival of Ma. He finds her difficult. 

Three of the band arrive. Cutler (Coleman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and are greeted by Irving. He wants to know where Ma is. She has not arrived yet.

Levee is not there either. On the streets of Illinois, Levee is admiring a pair of shoes. The band settle into the studio and get ready to rehearse.

Levee arrives. He bought the shoes and makes a show of putting them on. It is hot in Chicago. Levee goes to open a door but finds it locked. He does not remember it being locked the last time he was there and remarks on how everything has changed. 

Toledo tells him things always change. Levee, a young abrasive trumpet player, starts to tell the rest of the band that he is going to have his own band. 

Cutler, who is the de facto leader of the band, tells him that they are an accompaniment band. They play Ma’s music, how she wants it. Levee tells them he has a new, more upbeat arrangement for one of her songs. Cutler says they cannot do his arrangement. Irving comes into the room.

He is looking for Ma. Cutler tells him she has not arrived yet. He asks about the arrangement. Irving tells him they are going with Levee’s arrangement. 

In town, Ma is seeing a different kind of black people to the ones she is used to down south. She walks around a tea house with her nephew, Sylvester (Dusan Brown) and niece, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). The black people watch Ma and her charges as though they were curiosities. Ma returns to her car. 

Back in the studio space, the band are ribbing Toledo about his old shoes. Levee starts dancing. Toledo cautions them against only looking for fun as black people suffer the world over. They start talking religion. Levee insists that he has no time for God. 

Outside the studio, Ma as arrived but Sylvester has had an accident with another car. Irving comes out of the studio to find Ma arguing with a policeman. Irving nervously intervenes and smooths things over. Inside the studio, an irritable Ma has Irving scurrying around for a fan. 

Dussie, an attractive girl, uses her looks to curry favour with her aunt and asks for new shoes. Ma tells her she will get her some new things. She tells Sylvester he will get some things to. 

He is also going to do a bit on the recording. Music is playing; Levee’s version of Ma’s Black Bottom. Ma asks Irving about it. He tells her that people want to hear a more upbeat sound. Ma is not changing her arrangement. She will sing the song how she originally wrote it. 

She tells Irving to take Sylvester to meet the band and tell them that he is doing the intro to the recording. She decides to go and introduce him herself. She also tells Cutler that they are doing the song to her arrangement with Sylvester doing the intro. Levee tries to protest but Ma is having none of it. 

Ma leaves and a frustrated Levee voices his frustrations. Cutler tells Sylvester the opening he needs to say and asks him to repeat it back to him. Sylvester begins to speak and the band realises he has a stutter. Levee laughs, asking how Cutler plans to sort out the intro. Sturdyvant comes down to the studio. 

Levee approaches him with some of his songs. Sturdyvant takes the songs and leaves. The rest of the band laugh at Levee’s subservient attitude towards Sturdyvant. 

Levee takes offence and tells them he acts how he needs to around white people to get what he needs. He tells them that he learned how to do so from his father who he had seen smile in the faces of the men who sexually assaulted his mother and then return at a later date to try and exact revenge on them. 

Cutler tells Irving that Sylvester cannot do the part. As the band rehearse, Ma sees Levee eyeing Dussie. She tells Cutler to warn him. They get ready to record and Ma wants Sylvester to do his part first.

Irving tells her he cannot do it. Ma insists on him getting a microphone and doing the part. Sturdyvant tries to complain about the cost and she reminds him that she makes more money for him than all his other acts put together. 

There is another hiccup. Irving did not get any Coke. Ma stops the session and sends Slow Drag and Sylvester out to get some. Ma speaks to Cutler, unhappy about having to fight to get Sylvester on the record as she obviously knows the boy has a stutter. Dussie goes to find Levee and flirts with him. 

Ma explains to Cutler that she understands that the only reason Sturdyvant or any white people put up with her, is because of her voice and she makes them money. 

That includes her manager Irving. Levee continues to charm Dussie, telling her he is going to form his own band. The two get frisky. Ma and Cutler speak about the blues and the meaning of the music to black people. 

Slow Drag and Sylvester return with the Cokes. Levee and Dussie’s union is interrupted as he needs to return to the recording. Sylvester, unsurprisingly, struggles to get the intro out. 

He nails it after multiple takes and the band strike up, Ma singing the song perfectly in one take. Unfortunately, Sylvester’s microphone’s wire is frayed and they did not get the recording. 

A frustrated Ma leaves the studio. She is going home. Irving begs her to stay. He will sort everything out in fifteen minutes. Ma stays. The band takes a break. Cutler tells Levee he needs to leave Dussie alone. Levee lies, saying he only ever asked her her name. Toledo tells him that he understands how he could become foolish over a woman. 

Cutler tells Levee that his roving eye is going to get him fired. Levee argues with the rest of the band about their acceptance of their lot in life and how he plans to be respected by white people. Cutler tells the group about a black reverend who had been forced to dance at gunpoint and ridiculed for his belief in God. 

Levee challenges Cutler, asking where was God when that man needed help. He tells Cutler that God hates black people. Cutler punches him and the two scuffle. 

The other band members separate them. Levee pulls a knife and goes for Cutler. Cutler manages to avoid getting stabbed. An angry Levee asks God where he was when his mother was calling out for his help.

They return to the recording room. They record the track perfectly. Ma asks Levee why he felt the need to embellish. He tells her he likes to add his own flavour. It quickly escalates to an argument and Ma fires him. 

An angry Levee leaves the recording room, returning to the rehearsal room. Upstairs, Irving tells Ma that Sturdyvant does not want to pay Sylvester. She tells him to get the boy’s pay. Sturdyvant quickly comes around to Ma’s way of thinking and pays Sylvester. 

He needs Ma to sign the music release forms. Ma leaves, Irving chasing after her asking her to sign the forms. She tells him to send them to her home. She warns Irving that she will record elsewhere in future if there are any more hiccups. 

The band get ready to leave and Sturdyvant pays them. Levee speaks to Sturdyvant, asking if he can get a recording session. Sturdyvant tells him he will buy the songs but does not want to record them. They do not sound right. Levee’s argument to convince him otherwise falls on deaf ears. 

A despondent Levee returns to the rehearsal room. Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes. He apologises. Levee is riled up and wants a more fulsome explanation for the transgression. Toledo dismisses him, packing up his things and turning to leave. Levee stabs him in the back, killing him. 

Ma is being driven home, unaware of what has happened back at the studio. Levee cradles the dead Toledo. An all-white band record a version of Black Bottom. The End. 

Final thoughts: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is most notable for being Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Directed by George C Wolfe, it does flow nicely and looks great. 

Regrettably, as a Boseman’s last film, it is not a masterwork. Boseman is excellent in it and, if anything, it is almost sadder to see that his obvious talent was extinguished so prematurely. 

Viola Davis matches Boseman with a captivating performance as the bigger than life Ma Rainey. Such is the power of her performance it will have you looking into the real-life Rainey. 

As I alluded to earlier, the film is too obviously based on a stage play, the screenplay putting the monologue style of stage work to the fore. 

The story is centred around the recording studio but seems a little truncated, the whole story not told. Though the original August Wilson play was written in 1984, it is set in the twenties and, as such, reflects the black sensibilities of that time. 

The outlook is quite bleak and needy, with even the successful Rainey knowing that her acceptance is only because of her voice. 

The appropriation of black music by whites is not new and still happens to this day and is the underlying theme of the film. There is also a veiled dig at the blind faith shown in a Christian god that has never favoured black people. 

At ninety-four minutes long, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is not a long film and whizzes through its runtime fairly quickly but suffers a little from having too much story to tell in its runtime. As I wrote earlier, the film is not bad but it is not great either. 

Is it worth watching? For the performances of not just Boseman and Davis, but the whole cast, yes. As an enjoyable ninety-minute-plus film it is not a must-see.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A woman returns to her home town in the run-up to Christmas and causes uproar when she tells all the proprietors of the shops in the town square, that they must all leave by Christmas Eve, as she has sold the land to a developer. A couple of angels, one that is still in training, hope to help her see the error of her ways. 

Is it any good?: How much you enjoy this film will depend a lot on whether you like musicals or not. The story is a mix of inspirations from two other classic stories – A Christmas Carol mostly, with a pinch of It’s A Wonderful Life. That being said, Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film that tugs on the heartstrings a little and is just a pleasant film to watch over the festive period. 

Spoiler territory: in the town square, all of the town’s people are looking forward to Christmas and various activities are going on. A choir is preparing to carol sing, shoppers are looking for gifts and families enjoy the festive decorations. A woman appears in the square. She holds a cardboard box, begging for change. 

Driven by her assistant, Felicity (Jeanine Mason), Regina Fuller (Christine Baranski) arrives in the square. She has business to attend to and does not want to be in town for long. She is bringing eviction notices for the many proprietors in the square. She goes and sees the town’s pastor, Christian Hathaway (Josh Segarra), first. 

Christian greets her, remarking how he has not seen her since her father’s funeral six months earlier. Christian’s wife, Jenna (Mary Lane Haskell), notes how everybody misses her father.

Regina gets down to business. She is there to inform them that the town, her land, is being sold to the Cheetah Mall conglomerate. It is to become the biggest mall in America. 

The pastor cannot believe that she is giving out the eviction notices less than a week before Christmas. Regina goes to see her oldest friend in town next, hairdresser Margeline (Jenifer Lewis). She gives her an eviction notice. 

Margeline asks her what is going on. Regina tells her, that as she inherited the land that the town stands on, Fullerville, the town, has to go because she has sold the land. 

Christian calls a town meeting. He plans to fight Regina’s eviction notices. Regina gets a call from her doctor but ignores it. Margeline comes to her house to do her hair. 

Regina mentions that she has one more eviction notice to deliver and then she will leave town. It is for Carl (Treat Williams), her childhood sweetheart, whose heart she broke. 

Margeline tries to talk to her friend about the eviction notices but Regina refuses to be moved by sentiment. A frustrated Margeline leaves Regina. 

She sees another message on her phone from doctor Marshall (Donald Corren). Call him. Regina goes into town, she is confronted by pastor Christian. He tells her the whole town is going to stand against her. 

Regina remains unmoved. She goes and sees Carl. She tells him to sign the eviction papers. He asks her why did she did not return his calls or any of his letters. He is still hurt even after all these years.

Regina tells him that people change. She notices a street lamp. She asks if it was a father’s, Carl tells it was. He picked up all lot of his old stuff after his death. 

He tells her it gave him an excuse to visit her old home and hear how she was doing. She was doing very well, a big deal in business. Regina brings the conversation back to the eviction notice. He tells her he is not going to sign. Regina leaves the store. 

She returns to her car and the beggar from the square appears. Regina gives her short shrift and drives off. A pamphlet flies into her face and she brakes as she is about to hit doctor Marshall. He tells her they need to talk, he found a shadow on her brain scan. 

Regina returns home and Felicity tells her the contract from Cheetah has arrived. After dismissing Felicity, Regina takes the contract to her bedroom. She goes to switch a lamp on and it does not work. 

None of the lights work. She calls Felicity. The beggar from the square appears and tells her that Felicity has left for the night. 

The beggar tells her she is an angel and her name is Angel (Dolly Parton). Angel reminds Regina of how her father used to look out of the window and watch lamps light up the square. She also tells her that he had hoped that she would find happiness. Angel disappears. 

In the church, the town is meeting and venting about Regina. They are trying to come up with ideas to stop her plan. No one has anything sensible or useful to contribute. 

Regina turns up at the meeting. She tells the assembled that she has been supporting the town ever since her father fell ill some years before. 

She says that she sold businesses and unused spaces. The townspeople point out that the spaces she speaks of were parks. She reiterates that she will be selling the land. 

She tells them that the new deadline for them to vacate is Christmas Eve. An incredulous Christian notes that that is the next day. Regina leaves the meeting. 

She goes into a bar across the road. She meets Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones), a young girl who is running the establishment whilst her father is at the meeting. Violet tells Regina that her mother died when she was younger. Regina’s mother also died when she was young.

Not knowing that she is talking about her, Violet tells Regina that her father hates the ‘wicked witch of the middle’ because he holds her responsible for her mother’s death.

She tells Regina that when she was very small, she got a fever and her mother had to drive twenty miles to get medicine. She died in a storm on the return drive. 

Violet does not blame the wicked witch of the middle. She thinks it is her own fault for getting sick. Regina tells her that is wrong. Before she can say anything else, Violet’s father, Mack (Matthew Johnson), returns.

A shaken Regina leaves the bar. Back at home, Regina remembers her father, Jack (Douglas Sills), polishing the lamp and telling her as a young girl, that she will be the one looking after the town one day. 

The next morning, Felicity is surprised by Angel. She wants to know why she has not woken Regina up for her doctor’s appointment. Angel-in-training Felicity is reluctant to engage with Regina. 

Angel tells Felicity to go and wake her. Felicity wakes Regina up and receives sarcasm and obtuseness for her troubles. 

Sent to get coffee, Felicity tells Angel she wants to quit. Regina is too mean and rude. Angel will not let her, insisting that she finds the good qualities in Regina. Regina shouts for her coffee. 

Felicity meets her with a cup of coffee and Regina gives her a grudging apology for being so brusque. On the drive to the doctor’s, Felicity remarks that being back brought must bring back memories.

Regina remembers going to her (teenage Regina – Hailey Rose Walsh) first and only high school dance, eager to meet up with Carl (teenage Carl – Andrew Brodeur). She saw him giving a ring to another girl and was so hurt she went off with another boy (Aidan Dacy Carberry). She went home with him and he got her pregnant. 

When her father found out, he sent her away and took the baby away, giving it up for adoption. Angel shows her that he only took the baby to save her from the judgement of the townspeople and that Carl had meant to give the ring to her. 

As Regina is leaving the hospital, an ambulance is coming and she sees a fraught Mack. Violet has been a car accident. Regina tells Felicity to find the top paediatric doctor in the country and get them to that hospital. 

Regina prays to god to save Violet. In the hospital with his daughter, Mack is also praying. A paediatric doctor, Martinez (Yvonne Valadez) comes into the room. She has flown from one hundred miles away to help his daughter. 

Regina tells Felicity to drop her at Carl’s store. Angel tells Felicity that it is not a good idea and that Regina is not ready. Felicity disagrees and takes her to the store. 

Regina goes into the store and tries to talk with Carl but he is not very receptive, stopping her before she can finish speaking. She asks him how much he wants for the lantern. He gives it to her as a gift. 

Regina returns home. An excited Felicity asks how it went with Carl. Regina expression and demeanour tell her it did not go well. Around the square, the store owners are packing up, preparing to vacate their premises. A little magic from Angel wakes Violet from unconsciousness. 

Whilst fiddling with the lamp, Regina finds an old bible hidden in the base of the lamp. She reads a note her father had written in the book that tells what happened to her son.

Christian tells his wife that Mack called to tell him that Violet has woken up. Regina runs into doctor Marshall again. He tells her that her test results are fine and the first test was an aberration. 

Regina goes to see Christian. She shows him the lamp and tells him that it contains the family bible; their family bible. She shows him the note her father, his grandfather, wrote. 

Christian goes to the church to deliver the Christmas sermon. He tells the town that Violet woke up. He tells them that he always felt as if Jack Fuller was watching over him. 

He tells Regina story of having to leave the town and give up her baby for adoption. He was that baby and Regina is his mother. Regina comes to the front of the church and tells them that she is not selling the town. 

The town throws a Christmas party. Carl comes and dances with Regina. The angels, Angel and Felicity, tell everyone to light their light. The end. 

Final thoughts: Dolly Parton’s Christmas On The Square is a nice festive film. The songs are good without being particularly memorable and the dance sequences are energetic and joyful.

From a stage play by Dolly Parton and Maria S Schlatter and directed by Debbie Allen, the production shows its stage roots mostly in the songs.

Allen’s direction shows all of her experience, with her having almost as many credits for directing as she does for acting, with fluid camerawork and direction helping to make the dance sequences look a little less stagey. 

Christmas On The Square is not a festive classic but it does manage to tick many of the Christmas story boxes, imparting the message of goodwill to all and happiness through love and selfless deeds.

Baranski is perfectly cast as the cold and aloof Regina and works well as the central focus, pulling the film along. 

As I alluded to at the beginning, there is a nod to the classic It’s A Wonderful Life, with the effervescent Mason taking up the Clarence role, something that is cleverly referenced in the script. 

Christmas On The Square is a simple story and throws up no surprises. Parton’s homely approach is evident throughout and it is just a fun ninety-eight-minute watch.

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke – review (Netflix)

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is a documentary by Kelly Duane that is emotionally resonant but ultimately underwhelming. In essence, it rehashes the story of Cooke’s death and how it was shrouded in and remains shrouded in mystery. That is the first and obvious killing. 

The second killing is more opaque, speaking to his growing impact in black society and influence in an America growing through the Civil Rights movement, with blacks in the south still suffering segregation and inequality.

The second death is how Cooke’s growing influence in black America was growing at a rate that some felt it needed to be checked. 

Unfortunately, Duane’s documentary devotes very little time to the murder and the circumstances surrounding it, instead preferring to focus on Cooke’s career, life and influences. 

That is not to say the documentary is bad. It is, for the most part, a very engaging film. It is just that the title of the documentary gives one a very different expectation. 

What the documentary does very well, is to tell us about Cooke’s musical journey and how focussed he was in politics and his beliefs. His talent as a singer was discovered early and he was a star in his twenties, his good looks helping him to crossover to white audiences in a time when segregation was still commonplace. 

His father was a pastor and used to take his children around to churches to sing. Sam, like a lot of black singers from that era, started with gospel music. Later, singing as part of a group, The Soul Stirrers, Cooke gained fame throughout the black community. 

His family moved north to Chicago, to get away from the still racially oppressive south. When he travelled around with The Soul Stirrers, as a young adult, heading back to the south, he saw and experienced how very differently black people were treated there. 

According to those who knew Cooke, the murder of Emmet Till had a profound effect on him. Emmet Till was a young black boy, fourteen years old, who was lynched and beaten to death because he had the temerity to, allegedly, whistle at a white woman.

Till’s death and the savagery of it, triggered not only Cooke but most of black America. Many believe it was the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement.

Rock n’ roll was beginning to come to prominence across America and the youth were embracing it. Cooke was reluctant, like a lot of the black acts and singers who came from gospel singing, to cross over to rock n’ roll. 

Amongst church communities, rock n’ roll was considered the Devil’s music. He knew if he crossed over to rock n’ roll, he could never go back. 

He also knew what he wanted. He wanted to be famous and be able to reach a lot of people and help his people.

He would not be able to do that with gospel music. On his first foray into rock n’ roll and pop, getting away from gospel music, he did not use his first name, instead going under the name Dale Cook. His next song catapulted him to national stardom. 

You Send Me was a hit. It got him invited on to the Ed Sullivan Show and had black people gathering around television sets, televisions not being common in black households at that time, to see him. 

He got invited on to American Bandstand by Dick Clark. American Bandstand was a show that was, perhaps, the most influential music show for young people at the time.

The Klu Klux Klan did not want him going on the show. They threaten to blow up the studio if Sam Cooke appeared on the show. They also threaten Cooke. 

Dick Clark had reservations but went ahead anyway, Cooke appearing on American Bandstand. 

Cooke got married and moved to California, closer to the Mecca of television and film. He continued to appear on television. He was becoming very successful and was only second to Elvis Presley in record sales. He was famous. 

Sam did not like that, as a black performer, with all of his fame, he would till be invited to play at venues where segregation was a thing. He refused to play at such venues and stopped playing in segregated states.

He would go on to meet other prominent black men of his time; Muhammad Ali, who at that time went under the name of Cassius Clay, and Malcolm X. 

Cooke started a record company and understood that controlling the music and the rights to the music was where the money was. He also wanted to protect black artist, many of whom had been burnt by record companies giving them contracts that did not benefit them at all. 

Even as a person who understood this, Cooke was not immune to getting ripped off himself and found himself unwittingly, in an unfavourable contract drawn up by Allen Klein, an account, days before he died. 

Cooke’s popularity kept growing. His friendship with Ali and Malcolm X bringing him to the attention of the FBI, who were watching both men. Cooke’s crossover appeal was admired by the money men but his refusal to leave his black roots behind did not sit well with them. 

Cooke wanted to create a black music agency. Organised crime – the mob -, whose tentacles tended to be in anything that made money, tried to discourage him. 

The death of his son, Vincent, by drowning, really affected Cooke and he plunged himself into work. He also started seeing other women, his marriage suffering. 

He made a deal with RCA as a subsidiary of their label. This was the deal that involved Klein. When he found that Klein was ripping him off, he had planned to fire him. 

Unfortunately, he was killed before he would see Klein again. His death, murder, happened in strange circumstances. He was shot by a black woman, Bertha Franklin, who claimed Cooke had forced his way into her room and was harassing her. 

Franklin had been the manager at the hotel Cooke had gone to that night with another woman, Lisa Boyer, who accused Cooke of trying to kidnap her and had escaped, taking his clothes. Cooke had, allegedly, been looking for Boyer when Franklin shot him. Franklin got off with justifiable homicide. 

The issue with Duane’s documentary is the title. I found out more about his death reading Wikipedia than I did from watching the documentary.

It may be because the documentary is quite short at only seventy-four minutes long or the focus on his music career but there really is not a great deal about one death, let alone two. 

The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke is definitely worth watching but do not watch it hoping to gain any clarity around the mystery surrounding his death. This film will not give you that.

The Black Godfather – review (Netflix)

Life is about numbers. That is the mantra of the man featured in the fascinating Netflix documentary, The Black Godfather. Like the fictional character of the simpleton, Forrest Gump, who came in to contact with major figures of history in the film of the same same, Clarence Avant is a man who name and influence span several decades and takes in many famous faces. Unlike Gump, Avant was no simpleton. 

By his own admission, Avant was no academic. He never went to college but had enough schooling to understand maths and life had shown him what poor was. The oldest sibling of eight, Avant fell into the music business via Joe Glaser. 

Glaser was a music talent manager who started managing Louis Armstrong and went on to have a roster of jazz artist under his umbrella that included, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Sarah Vaughan. Glaser asked him to take on Vaughan. Avant told him he did not know anything about the business. 

Glaser would become a mentor to Avant. Avant became the manager of Rn’B singer Little Willie John and many others followed after that. Avant was a popular person and had a talent for talking to people. 

Not like a salesperson but as a person who had others wellbeing at heart. This gift made him a bit of a conduit between black talent and white businessmen who wanted to recruit the best in any field. 

Avant lived through the Civil Rights movement and was very conscious of it but he was not one for the spotlight. His talent was connecting people and he did it better than anybody. 

He also looked after the artist, not allowing them to get ripped off. Something he was admired for and that Glaser saw in him. He decided to send him to California with pianist Lalo Schifrin to get Schifrin into movies. 

Avant did not know anything about the film business but he did what he does; he got to know everybody, meeting and befriending all the studio heads.

Schifrin went on to become one of the most successful composers in Hollywood. Avant got married and moved to California. There he met Lew Wasserman who was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. 

Avant’s ability to befriend people was called upon again when the legendary Jim Brown did not want to appear in a documentary that was being made about the Cleveland Browns football team he played for.

Clarence got him into the documentary and the movies. He started a record label and signed artist on their musical talent, surprising many when he signed white artist, especially as it was a black-owned label. He also signed Bill Withers, who at the time underwhelmed many. 

Soul Train was a weekly black music show that ran from 1971 to 2006. Fronted by its creator, Don Cornelius, it challenged Dick Clark’s American Bandstand for the ears of American youth. American Bandstand was on the ABC network and Clarence worked as a consultant for ABC. 

ABC created their own black music show, Soul Unlimited, to go up against Soul Train. Dick Clark asked Clarence to endorse it, even offering to pay him. 

Avant refused. Avant went and saw the people at ABC and persuade them that it would be in their best interest to stop Soul Unlimited. The show was canned. 

These are a few of the stories related in the documentary about the man they call The Black Godfather. There are interviews from people who know and have met him and been helped or influenced by him over a five-decade career and the man himself. 

The Black Godfather has interviews from music, both young and old; Quincy Jones is a longtime friend, Sean Combs holds him in great reverence. Politics; two ex-presidents in Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Civil Rights: Al Sharpton, film and even sport; Hank Aaron – hall of fame baseball player and icon of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali. 

Avant is the true definition of a person with a finger in every pie but not in a negative sense. Clarence was always helping people get what he felt they deserved, in a time when black was truly a detriment to advancement. 

Directed by Reginald Hudlin, The Black Godfather is a positive spin documentary on a behind-the-scenes person who was a mover and shaker in American black society in the sixties, seventies, eighties and into the nineties. 

With his daughter, Nicole, having a producer credit on the film, it was never going be a ‘warts and all’ documentary. 

Clarence is portrayed throughout as the man to know if you want an introduction or you need to get a deal done. The man himself, Avant is less forthcoming with his influence on things, preferring instead to acknowledge those who have helped him moved up in life. 

Avant repeats, often, that is all about the numbers; life is all about the numbers. This makes it sound as if he was only interested in money but, though he made a good living, the overall impression is that he wanted to uplift black people, to gain a level playing field. The ‘all about the numbers’ mantra seems to be something he says because he understands that it is easy for anybody to relate to. 

Numbers are measurable and, for the most part, truthful. In the world that Clarence Avant straddles, numbers- the ones you can get and the ones you can offer – make all the difference. Numbers open doors and get attention. Clarence understood that and with his people skills got things done. Life is about numbers.

Dolly Parton: Here I Am – review

Dolly Parton: Here I Am is a ninety-minute documentary that should have been called Dolly Parton: Queen Of Country. The documentary takes the shallowest of dives into her life and where she came from. 

With interviews from musicians she has worked with and friends who have known her over her fifty-year career, as well as interviews with the good lady herself, Dolly Parton: Here I Am is a moderately entertaining documentary but, especially in this day and age, a little frustrating. 

Parton has become a fabric of society, a part of musical and entertainment history. Her large chest and bouffant blonde hair, along with her country and western-lite dress code, make her instantly recognisable the world over. And then there are her songs. Jolene, I Will Always Love You, Island In A Stream, Nine To Five, Here You Go Again, to name a few. 

Dolly Parton has been so ever-present that one feels as if you know her but you do not. Dolly Parton: Here I Am does not get one any closer to knowing her either. That is not to say it is not interesting. There is, even in the little that is said by Parton herself and her friends, hints at the determination and steeliness of her character. 

From a large family, with eleven siblings, Parton knew from the age of ten that she wanted to sing and be famous. Eight years later, she arrived in Nashville determined to launch her career in the home of country music. She learned quickly that, as a young pretty woman, she would have to stand up for herself. 

A pleasant country girl, Parton’s confidence came to the fore when she sang. Such was her talent for both singing and songwriting, she found a manager and music deal quickly. Another thing that points to a particular type of intelligence, was Parton’s understanding of image and how she wanted to be perceived. 

She met her husband, Carl Dean, in 1964 and they married two years later. Dolly married Carl against the advice of her producers and kept the marriage secret for a year. From an early age, Dolly did what Dolly wanted to do. 

Dolly has been to married to Carl for more than fifty years and most of her session musicians have never met him or even seen him. 

Parton was not only an engaging songstress. She wrote songs that appealed to her demographic of young women in the sixties during the height of the sexual revolution. 

Though her songs broached serious subjects and told thoughtful stories, in her public appearances and interviews, Parton never spoke in support of or against any political or social subject. 

In this regard, Parton is and was very much a throwback to the famous of years gone by, before the internet age and the proliferation of media and the need and want of sensational stories. 

Most of the stars, of music and screen pre-internet, were only known for their on-screen images, what they released or their management released to the public. 

In these days of constant and relentless attention-seeking, many in media feel the need to stay in the public eye, trying to project an everyman image. Parton sticks with what has always been known of her; big chest, tiny waist, big voice and country.

Never a frown or a scowl, never a solemn look, ever the sunny country girl/woman looking to spread love and joy through her music. 

One of her session musicians tells a story of inviting her to his son’s wedding. She was accosted all evening by fans and the curious. After a few hours, he told her she did not have to pander to the guest as she was there herself as a guest. Dolly explained to him that it was something that she accepted came with being famous. 

Parton maintains a cheerfulness and presents an almost lucky outlook to her fame, as though it were a happy accident as opposed to astute decision making such as refusing to sell, at the time, the world’s most famous artist, Elvis Presley, the rights to the song I Will Always Love You, a song that would make the already successful artist extremely wealthy when Whitney Houston made it a worldwide hit.

Fans of Dolly said Whitney claimed it was her record. Dolly agreed; it was Whitney’s record and she loved Whitney’s version. But it was Dolly’s song and she got paid. 

Her relentless work over five decades in both music, television and film does not point to a person who got lucky, especially as she focussed on her career from such a young age. 

Like I said at the outset, Dolly Parton: Here I Am is not a warts and all biography and some will be frustrated by that. It is a charming look at her career and trawls through some her extensive music catalogue. There is some good footage and the voice is always a delight to hear. 

Dolly Parton knows who she is and knows what Dolly Parton she wants the world to see and that is the one she portrays. She knew way back in 1980 when she was making her film debut in Nine To Five and her co-stars, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who remain lifelong friends with her, said they never saw her without her wig or makeup. That is Dolly.

Feel The Beat – review

Brief synopsis: an aspiring broadway dancer returns to her hometown after a failed audition and incident in the city goes viral on social media. She sees a chance to get back to her dream when the hometown dance school’s teacher asks her to train the student for a national competition. 

Is it any good?: Feel The Beat is a feel-good film in the vein of the Pitch Perfect films. Though it is formulaic and entirely predictable, the cast performs with such heart, committing to the painting-by-numbers premise, that it would take a truly cynical heart not to enjoy it. 

Spoiler territory: Late for an audition, aspiring dancer, April (Sofia Carson) waits for a taxi in New York as rain soaks the city. She is desperate to get the job having received an eviction notice that morning for unpaid rent. Across the road, an elderly woman is also looking for a taxi. They both spot a taxi and run for it. April gets to the taxi as the older woman opens the door. April jumps in, stealing the taxi ride. 

April gets to the audition and performs brilliantly, impressing the judges. She gets picked to join the show with the only proviso being that the successful dancer gets the once over from Ruth Zimmer (Pamela MacDonald), a doyen of dance in the city. A dishevelled Zimmer appears at the theatre, drenched from her journey to the theatre. 

April recognises Zimmer as the elderly woman she took the taxi from. Zimmer also recognises April and warns her that she will never work in the city again. April desperately tries to convince Zimmer that she is not only sorry about the earlier incident but is perfect for the job. She only makes matters worse, encroaching on Zimmer’s personal space which causes the older woman to fall off the stage. 

The incident is caught on film and goes viral on social media. April returns to her apartment and finds that the locks have been changed and she has been evicted. She calls her father, Frank (Enrico Colantoni), who realises something is wrong even as she tries to hide it. He tells her to come home. 

He picks her up and they return to her hometown, New Hope, Wisconsin. A deflated April is spotted in the local store by her old dance teacher, the very excitable Miss Barb (Donna Lynne Champlin). Even though Barb only taught April for her formative years, she considers April her greatest success, telling everyone that she is a Broadway star. 

Barb invites April to come over to the old studio to meet the next crop of young dancers. April lies, saying her father is sick so she is unable to visit. Frank tells Barb that April would be happy to visit the studio. 

April visits the studio. Barb tells a barely interested April about a dance competition that she wants to put the girls in. She hopes, wonders aloud, April might be able to take a masterclass. She is surprised to see Sarah (Eve Hauge), one of Nick’s (Wolfgang Novogratz) younger sisters. Nick had been her childhood sweetheart and the boyfriend she dumped by text when she left for New York. 

She meets the other girls; Barb’s daughter, June (Kai Zen), Michelle (Carina Battrick), Nick’s other sister, Kari (Lidya Jewett), Ruby (Shiloh Nelson), Zuzu (Shaylee Mansfield), Oona (Sadie Lapidus) and Lucia (Johanna Colón). Dicky (Justin Caruso Allan), Coach Buzz’s (Denis Andres) son, sits playing in a corner. 

April gives the girls a short and harsh talk on the difficulties of becoming a dancer and leaves. Barb follows after her, determined to persuade her to teach her young charges. Outside of the studio, April runs into Nick. They catch up. 

Frank sees the notice fro the dance competition and ask April about it. She scoffs, telling him that Barb wants her to teach the girls for the competition. April does not want to teach, she should be performing. Frank reads the leaflet. Welly Wong (Rex Lee), a dance show producer as powerful as Zimmer, is one of the judges. April immediately decides to help the girls, seeing an opportunity for her to get back to Broadway. 

Needing to come third in the local dance competition, April takes advantage and show off during the student/teacher dance. They come fourth. When Barb gets a call the next day, from the competition organisers, telling her one of the other groups broke a rule, it results in the team qualifying for the next round. 

April begins to teach the girls but exhibits little warmth for the task or the girls, treating like adult dancers. After working the girl tirelessly, she quits in frustration, unhappy at their inability to do some of the dance steps. 

April calls her friend Deco (Brandon Kyle Goodman), a costume designer in the city, and vents about her problems. She hears Ruby sobbing in one of the cubicles, Ruby, having left the class after April told her she was not any good, asks her again if she is any good. April tells her no. Deco points out that she has no maternal instincts. 

Out on a run the next day, April sees Sarah practising her dance move in a field. She talks to and realises how much her break with Nick affected Sarah as well. April runs into Nick. He tells her that she needs to remember how it was when she was a girl dreaming of becoming a dancer. April returns to the class and fashions a sort of apology about her conduct, promising to stick with them through to the end of the competition. 

With April pushing them and the help of their families, the girl improve rapidly. The group are forced to move to Frank’s barn to practice after bad weather causes the roof of the studio to collapse. They go to the county competition. Dicky, who was always an observer, save the competition by jumping into the dance. 

The group advance to the regionals and onto the state finals. They qualify for the national competition. The town comes together to help get the girls ready for the competition. April recruits Deco to help with the costumes. At the nationals, April is seen by Wong and he asks her to be the star of his new show. April accepts even though it means she cannot finish the competition. 

April leaves the competition. The next day, as rehearsals for her new show for Wong are about to begin, April tells him she has to go back to the competition because she made a verbal commitment to the girls. She pushes the girls through the competition and returns to Wong’s show. 

Wong’s show is a hit and April is a star. Wong gets the whole town to come and visit April at the theatre after a show. The end. 

Final thoughts: Feel The Beat is an easy feel-good film, that is an enjoyable 109-minute watch. Directed by Elissa Down and written by Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku, the film bumps nicely along, zipping through its runtime in an amusing fashion. 

Carson is an able lead, believable as the initially haughty April whose ambition masks her humanity. The young actors are very good in their roles also and are directed well enough so as not to overshadow the adults. 

The dance numbers are entertaining without being overly long and serve more as a backdrop to the central story rather than the film being built around a few musically or dance talented individuals. 

If you are looking for a filmic masterpiece, Feel The Beat is not the film for you. If you want a couple of easy hours of entertainment, Feel The Beat is worth a look.

I Love You, Stupid – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: After getting dumped by his girlfriend of eight years and then losing his job in the same week, a man finds himself back in the dating pool. After blackmailing a friend to get him a new job, he searches online to find out how to date in the twenty-first century. He runs into an old female acquaintance from his school days who always liked him.

Is it any good?: I Love You, Stupid (Te Quiero Imbécil – original Spanish title) is an amusing comedy that is not perhaps for everyone. With good performances from all on show and an amusing script, I Love You, Stupid is a pleasant enough film without any great surprises that is entertaining throughout its runtime.

Spoiler territory: Marcos (Quim Gutiérrez) is in a restaurant with his girlfriend of eight years, Ana (Alba Ribas). He proposes to her, sliding a ring across the table. She ends the relationship. As he had moved into her home, Marcos has to move out after the split and goes to live with his parents.

He tells them he will only be with them for a few days or weeks, believing he is about to be promoted in his present job as he has a meeting with his boss the next day. When he goes to see his boss, Marcos is told that he is being laid off because business is tight. He goes to see his friend, Diego (Alfonso Bassave), for a drink and to talk about his woes.

Diego, a real ladies man, tells him he needs to get back into the dating market and forget his ex-girlfriend. He puts a load of dating apps onto Marcos’ phone. Marcos is not sure what he wants or even how to date. He turns to the internet, searching for answers. He finds Sebastian Venet (Ernesto Alterio), an Argentinian self-help guru, who promises to guide him through twenty-first-century dating and modern masculinity.

Venet tells him he needs to make some money and stop living with his parents. Marcos goes to see Diego and tells him to get him a job, blackmailing him by saying he will tell all of his friends that Diego has slept with their girlfriends. Diego gets him a job.

As Marcos is returning home, he is called to by a woman, Raquel (Natalia Tena), a punk-ish looking woman, with an easy smile. He does not recognise her but she reminds him that they knew one another at school. They had not seen one another for fifteen years. The next day, Marcos is being shown around the new office layout of his job by his boss, Lorena (Patricia Vico).

Marcos goes on a double date with Diego. Diego quickly charms one of the ladies and leaves. The other woman has no interest in Marcos and leaves him alone in the bar. He goes back to the internet, consulting Venet again. He needs to get in shape and update his wardrobe. Marcos starts exercising and grooming himself.

He runs into Raquel again, who calls to him as he is walking past the store she works in. She accompanies him as he goes to update his wardrobe, him having told her he needs to hook up with women to get over his ex. He goes on multiple dates, most of which turn out to be fruitless. When he thinks he is about to succeed with a possible conquest, his chance is kiboshed by him returning with his date to find his parents getting amorous in the living room.

Marcos gets himself an apartment and Raquel helps him move in. Marcos finds that Ana has blocked him from all her social media. He sees Diego. Deigo tells him he needs to stop thinking about his ex. The dating continues. One date, Veronica (Vanessa Castro), goes well and she invites him back to her place. Marcos is confident of getting laid until he sees her standing up whilst urinating.

Raquel and Marcos go to a concert of one of Raquel’s friends. Marcos, thinking Raquel wants to hook up with the musician, makes an excuse and leaves. At work, Marcos’ new wardrobe and workouts get him noticed. Lorena invites him to a party she is having. He goes to see Raquel. She gives him a tattoo whilst admonishing him for leaving her alone with the boring musician.

Marcos decides to take the office boy, Tomy (José Garcia Ruiz), with him to the party, so as he will not be outshone. At the party, Marcos is confident that he will be able to meet someone new at the party. Lorena comes to talk to him. As they bond over the party’s music selection, they are interrupted by Ana. She is impressed by Marcos’ new look and vibe. While Raquel is doing a music gig, Marcos hooks up with Ana.

He goes and tells Raquel that he had sex but does not tell her that it was with Ana. She goads him, asking if he will wait eight years before proposing again. He tells her it was just a hookup and will not happen again. Marcos calls Ana later that day. He asks her out but she turns him down. At work, Marcos gets promoted when one of his tweets becomes a trending topic.

He goes to hangout with Raquel. He lets slip that it is the woman he hooked up with has a birthday coming up. Raquel wants to know how he knows she has a birthday coming up. He makes up some excuse.

Back at work, Diego comes to see Marcos and notes that he is not talking about his ex anymore. He goes to help Raquel in her shop. Whilst moving a heavy sculpture, he damages his back. In the hospital, he gets a call from Ana. Raquel is convinced he is going to see her. He says he is not. He goes and sees her but does not tell her he has damaged his back.

Raquel comes to see him in the hospital the next day and brings him wine. Back at the office, Diego is a little worried about Marcos’ increasingly effeminate mores. He tells him they need a guys night out. He invites them to his home for soccer and beer. At Diego’s place, Marcos stands talking about relationships with a couple of the guys.

Diego kicks the guys out and tells Marcos that he is turning into a woman. Marcos talks to Raquel about his disagreement with Diego. They spend the whole day together and end up in a club. The Proclaimers record comes on and Raquel wants Marcos to get on the stage and sing with her. The conservative Marcos is too scared. She does not force the issue. Ana comes and kisses Marcos. Raquel leaves him alone with her.

Marcos wants to know what is going on with Ana and their hookups. She tells him that she is getting married the next week but her fiancé is in Germany. She invites Marcos to the wedding. He reluctantly accepts the invite. He tells Diego that he has been seeing Ana and that she is getting married. He tells him about Raquel as well, feeling that he has been leading her on.

Diego tells him he is in love with Raquel. Marcos sends Raquel an invitation to his office Christmas party. At the party, Lorena comes as tells Marcos she wants to have sex with him. She takes him to a private room. Raquel turns up at the party and Tomy, even as Diego is trying to stop him, tells her where Marcos is. She walks in on him being pawed by an amorous Lorena.

Marcos goes after Raquel and tells her nothing happened. She asks him why he invited her to the party but he does not have the courage to tell her he loves her. She walks away. A morose Marcos contacts Diego. They go to a bar and speak about his trip to London. He takes some things around to his parents’ home. His mother tells him that she found the box he was looking for.

He finds an old cassette tape in it. Marcos takes a car to the airport. He stops off at Ana’s wedding and tells her future husband that they slept together and she is a bit of a bitch. He heads to Raquel’s shop and lip-sync’s to The Proclaimers’ hit outside of her store. He strips off in front of her and tells her that he loves her. They kiss. The end.

Final thoughts: I Love You, Stupid (Te Quiero Imbécil) is a pleasant Spanish rom-com starring Quim Gutiérrez and Natalia Tena as the central couple you want to get together. Tena is especially engaging as the free-spirited Raquel and is likable from the moment she appears on the screen. Gutiérrez is great as the initially confidence-damaged Marcos. Though the film follows the normal path of a classic rom-com, it still has a few nice quirks to make it different from the run-of-the-


Written by Abraham Sastre and Iván Bouso, the script has some nice lines and utilises a few fourth-wall breaks, something that can sometimes take one out of the story but works perfectly well in the film. It is ably directed by Laura Mañá and flows smoothly through its eighty-seven-minute runtime, switching between scenes seamlessly.

The music works well in the film and adds to the youthful vibe. I Love You, Stupid scores a lowly five-point-eight on IMDB which would give one the impression that it is a poor film. It is not. Though not the best film or rom-com on Netflix, the film is worth taking an hour and a half out of your day to enjoy.

Como Caido del Cielo

Brief synopsis?: a famous singer and womaniser, stuck in limbo for over half a century, is given the chance to get into heaven but he must change his ways and live his life correctly in the body of another womaniser and impersonator.

Is it any good?: Como Caído del Cielo is an enjoyable rom-com for the most part. At one-hundred-and-two minutes long, it is a little too long for a romantic comedy and the story loses its way a little towards the end but it is executed with such panache and gusto that it would take a cynical heart to dislike this film.

Spoiler territory: The spirit of Pedro Infante (Omar Chaparro) is trapped in limbo. He cannot get into Heaven because he was a womaniser. Conversely, the joy he brought to many through his films and music means that he is not eligible for Hell either. Pedro argues that he had helped many people fall in love and the only reason he had not settled down was that women, believing him to be a womaniser, never took him seriously.

Pedro Guadalupe Ramos (also Chaparro), a Pedro Infante impersonator, is in a coma and attached to a life support machine. His lover, Samantha (Stephanie Cayo) is kissing him and crying over his prostrate body when his wife, Raquel (Ana Claudia Talancón) comes into the room.

Samantha, who is also Raquel’s cousin, hastily gets off of the bed.

Raquel, a police officer and obviously knows that something was going on between her husband and cousin, brushes past her and goes to Pedro’s side. Raquel’s father, Silvano (Manuel ‘Flaco’ Ibáñez), comes into the room shortly afterwards. He has a priest with him and the doctor. He tells his daughter that it has been three months and the family cannot afford to keep paying the medical bills.

Raquel points out that they would be fine if he had not gambled away the money her work colleagues had raised. Samantha says she can help pay. Raquel gives her short shrift, explaining she has already paid the bills. She asks the doctor if her husband would survive if he was taken off the life support machine. The doctor tells her that it is only the machine keeping him alive.

Raquel agrees to have the machine turned off. Infante is told by his two custodians (Roger Montes and Itza Sodi), that he will be given an opportunity to prove his worthiness for Heaven. He will inhabit the body of another and prove his worth that way. He is not allowed to tell anyone who he is and must remain faithful and cannot asks about his past.

Pedro is taken off of the life support machine. As Raquel is mourning his death, Infante’s spirit goes into Pedro and he springs to life. Now in Pedro, Infante sees Raquel first but does not know who she is. Silvano tells him that it is his wife. Infante kisses her passionately.

Back in his neighbourhood, the locals have prepared a welcome home party. Pedro, who was also known for his womanising ways, is very different and Raquel’s sister, Paty (Rocio Verdejo) and niece, Milagros (Elaine Haro), notice. Later, in the evening, as they are getting ready for bed, Raquel tells Infante that she has made up the couch for him.

Infante is confused, are they not married? Should he not be sleeping in the marital bed? Raquel tells him that their marriage was not in the best place before he fell into a coma. Infante persuades Raquel to let him stay in the bedroom. The next day, Infante’s charms continue to win over Raquel.

Raquel goes to work and Infante comes out of the house to find Paty admonishing her husband, Bobby (Juan Pablo Monterrubio), because he has forgotten that he needs to take their daughter for a dress fitting for her quinceañera. A mortified Milagros runs home. Infante goes after her. They end up talking about Raquel. Milagros tells him that her mum has told her that he cheats a lot. Infante says that he is a changed man. She also tells him that Raquel does not want to get pregnant because she does not trust that Infante will stay around.

Pedro’s clothing is uncomfortable to Infante, so when his pants get torn from bending over, Infante puts on his mariachi clothes. Infante gets spotted by Chava (Axel Ricco), who excitedly runs up to him, thinking he has remembered he is an Infante impersonator. He calls Chema (Alan Gutiérrez), the other member of their trio. Infante is confused about what is going on. Chava tells him there is a Pedro Infante competition at the Tijuana fair. Infante wants to go.

Raquel, who is helping to police the fair, is surprised to see her husband on stage singing. especially as he had been told to rest by the doctor. She is miffed as Infante sings to Samantha, who is at the fair as the local beauty queen. Raquel is not the only one who is unhappy, as the town mayor, Alcalde (Marco Treviño) fumes at Samantha’s reaction.

Infante moves off from a surprised Samantha and heads to Raquel, serenading her in front of the entire town.

As the prizes for the best impersonator are being given out, Infante, who gets the runner-up prize, is given the award by his own granddaughter, Jenny (Yare Santana). She says that though her grandfather was a great singer he was not the best example of how to treating women well. Infante tries to talk to his granddaughter afterwards, hurt a little by her words. She tells him that he was the best Pedro Infante impersonator and should have won.

Pedro and Raquel head home. Their life is going well and, the next day, Raquel is about to leave for work when there is a knock at the door. She answers the door. It is a lawyer. He has divorce papers for her to sign. A furious Raquel chases him out of the house, even as he tries to protest his innocence.

A couple of the mayor’s men catch up with Infante and he runs off with them giving chase. Samantha drives past and rescues him. She drives them both to the border and into America. Raquel laments her situation to some of her work colleagues. She hides her sorrow when the chief enquires about what is going on.

Infante struggles against Samantha’s advances as she tells him that they planned to run away together. He tells her that he needs to convince his granddaughter that Infante was not a bad man. He goes to her college and finds out where Jenny works. He goes to her workplace to talk with her.

He meets Laura (Laura de Ita), who is the host at the restaurant, Heaven, that Jenny works at. She tells Infante when Jenny’s break is and he intercepts her during her break. He asks her why she has those thoughts about her grandfather. The conversation takes a different turn and Jenny does not answer the question. Infante gets a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant.

Whilst cleaning, infante helps out a young man who is trying to woo a girl by singing. Outside the restaurant, Infante intervenes for the young man again when he is attacked. Infante fights the attacker off, chasing him away. Infante tries to get back with Raquel but she is still too hurt to listen to him. He serenades her again but ends up dreaming about her and mistakenly kissing the local female drunkard, much to Raquel’s disgust.

Infante sleeps in the restaurant not wanting to go back to Samantha. Laura checks out the security videos and sees that Infante is staying in the restaurant. He asks Jenny about sexism. He goes to see Raquel again, this time bringing her flowers to try and win her over. She still is too angry to accept his apology.

Laura tries to seduce Infante but he manages to resist her. Infante contacts Milagros to find out how much Raquel owes for the medical bills. He goes on a television show to try and win some money. His impression of himself gets him the first prize of one thousand dollars. He is allowed to gamble it on three unknown options.

He picks number two and comes off worse. Meanwhile, Samantha, who is running a beauty business, is looking for Infante thinking he is missing. One of her beauty customers recognises him and tells her that he works at the restaurant. She heads to the restaurant. Raquel also turns up at the restaurant.

Infante causes a diversion and runs out of the restaurant. He comes back in to see Raquel who tells him that she is prepared to give their relationship another try if he is being sincere about changing. Unfortunately, Samantha catches up with them and Raquel is crushed as Samantha tells her that she and Infante had plans. Raquel leaves. Laura, who had witnessed the exchange, pulls Infante away from Samantha, telling her that he does not want to be with her.

One of the restaurant customers comes up to Laura and ends up in an altercation with Samantha. As the incident escalates, Infante escapes. He runs into the custodians again and they tell him he is out of time. He begs for more time. They tell him that he can have another week. He goes to see Jenny. He does not think he can get back with Raquel. She tells him the one thing she always admired about her grandfather is he never gave up.

She offers to sell a bracelet that was left to her by her father, handed down from her grandfather. Infante tells her not to. He is desperate to find a way to help Raquel. He goes to see Samantha, to tell her he does not love her but needs money to help Raquel. The conversation does not go well. She tells him she spent all her money. Samantha has a customer. It is the man he helped with his girlfriend and the attacker. He happens to run a boxing gym and needs sparring partners. He employs Infante.

Infante proves a little too enthusiastic and knocks out one of the contenders for the upcoming fight night. Infante says he will fight instead as he needs the money. With Raquel nearing divorce, Silvano tries to pair her with the police chief. Infante trains for his fight. The weekend comes and Infante fights. He will earn one thousand dollars for every round he survives.

Everyone comes to the fight but not Raquel. Samantha tries to get him to leave before the fight because the mayor is there and will try to kill him. Infante refuses. He gets in the ring and takes a beating for the first half of the fight. Infante wins the fight. He gets kidnapped by the mayor’s men.

Jenny calls Raquel, who is at Milagros’ quinceañera. Raquel calls her colleagues and they go after the mayor. They catch up with the mayor and rescue Infante. Samantha makes Raquel see how much Infante loves her. They go to Milagoras’ quinceañera and Raquel tells him she is expecting a child.

The custodians return and tell Infante that his time is nearly up. He has made it into Heaven. He wants to stay but they tell him he cannot. He returns to the party and sings with Jenny. He has a heart attack and dies.

Some time afterwards, at the baby shower, Raquel nephew shows her a video on his phone of all the film he shot of them together. The end.

Como Caído del Cielo is a lovely film inspired by the life and music of Pedro Infante. Utilising some wonderful music and with a charming central performance by Chapparo, Como Caído del Cielo is a highly enjoyable romcom and homage rolled into one. Written and directed by Jose Pepe Bojorquez, with an additional writing credit for Alfredo Felix-Diaz, the film takes a well-known figure in Pedro Infante and uses elements of his life – he was both a singer and a boxer – and creates a fantasy film that both warms the heart and amuses.

Along with Chapparo, Talancón is perfect as the long-suffering wife of Pedro Guadalupe Ramos who benefits from Infante inhabiting his body. Santana is also very good as the granddaughter of Infante. The character of Jenny is fictitious, though Infante does have a granddaughter, Lupita, who has an executive credit on the film. She is also a singer.

Nearing the two-hour mark, the film is, as I mentioned earlier, a little long. I still enjoyed on a second viewing but that is really because I like a good romcom and the performances are very good. The central story is very good and you root for Infante as he races to raise money to help Raquel and win her heart.

Him dying towards the end is truly sad and brave on the filmmakers part as they could have gone down the route of another excellent spirit-possession romcom of old, the brilliant Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie from 1978. At the end of that film, which very much goes along the same lines as Como Caído del Cielo, Beatty’s character lives on with his love.

Como Caído del Cielo only scores six point four on IMDB but that is from less than one thousand votes and as a non-English speaking film is not likely to get as many eyeballs as your Hollywood romcom. That being said, Como Caído del Cielo is definitely worth a watch. Delightful.

Miss Americana – review

As a black man, in my early fifties and having grown up in south London, my musical influences and leanings were towards soul and funk with a smidgen of reggae. My clubbing days were solidly soul and funk, moving into house and garage music and embracing the musical mores that surrounded that scene.

That is not to say I did not like other types of music but in terms of purchasing music – I was a bit of a vinyl junkie back then – those were the musical styles that parted me from my hard-earned. These days, with downloading and streaming and my clubbing days somewhat behind me, I can and do indulge in less dance specific music.

That being said, Taylor Swift was never on my list of artist, nor was her music – except for the goat song, you know the one – something that ever came into my world. Of course, I knew who she was – goat song – and what she looked like, especially after Kanye West made her the centre of news broadcast throughout the western hemisphere in 2009 when he interrupted her awards speech to highlight his friend Beyoncé.

Swift, ever the nice girl, tried to play down the incident. Swift’s niceness, not to mention her relentless work ethic, is on display in a fascinating documentary by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana, which not only follows Swift for a couple of years but documents her rise, trials and the tribulations that have beset her career.

A talented singer/songwriter, Swift, hailing from Pennsylvania, began her performing career at an early age, signing her first record deal at fifteen. With a mixture of country and pop, Swift became popular and gained a vast following very quickly.

As she herself admits in the documentary, the most important thing for her was to be liked. Never one to display any of the rebellious traits that have plagued countless young celebrities before her, Swift was an ever-smiling pop princess with a Stepford-esque drive towards pleasing her fan base.

Being a songwriter from such a young age and one whose music touched so many, with lyrics they felt they could relate to, Swift music and writings have always been personal, reflect things that are happening in her life.

It is a hard-hearted and cynical person, a trait that some seem to covet in these times, that does not feel for Swift whilst watching this documentary. She is tearful as she recalls the bile and social media backlash that came after West’s infamous incident, her loneliness at being at the pinnacle of her career but not having anyone to share the moment with or who could relate and, with being a star during a media explosion age, the constant sniping at her with regards to her possible sexual partners.

She also addresses her insecurities about her body, something that many can relate to, how seeing photos of herself could trigger her eating disorder, prompting her to not eat whilst working to exhaustion, as the media took potshots at her and other women lined up to deride her ‘niceness’.

Feeling overwhelmed, Swift withdrew from the public eye and reassessed her life. She knew that her need to be liked by the multitudes of strangers was unhealthy. The dopamine hit she craved from the adulation of fans and critics was, ultimately, destroying her.

She realised that she needed to find true happiness, contentment. Also, as she was now older, she felt that she should perhaps voice her opinion on things that mattered to her. One thing that she felt very strongly about was the rights of women and gays in her home state. A sexual assault case she had to fight after she was sued by a former deejay who had been – rightly – fired for groping her.

Swifts’ pronouncements in social media created an upturn in younger voters in her state and though she did not get the outcome she had hoped for, it showed that she could utilise her influence for something important.

In my opinion – and perhaps I am naive – unless Taylor Swift is one of the planet’s most accomplished actors, it is hard not to like her. Miss Americana shows an extremely hard-working young woman, growing up in the spotlight and trying to find herself in a world that always wants to know more about its celebrities.

Miss Americana is a highly watchable hour and a half of entertainment that may change your mind about that infamous goat song. It made a Swift fan out of me.