Friday, 19 October 2018

LET’S PLAY: A Star is Born remake has its flaws but ultimately shines

'ALLY' THAT GLITTERS: Lady Gaga mesmerizes costar Bradley Cooper in this scene from the 2018 remake.

SOMEWHERE in the uneven but ultimately satisfying new movie A Star is Born, someone says something about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. There’s no better way to describe the metamorphosis of the film’s central character, a wide-eyed dreamer named Ally (convincingly played by Lady Gaga), who goes from restaurant server and gay-club performer to Grammy winner for Best New Artist. From wannabe to the real thing.

Bradley Cooper, who plays Jackson Maine, the rock star who discovers her singing in French in a club full of drag queens, also directs the film, a modern-day update of the classic, whose previous incarnations featured Janet Gaynor in the 1937 original, Judy Garland in the first remake in 1954 and Barbra Streisand in the second remake in 1976.

Before long, Jackson and Ally strike up a relationship. They become head-over-heels lovers. A good girl who still lives at home with dad, she eventually quits her restaurant job and gets immersed in his rock-star world (sold-out concerts, screaming fans), accompanying him on tour. Determined to cure her shyness, he brings her out on stage one night and they perform a killer rendition of “Shallow,” the kind of showstopping number you want to hear over and over again.

But Jackson has his demons – drugs and alcohol and self-destructive tendencies – that soon drive a wedge between them. Things take an explosive turn as Ally’s rise to solo stardom begins. With lavish photoshoots, an SNL appearance and a debut album in the works for Interscope, she morphs into a packaged pop star whose shining time has finally come. Jackson, meanwhile, comes off as the jealous, insecure boyfriend who can’t bear to see his girlfriend outshining him. It all gets very messy. 

A Star is Born (exploring artistry, approval and the meaning of success) is an entertaining and emotionally rich film that seems to lack a spark in the early moments. You keep waiting for it to reel you in. And when it finally does, with echoes of Crazy Heart and Country Strong, you are indeed won over. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

2018 NATIONAL HONOURS & AWARDS: Grace Jones honoured; Blake-Hannah, Yellowman among arts-community honorees

GRAND OCCASION: The OJ recipients (at centre) gather for photos with Culture minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, left, and Tourism minister, Ed Bartlett.

DUE to ill health, Harry Belafonte wasn’t on hand to be presented with the Order of Merit (OM) by Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen, but fellow entertainment legend Grace Jones was in attendance and was conferred with the Order of Jamaica (OJ) for “exceptional contribution to her field internationally.” Stepping out in a stylish black top, asymmetrical pattern skirt, hat and shades, Jones was in for resounding applause as she made her way up to the podium. 

The arts and entertainment community was very well represented among the large batch of honorees, as the 2018 National Honours & Awards ceremony took over the lawns of King’s House on Monday morning. 

For outstanding contribution to popular music and broadcasting, Winston Barnes was recognized with the Order of Distinction (OD) in the rank of Commander. Among the Officer Class honorees were the likes of Barbara Blake-Hannah (for her work in culture, public service and cultural heritage preservation), Joan Andrea Hutchinson (for contribution to the cultural arts), Johnny Gourzong (tourism and entertainment), Bob Clarke (broadcasting and entertainment), Sheila Rickards (dance and music), Mazie Miller (culinary arts), Dermot Hussey (promotion of Jamaican music) and Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster for his decades in the music industry. 

Kingston College choirmaster Audley Davidson was among 20 individuals presented with a badge of honour for meritorious service. Renowned music man Donovan Dacres was one of 29 persons presented with the badge of honour for long and faithful service. 

Meanwhile, four stalwarts earned appointment to the Order of Jamaica (OJ) this year. In addition to Grace Jones, Guisseppi Francesco Maffessanti (construction/ social development), Godfrey Dyer (tourism) and Earl Jarrett (finance and public service) were also honoured. 

Monday’s entertainment package featured the Purple String Ensemble, singer AndrĂ© Shepherd and songbird Etana, who gave a stirring rendition of her hit “I Rise.”

Saturday, 13 October 2018

MODERN FAMILY: Dawkins’ Uptown Bangarang still provokes, surprises and entertains

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: Brown (Edgar) and Allen (Precious) having the talk; Below, Lowe in her element as Verona.

Uptown Bangarang (Basil Dawkins Productions) 
Director: E. Wayne McDonald 
Cast: Maylynne Lowe, Earle Brown, Chris McFarlane, Brian Johnson, Rachael Allen and Ruth HoShing 
Venue: Little Theatre, Kingston 

IN the end, family is all you’ve got. A fabulous revival of Basil Dawkins’ 2006 hit Uptown Bangarang, recently mounted for a weekend run at the Little Theatre, drove this point home. 

Gorgeously staged (the set design is a divine piece of architecture) and very well-acted (the six-member cast delivers), the show sizzles with its unflinching exploration of class and dignity, youthful angst and sexuality, morals and family values. 

It’s been a decade since we last saw this play and, to say the least, it’s lost none of its power to surprise, provoke and entertain, thanks in large part to a robust meditation on the dynamics of the modern family. 

With no shortage of relish and pizzazz, Maylynne Lowe reprises her role as the pompous, paranoid Verona Webster, a nut-case of a housewife (still reeling from a car robbery a year ago), who frustrates her husband Edgar (Earle Brown), a televangelist and aspiring politician, insults their ghetto-raised helper Precious (Rachael Allen) and earns the ire of their only son Abe (Brian Johnson), a headstrong teenager with a ganja habit and musical dreams. He can’t stand his parents, but he finds a confidante in Precious, who is quietly nursing her own ambitions and desire for a better life. 

Verona gets a jolt of reality when she flies to New York to visit her older sis Alma (Ruth HoShing) and what was supposed to be dream-house accommodations turns out to be cramped-apartment space, complete with Alma’s gigolo boyfriend Bobby Benson, a sweet-talker/con artist played by Chris McFarlane. 

Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, other shocking revelations come tumbling out into the open: Are Edgar and Precious carrying on an affair? Is Abe really gay? 

Dawkins skillfully weaves these plot points together while raising intriguing questions about what we as human beings truly value most in our lives. Director E. Wayne McDonald, a New York-based thespian making his Jamaican commercial-theatre debut, proves himself a fine director of a mixed cast, pulling strong performances from the actors. 

We particularly loved Lowe’s work (captivating, consistent and frequently funny); the nuances and tough-love style that HoShing brings to her portrayal of Alma; and the steely masculinity that drives Brown’s take on Edgar Webster. McFarlane and Johnson have their moments but, for the most part, their portrayals are surprisingly one-note. Newcomer Allen, in the meantime, shows incredible promise. 

Hugely enjoyable, Uptown Bangarang brims with humour and sobering reminders. At the same time, it immerses us in the goings-on of a family that you could easily recognize as your own. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

2018 SUNSHINE SERIES: Jamaica defeat English rivals 55-43 to take early lead in three-test series

ON THE BALL: The Jamaicans and the English continue their intense rivalry.

DESPITE a few less-than-stellar moments, Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls maintained their impressive run in the 2018 Lasco Sunshine Series on Thursday night, defeating the England Roses 55-43 to take a 1-0 lead in their three-test series, which resumes at the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston on Saturday.

The Jamaicans stamped their superiority from the get-go, taking early leads of 2-0 and 4-0 before the English girls managed to close the gap and equalize at 5-5. The visitors became even more aggressive in their plays, but the Jamaicans were in a no-nonsense mood and quickly pulled away with consecutive goals to take the score to 11-7, 12-8 and 16-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Jamaica’s careful ball possession and shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid’s goal-circle dominance continued in the second stanza, with Jamaica leading 18-11 and 22-15. By the time the tally reached 25-16, Fowler-Reid was on fire, with great support from goal-attack Shanice Beckford. Strong defensive work from Shamera Sterling and Stacian Facey also helped, as Jamaica raced to a ten-point lead at 28-18, and then 31-18 with three minutes to go in the half. The lob passes to Fowler-Reid, coupled with her accurate shooting afforded the Sunshine Girls a 35-21 advantage at the half-time whistle.

Shantal Slater came on for Fowler-Reid at goal-shooter, but England got more of the same treatment in a rather uneventful third quarter, which saw scorelines of 37-26 and 40-28 in favour of the home side. The English shooters gave Sterling and Facey some challenging work as the visitors desperately tried to reduce the deficit. Jamaica stayed in control, ending that quarter 46-32.

Fowler-Reid replaced Slater and Thristina Harwood (Beckford’s replacement) got her first taste of the action at the top of the last quarter. The England girls, unsurprisingly, looked hungry for a breakthrough and forced the Jamaicans into numerous turnovers. Several squandered opportunities by the local girls allowed the visitors to rally with several unanswered shots, bringing the score to 50-40.

Determined to maintain a wide margin, the Sunshine Girls refocused on the task at hand, maintaining their ten-point lead at 52-42 and 53-43. Kadie-Ann Dehaney came on for Sterling in the last minute of the match, as the Jamaicans re-established their dominance. At the sound of the final buzzer, Fowler-Reid sank a long-range shot to end the match at 55-43.

WOMAN OF THE MATCH: Jhaniele Fowler-Reid
A towering and dominant presence in the goal circle, the team captain led the home girls to victory with a masterful performance that further solidifies her status as one of the world’s top goal-shooters.

>> MATCH REPORT: Jamaica vs. T&T

Thursday, 11 October 2018

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: Peter Ashbourne and Mervyn Morris collaborating on ‘Mikey’ reggae opera

PREMIERE LEAGUE: Members of the 'Fortis' family at Wednesday's Musgrave ceremony at the IOJ; Above, gold awardees Morris and Ashbourne.

WHAT happens when you combine the talents of one of Jamaica’s leading musical maestros with the genius of a literary stalwart? A project that’s potentially a classic in the making. That’s precisely what Peter Ashbourne and Prof. Mervyn Morris are cooking up, having decided to merge their artistic gifts to craft a reggae opera based on the life and work of the late great Jamaican poet Mikey Smith.

Ashbourne is composing the music. Morris is supplying the libretto and lyrics. “It’s been an enjoyable experience. We’ve been working on it for over a very long period. I would be doing lyrics and Peter would be working on the tunes. I’m new to writing song lyrics, so they helped me a lot,” Morris tells TALLAWAH at Wednesday’s 2018 Musgrave Medal Awards ceremony at the Institute of Jamaica, where both men were honoured.

How did the collaboration come about? “Peter invited me to work with him on it because he knew that I knew Mikey, and that I had edited his work,” Morris reports. For his part, Ashbourne (whose wife Rosina Moder is also a contributor) felt Morris was the ideal collaborator. “When we came up with the idea, we knew he would be the right person to work on the libretto because he knows Mikey’s work very well,” says Ashbourne.

According to the musician, no premiere date has been scheduled, but he’s hoping the finished product can be given a grand-opening fanfare sometime next year. 

Coincidentally, Morris, his reggae-opera collaborator, received a gold medal at the ceremony on Wednesday for eminent work in the literary arts, while he was being recognized with the gold for distinguished contribution to music. “I’m very flattered, moreso because of the very good company I’m in,” Ashbourne says. “I’m always working on something, always doing something, so this is encouragement to continue the work.”

Dr. Basil Burke was also made a member of the rarefied company of Musgrave gold medallists. Silver medals were presented to pioneering dub poet Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, the 71-year-old Kingston College Chapel Choir and scientist Dr. Henry Lowe, who was unavoidably absent.

This year’s bronze recipients were contemporary novelist Roland Watson-Grant, bird-conservation expert Dr. Leo Douglas and legal luminary and art collector Prof. Oswald Harding, who was honoured for his vast and comprehensive collection.

Entrepreneur and scholar Arthur Williams III received the Youth medal.

2018 SUNSHINE SERIES: Jamaica wrap up Trini test with solid 51-40 win

PLAY MAKERS: The J'cans and the Trinis treated spectators to an exciting Game Two.

COMING off a 61-40 triumph in their opening match on Sunday, Jamaica’s senior netball squad, the Sunshine Girls, put on another largely impressive display to defeat their Trinidadian counterparts 51-40, as action continued in the Lasco Sunshine Series inside the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston on Tuesday evening. 

Playing before a lively home crowd, the Marvette Anderson/Winston Nevers-coached girls demonstrated that they are making commendable progress as they inch closer to the fast-approaching Fast5 World Series in Melbourne, Australia and next year’s eagerly anticipated World Championships in Liverpool, England.

With sharp-shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid getting a rest day, rising stars Thristina Harwood and Shanice Beckford led the attack for the home side, which started off shakily, as we trailed the Soca Girls before roaring back in the dying seconds of the first quarter to tie the score at 12-12 before eking out a 13-12 lead at the sound of the buzzer. 

With goalkeeper Shamera Sterling forcing Trini turnovers in defence and Beckford a workhorse for the attack (very accurate and consistent attempts at goal), the teams continued to trade goals in the second quarter. The score equaled at 16-16; T&T moved ahead 20-18; Jamaica reclaimed the lead 24-23 and, with two minutes remaining in the half, the scores locked again at 26-26 and 28-28 at the buzzer. 

An even more keenly contested match-up kicked off the second half, but Jamaica (with a new Beckford/Shantal Slater combination in the goal circle) managed to sneak away with leads of 33-31 and 36-32. We were up by five at one point (37-32), thanks to some brilliant manouevres by the centre-court players and interceptions in defence. The third quarter ended with Jamaica leading 42-33.

T&T fought valiantly to re-emerge in the final quarter, but the Jamaicans, despite numerous unforced errors and mid-court turnovers, held on to the lead, moving ahead 44-33 and 46-34. A smart decision was to take vice-captain Vangelee Williams off the bench and reintroduce her at goal-defence. With only five minutes left in the match, the Sunshine Girls kept their composure and held a 49-37 advantage. 

And with just three minutes to go, Harwood was summoned to replace Beckford in the attack. A 51-38 scoreline eventually became 51-40 at the final whistle. 

>> WOMAN OF THE MATCH: Shanice Beckford 
A smart, wily attacker who plays to her strengths. Very agile and very accurate with her attempts at goal, her on-court moves reap dividends for the team in the heat of battle.

The Lasco Sunshine Series resumes at the NISC with Jamaica facing England in three tests (Oct. 11, 13 and 15).

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB: Lorna Goodison publishes Redemption Ground, her first essay collection

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Goodison 'grounds' her latest collection in the personal and the political.

STILL super-productive and at the height of her creative powers, Lorna Goodison continues to accomplish firsts in her illustrious literary career. Coming on the heels of her massive Collected Poems, the multi-prize-winning scribe has dropped her debut essay collection, the curiously titled Redemption Ground: Essays and Adventures, adding to an estimable and celebrated body of work that spans a dozen poetry anthologies, short-story collections and an acclaimed memoir, From Harvey River. 

Published by Myriad Editions, Redemption Ground finds Goodison interweaving the person and the political to explore themes that have captured her working life. “They are essays and adventures about poetry and my relationship with poetry and things that have happened to me as I’ve travelled,” the reigning poet laureate has said about the 224-page collection. 

Specifically, she zones in on her love of the written word and the arts, even as she examines such subjects as colonialism and its legacy, racism and social justice and the enduring power of friendship. 

What’s more, the author introduces readers to a vivid cast of characters and places, including a now-defunct Jamaican cinema, New York’s Bottom Line Club and a fascinating Black hairdresser in Paris.  

The book’s title, interestingly, is borrowed from one of the oldest markets in Kingston, Jamaica. 

Among the more interesting essay titles in Redemption Ground, you’ll find “For Derek Walcott,” “Nadine Gordimer Lecture” and “Hurricanes.” 

>> More Books: Marguerite Orane publishes Forget It: What’s the Point?