Wednesday, 31 July 2013

CULTURE BEAT: National Book Awards set for 12th staging + The Butler gets star-studded preview in Philly + Not About Eve thrills New York and North Carolina audiences

SCREEN GEM: Star power reigned in Philadelphia this past Monday evening, as several of Black Hollywood's brightest stepped out for a red carpet screening of the keenly awaited period drama The Butler, at the Perelman Theatre at the Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts in Pennyslavania. Among those making the scene, Sheryl Lee Ralph shared lens time with hubby Senator Vincent Hughes; Cuba Gooding Jr. flew solo; and Lee Daniels, the film's director, spoke at length with members of the media. Slated for a fall release, The Butler consider the story of the White House servant Eugene Allen (Forest Whitaker), who served through eight US Presidents, and features an extraordinarily talented cast, with the likes of Jane Fonda, John Cusack, Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave and Oprah Winfrey

PLAY ON: "We are basking in the glory of a well-received remount of Not About Eve these past two weekend," shares the hardworking team, via Facebook, of Braata Productions. "Now we shift our attention to the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina this coming week. Representing Caribbean theatre, representing Jamaica." The award-winning Karl Williams family drama played to packed houses in Brooklyn from July 12-14 and in Queens July 19-21. With reason to smile (from left), Andrew Clarke, Jeff Anderson-Gunter and Karl Williams are pictured at Eve's recent opening at the National Black Theatre Festival. Anderson-Gunter's Speak of Me As I Am: Paul Robeson will also form part of the production that will bring the festival to a close this weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

AWARD WORTHY: The Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) is gearing up for the 12th staging of the National Book Awards, with some 65 entries vying for prizes in 13 categories. This year, the Readers' Choice Award has yielded 22 entries in four categories. Eleven writers make up the Adult Creative Writing category, "These entries signify the continued vibrancy of the Jamaican publishing industry despite these trying economic times and marks the commitment of our sector to building the nation," explains BIAJ Chairman, Dr. Norman Marshall. "The book industry is an important part of Jamaica's creative sector, and these creative sectors, with the right levels of investment and commitment, can lead the way for economic growth in Jamaica."

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EDITOR'S PICKS: This week Tyrone recommends a gripping Southern drama + J.K. Rowling's new mystery + The latest from reggae icon Alpha Blondy

FILM: When a movie's hero is on the run, he is almost always running toward a woman. In the taut, finely wrought 2013 drama Mud, with its river setting and deep Southern roots, Matthew McConaughey is the titular fugitive hiding out from men hot on his heels due to his part in a murder stemming from a love triangle gone horribly wrong. At the centre of this unfortunate mess is Juniper (an underutilized Reese Witherspoon), Mud's childhood sweetheart whom he is still crazy about. He's waiting on her to join him, when a pair of adventurous tween boys (terrific Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) stumble upon his hiding place -- in classic Huckleberry Finn style -- and set out to help the poor soul reunite with his lost love. But as this captivating, well-acted film (written and directed by Jeff Nichols) reminds us, love may be many things, but easy isn't among them. 

BOOK: Author J.K. Rowling, she of the Harry Potter mega-franchise, did her best to outwit devoted readers by writing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith for her latest bestseller, the murder mystery The Cuckoo's Calling, released in April. For the experts, all it took was a bit of keen writing style analysis to discover that this absorbing tale of a private investigator looking into the death of a legendary supermodel is, in fact, the brainchild of the phenomenally acclaimed British scribe. Indeed, by their craft you shall know them. >> Also new in books: Kingston native Roland Watson-Grant's Louisiana-set new novel, Sketcher, published by the UK's Alma Books. 

MUSIC: After releasing more than a dozen reggae albums, West African reggae stalwart Alpha Blondy has just put out out his newest effort, the 15-track Mystic Power, filled with his signature contemporary sound and vocals delivered in a mix of English, French and his native Dioula. Listeners can also expect messages steeped in social consciousness and a mix of reggae beats and jazzy, funk-infused rhythms on tracks like "Hope," which gets an appearance from Beenie Man and a gripping interpretation of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff."

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ON THE SCENE: Damian Marley + Gina Hargitay + Tahnida Nunes + Colm Delves + Ricardo "Bibi" Gardener + PM Portia Simpson-Miller

PARTING GIFT: July 18, St. Andrew. During a farewell courtesy call at Jamaica House last Thursday, PM Portia Simpson-Miller presents a piece of fine art to Digicel Group CEO, Colm Delves, who is heading off to Dublin, Ireland, to take up a post at the company's new corporate offices. While offering Delves best wishes for his new assignment, the PM voice gratitude on behalf of the government for his service to the country's telecomms industry. (Photo: OPM)

HAIR APPARENT: July 27, St. James. Performing selections from his richly eclectic repertoire, as well as some classic Bob Marley hits, Damian "Gongzilla" Marley and his enormous locks easily find favour with the massive crowd inside Catherine Hall at Reggae Sumfest's International Night 2 on Saturday. (Photo: Infuzion Inc)

IT GIRL: July 26, St. James. Looking like the radiant young queen she is, freshly minted Miss Jamaica World, Gina Hargitay, flashes a smile for the camera on arrival at Reggae Sumfest. Hargitay was among the countless famous faces who caught the Saturday night performances by Romain Virgo, Chronixx, Damian Marley and Miguel(Photo: Infuzion Inc)

HAVING A BALL: July 27, St. James. He's been a fixture on the social scene of late, so it's no surprise that Ricardo "Bibi" Gardener (seen here with a charming female guest) scored an invite to the Digicel Celebrity Beach Party, a Sumfest week affair that took over MoBay's Secrets Resorts & Spa on Saturday.  (Photo: Ishango Photos)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK: July 27, St. James. Playing the gracious hostess, sponsorship manager Tahnida Nunes and Leah Henry, welcomes hip-hop superstar Flo Rida to the Secrets Resort-hosted celebrity beach bash. (Photo: Ishango Photos)

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Monday, 29 July 2013

THE SHAGGY INTERVIEW (Part II): The reggae icon on books, happiness, food, and making a difference

 WELL SUITED: "I want it to be said that I played a major part in taking the music forward," says the hitmaker, seen here at the Grammy Awards. 

In the first part of TALLAWAH's sit-down with Orville "Shaggy" Burrell, the enduring Jamaican superstar spoke candidly and at length about the art of staying relevant in the biz, balancing career and family, and his forthcoming Sly & Robbie project, Out of Many, One Music, due out in September. Below, read the concluding part of our interview: 

On what he considers perfect happiness: "Happiness for me is being relevant and in a sense that I'm making a difference. So if I'm not making music, I'm making someone else's music, writing for somebody else, producing for somebody else, teaching somebody else. There has to be a cause that I'm involved in. I like to be a strategist about what makes an artist successful."

On his reading life: "I was reading Art of War for a minute, but I'm so busy that I don't get to read that much any more." 

On his culinary diet these days: "As you get older, certain things change. I used to be an oxtail man, but I can't eat so much of it again. I've started more healthier eating. I don't like a lot of grease; I don't eat sweets. I don't really love bread. And that came naturally to me. I just got turned off from certain things after a while."

On how he wants to be remembered: "I just want to make a difference. When people talk about reggae years and years from now, I want it to be said that I played a major part in taking the music forward -- people can't help but mention Shaggy as being a relevant part of the music's history."

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REGGAE SUMFEST 2013: Damian Marley in showstopping form; plus, Chronixx, Romain Virgo and more

CROWD PLEASERS: Junior Gong (centre), with Assassin (left) and Aidonia. Below, Virgo in his element.

With his signature towering locks, all-black uniform and competent backing band, Damian Marley wondrously erased any shadow of a doubt regarding his capacity to still electrify a home audience. His headlining performance at Saturday's International Night 2 of Reggae Sumfest delivered the popular hits, of course and, amazingly, the sort of full-bodied magnetism that effortlessly reels in onlookers. 

From the hard-hitting thrill of "Bun Dem", "Set Up Shop" and "Hey Girl" to the Christopher Ellis-assisted "Beautiful" (done originally with Bobby Brown), Junior Gong's set came off as a mesmerizing triumph, eventually heightened by a segment dedicated to his iconic father ("Exodus", "War", "Could You Be Loved?") and a showstopping blitz performance of "Go Hard", alongside dancehall star Wayne Marshall, Assassin and Aidonia. 

A Junior Gong performance almost always elicits an encore request, and this Sumfest stint was no exception, met with the kind of deafening cheers reserved for music's true power players. "Affairs of the Heart" already delivered, the reggae superstar obliged with a sequence featuring "Road to Zion", "Welcome to Jamrock" and the early-career tune "Me Name Junior Gong" before making his final exit. 
Marley and Miguel aside, memorable sets also came from Chronixx (a high-energy showing from the fast-ascending reggae singer-songwriter of such hits as "Warrior", "Behind Curtain" and "Smile Jamaica") and Romain Virgo, a young veteran in a strong (vivid yellow) suit and compelling shape vocally. 

Meantime, offering crowd-pleasing excerpts from their recent theatrical production, Breadfruit, NoMaddz had little trouble forging a solid connection with the MoBay crowd. And the same goes for reggae-pop newcomer Berry, certainly one to watch, who covered the likes of Fantasia and Emeli Sande yielding highly commendable results. Then there was creative multitasker Ashley Martin, who (attired in a sparkling black and silver number) served up an eclectic, vocally rich potpourri featuring hits by everyone from Bruno Mars and Adele to Dawn Penn and Rihanna.

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MIGUEL @ Reggae Sumfest 2013: An R&B hot shot sizzles at Catherine Hall

SINGING SENSATION: The R&B phenom hits a high note during his performance.

If stagecraft is something Miguel picked up from the likes of idols Prince and Usher, then he's certainly managed to put his own unique spin on things, as evidenced on International Night 2 at last weekend's Reggae Sumfest. 

With his powerful pipes on full blast, coupled with an involving case of showmanship, the rising American singer was a study in vigour and supremely confident delivery on the Sumfest mainstage Saturday night, as he belted out such tunes as "You Can Bet That" and "All I Want Is You" -- sounding like R&B's falsetto king and making light work of the mic stand before launching into a rhythmic soft rock routine with the sly "And I Can't Wait." "Let me show you how to touch me," he teased his attentive, appreciative females. "I can teach you." 

Outfitted in a black tee, ripped-at-the-knees blue jeans, and his trademark pompadour, the star's hip-hop-spiked renditions of "How Many Drinks?" and "Power Trip" followed. So, too, did a sprightly take on Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" and the self-explanatory "Quickie", each well received. Still, it wasn't until the megahit "Adorn" was delivered that Miguel's connection with the massive Catherine Hall audience truly took root. With its brassy, big-band sound, the song sounds even more terrific live -- a compliment duly earned by the singer himself. 

In short, like Usher and Chris Brown a few years ago, Miguel gave a pretty solid showing on the Sumfest mainstage, and it speaks volumes of not only his outsize talent but also his brightly promising future.

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OF MIGHT & MEN: Checking in on theatre's Best Actor frontrunners du moment

SCENE STEALERS: Tulloch bonds with his onstage daughter. Below, an intense Campbell and Patterson.

As I outlined in last week's "A Tale of Three Divas", 2013's Best Actress race is nicely taking shape, thanks to award-calibre turns from, among others, Lisa Williams, Audrey Reid and Dahlia Harris, clearly the leaders at this point. But what about the gents? 

For me, any mention of the Best Actor frontrunners right now must include comeback kid David Tulloch who, after hiding out behind the scenes for years in the guise of director-producer-writer, returned to the boards this past April in his own Paternal Instinct, playing a brilliant, decent lawyer grappling with domestic woes. Not unlike talented alternate Orrin Scott-Stewart, Tulloch imbued the part with a mixture of gravity and believability, even turning on the waterworks in that pivotal scene near the end when his character faces losing custody of his young daughter. Impressive work. 

A family man of a whole different breed is Keiran King's deeply off-putting William, a tortured creative soul, in Taboo. That King managed to make this self-loathing wreck come across as simply vulnerable and hurting and, indeed, human is testament to the actor-playwright's depth and all-round terrific acting chops. Rodney Campbell, with whom King has an out-and-out brawl in arguably the play's most explosive scene, is a shoo-in for supporting-actor consideration. 
Of late, Glen Campbell has been making a habit of wowing theatregoers with dynamic and passionate portrayals of charming womanizers, the type who leave heartbreak in their wake. Following up the Thespy- and Actor Boy-winning Charlie's Angels and last year's Glass Slippaz, Campbell gives a splendid performance in this month's Ladies of the Night as slick-talking music producer Carlos, whose love-em-and-leave-em days may be numbered after an encounter with four talented (musically and otherwise) prostitutes, played by Keisha Patterson, Sharee McDonald-Russell, Sakina Deer and Camille Davis, whose presence in the show (despite her long hiatus) made me feel as if she never left.

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NEWS & NOTES: ROC Jamaica awards 21 scholarships + the 2013 Emancipendence schedule of events

PAYING IT FORWARD: Last week singer-activist Cherine's Reach One Child Foundation (ROC) presented scholarships to 21 high-school students hailing from institutions across the island. The presentation took place at the Ashe headquarters in Kingston. With over 200 applications submitted from all 14 parishes, Cherine says the ROC Scholarship Committee faced the difficult task of selecting the final crop of awardees, who stood out based on criteria that includes academic success, artistic excellence, evidence of community service and leadership. 

ISLAND CELEBRATION: Emancipendence Week is among the most highly anticipated periods on the local cultural calendar, thanks in large part to the usually exciting crop of traditional Jamaican activities on offer -- not to mention the lively, colourful entertainment. For this August, the schedule of events is as follows: Mello Go' Roun' (August 1, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre); Jamaica Festival Song showcase (August 2, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre); Miss Jamaica Festival Queen coronation (August 3, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre); National Gospel Song Finals (August 4, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre); World Reggae Dance Championships (August 5, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre) and the Grand Gala (August 6, National Stadium).

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ARTS BEAT: Facey's Radiant Earth exhibit for London premiere + Rita Marley to be made honorary citizen of Ghana

EARTH MOTHER: On September 24, acclaimed Jamaican artist Laura Facey will launch her 12th solo exhibition, Radiant Earth, at the Prince's School of Traditional Arts in London. Among the works set to be on display are "Their Spirits Gone Before Them", depicting a stunning scene of cottonwood canoe filled with 1, 357 resin miniature figures, and the Radiant Comb series, which was first exhibited in St. Ann in 2011. The London exhibit closes on October 4. 

AFRICA ON THE MIND: "We are thrilled to see the Ghana government recognizing the tremendous contributions Nana Rita has made to Ghana socially, as well as economically," notes Dr. Erieka Bennett, Head of Mission for the African Union's Diaspora Africa Forum, referring to the recently announced news that reggae icon and humanitarian Rita Marley is to be made, effective August 1, an honorary citizen of Ghana and presented with a Ghanaian passport. "This is an historical day for those of us from the Diaspora." Marley has lived in Ghana for nearly two decades.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

STAYING POWER: After 20-odd years of making hits, the game still needs Shaggy

HE IS LEGEND: The Jamaican megastar at the I.Am.Angel Foundation concert in California in February. Below, with Ne-Yo on-stage at Jamaica Jazz & Blues 2012.

Madonna, Prince and Grace Jones, to name only a few creative powerhouses of that class and calibre, have perfected the art of self-reinvention by relying heavily on the drive, competitive gleam and passion that got them through the door in the first place. Count among the Jamaican students of that school of thought Orville "Shaggy" Burrell, whose forthcoming 12th studio album, Sly & Robbie Presents Shaggy: Out of Many, One Music (due out September 24), is set to confirm that he's still highly relevant -- and bombastic -- after 20-plus years in the game. 

On Thursday afternoon, the diamond-selling 44-year-old was joined by fellow Grammy winner Ne-Yo (one of numerous collaborators on the new album) at Truck Stop on West King's House Road to film the video for the record's hypnotic single. During a rare break on-set, Shaggy chatted candidly with TALLAWAH about creative and personal growth, fatherhood and family, why acting isn't his thing, and being excited about making music all over again. 

TALLAWAH: You're back in the spotlight with fresh singles and a soon-to-drop 14-track album. How much fun was it to put together this latest disc, your 12th? 
Shaggy: It's a project I'm excited about because, first of all, it's with Sly & Robbie, and it was born from an energy of just being on tour and we decided that we're gonna do an album together. This is the first album I've done that's all reggae and lover's rock. There is no dancehall on it. 

Don't tell me you're divorcing dancehall. 
Not at all. My next album will be straight dancehall. Dave Kelly and I have been talking about working on a Shaggy dancehall album. He and I worked on "Angel" and a couple of other songs on Hot Shot, and so we're thinking of doing a dancehall-fusion kind of album. It would be me, him and Sting International. So that should be interesting for next year. 

Your guestbook for Out of Many is pretty impressive, with the likes of Beres Hammond, Ne-Yo, Konshens, Morgan Heritage and Tessanne, et al, putting in appearances. How do you usually pick your collaborators? 
I look at collaborations based upon the songs. A song has to speak to you and then [it] tells you who the collaborator is. I don't get up and say I'm going to choose this person. Working with Beres is a bredrin thing because we sit down and drink and talk stuff and rae rae. With Ne-Yo, it's a friendship we've had from before. And he has a love for Jamaica and the culture. We were hanging out a couple of times and a track just came up, and we wrote some lyrics to it. And once we started to produce it, the outcome was nice. 
You rank highly among the icons still standing in modern Jamaican music. How do you feel about your evolution as a creative artist? 
I'm excited by the fact that I'm still relevant. After all these years, I'm still a force to be reckoned with. A guy who's been at this for over 20 years probably shouldn't have this amount of relevance. So I'm very pleased about that. The main thing is reinvention; you have to try and make yourself as interesting as possible that people will want to be a part of what you're offering. I get bored and I change to different things because I don't want to keep doing the same thing. 

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about ventures outside the music biz, like starring in Hollywood films?
Music is what excites me, but in terms of movie roles, it's a couple of them I turned down. I turned down the one that Ja Rule was in [2001's Half Past Dead, opposite Steven Seagal]; that was supposed to be my role.  

So Hollywood producers have been reaching out to you? 
Yes, man. A lot of people want me to act because I did a short part in [the 2004 comedy] Blast, with Vivica Fox and Eddie Griffin, and they thought the acting was good. But [acting] is just not my thing, and when you don't have a passion for something like that, I don't think you will excel at it. I think I'm more passionate about being the behind-the-scenes guy. If I'm going to do a movie, it would have to be something with a Jamaican flavour to it. I have a few ideas of my own, so it would be me producing and helping with the writing of the script. 

I know that being on tour and in the studio so much keeps you away from your family a lot. What's life like as a dad these days? 
It's been going great. I have twin girls who are now three years old, and they're my apple. I have two older boys, one is 18 and the other is 16, and they're doing their own thing... So family is good and music still excites me. I can't complain. I look at myself as blessed.

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A TALE OF THREE DIVAS: Audrey Reid vs. Dahlia Harris vs. Lisa Williams -- the Best Actress race heats up

ROLE PLAY: Reid in Embassy Saga; Below, Harris (right) and Barrett in Thicker Than Water; Bottom, Williams (centre) in Taboo.

We're less than seven months away from the announcement of nominations for the Thespian Spirit Awards (and later the Actor Boys), and as I write this we're close to knee-deep in performances jockeying for consideration. Not surprisingly, a host of female actors -- fast-rising thespians, seasoned contenders and comeback queens -- are busy offering up some of the best work of their careers. 

At this stage of the race, three leading ladies have captured my attention, not only on account of their sharply rendered turns but just how powerfully they use their stage presence to winning effect. After years in the awards wilderness, Audrey Reid's captivating work as a beleaguered wife in Embassy Saga proves she's got lots more vroom in the engine, even as she reminds us of her ability to going from drolly campy to seriously dramatic at the drop of a hat. 
Perhaps her equal in range and versatility, Dahlia Harris, a perennial favourite when it comes to showing and proving as an actress, could secure her next statuette for her deeply nuanced and riveting portrayal of a career woman under fire in her latest creation, Thicker Than Water. Leading a cast that includes last year's supporting-actress winner and Pularchie standout Suzette Barrett and this year's breakout sensation Shawna-Kae Burns, Harris' Kimberly is a study in head-strong drive and understandable ferocity and, in some instances, an inspiration for young women intent on scaling that corporate ladder. 
And lastly, a word on Taboo's Lisa Williams, who is sure to earn a place among the key players come awards season. Having closely tracked her burgeoning big-screen to stage career, for me, Williams (a performer barely in her 20s) possesses the requisite heft and creative cunning to become the Karen Harriott of her generation. Her deeply impressive performance in Taboo banks on wit, youthful ebullience and depth that, when combined, is nothing short of moving and memorably mature. 

Like Harris and Reid (as well as the likes of Neekah Whyte in the School of Drama's excellent Blood Wedding and Burns in Thicker Than Water), Williams knows what can be had by trusting your instincts, gently stepping to the side, and letting the character come roaring through.

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THE SPICE GIRLS: Sexy, funny Ladies has sass and tuneful style to spare

WE WILL ROCK YOU: The working girls strike a pose. Below, Davis and Wilson.

Ladies of the Night (Jambiz Productions) 
Director(s): Trevor Nairne and Patrick Brown 
Cast: Camille Davis, Sakina Deer, Sharee McDonald-Russell, Keisha Patterson, Courtney Wilson, and Glen Campbell 
Venue: Centrestage Theatre, New Kingston 

When it comes to penning stories that reflect all segments of the society while eliciting that very inexplicable concept called "Jamaicanness," you'd be hard-pressed to find a more skillful playwright than Patrick Brown, whose latest effort, Ladies of the Night, is an incredibly funny and clever work with emotional heft and a socially relevant message lodged at its core. 

Thanks to a solid script and a stellar cast, viewers are ushered into a believable world of night work (of the "selling and buying" variety); ambition to rise above one's unfortunate circumstances; and a cadre of sassy, sexy working girls (prostitutes/hookers, if you prefer) whose ravishing costumes are best described as delicious boudoir chic. 

It's a fabulously competent quartet -- Deer, Davis, McDonald-Russell and Patterson convince and tantalize -- wonderfully complemented by the veteran duo of Campbell (doubling up as a bothersome cop and the macho music producer Carlos, who obviously specializes in "talent") and Wilson (as the lispy, handcart-pushing Lothario, Scatta). 

If you're even just a tad curious about the daring and dangerous existence that hookers lead -- the secret double life as in the case of Davis' hilarious, hygiene-challenged Juicy, or the physical harm that they often encounter a la Deer's vicious Honey -- then Ladies is the play for you. What's more, as the show outlines, the world's oldest profession can bring on serious psychological strain (like that of Patterson's ditzy-sweet Sugar) or bring out your maternal sensibilities (see McDonald-Russell's mature and protective Cherry). 
With hardly a flaw to complain about, Ladies of the Night wins you over with its committed performances and a wonderful melange of movement and music (think disco, classical pop and a surprising Norah Jones cameo). When the girls join forces as a harmonious singing group, with the possibility of Jazz & Blues appearance (Sketchy Carlos insists on taking them to the top) the show takes on added charm and lustre. 

Co-director Trevor Nairne's set design (street corner and apartment living quarters) is well done and lovely to look at, but during the show, the intermittent set changes do take a while to be properly arranged. 

Though the production largely traffics in sex and dark themes like betrayal -- and even the nightmarish prevalance of HIV -- there is a surprisingly buoyant and irrepressible spirit to the whole thing, and I feel it has to do with the inclusion of irresistible, well-choreographed tunes like "Bad Girl" and "The Impossible Dream." Terrific sex, gorgeous girls and great music -- what's a more thrilling combination than that? Tyrone's Verdict: B+

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