Alfre Woodard

Frasier (1993) s02e06 – The Botched Language of Cranes

There’s a really bad line in this episode—written by Joe Keenan, back after a big success with his first script a few episodes ago—about Kelsey Grammer not being willing to emcee a Catholic Church charity event but willing to do the “Miss Teenage Seattle” one.

So. Ew. Nineties. Also it comes up in a conversation with Peri Gilpin. Ew. Nineties.

Grammer is going to end up doing that Catholic Church charity because he puts his foot in his mouth about Seattle on air and pisses off his listeners. At one point John Mahoney is reading about the controversy in the newspaper—Grammer’s in a mood about the rainy weather—and reads from the “Derek Mann” column. Mann was a voice character last season and for a while I was hoping there’d be a rematch (Joe Mantegna did the voice).

Turns out there isn’t one, but it’s okay because it manages to go from bad to worse to more worse to even more worse, with Grammer articulately bumbling his way through the whole affair. It’s a Grammar-centered episode, with some great material for Gilpin and David Hyde Pierce (including together, so everyone’s taken notice of their banter).

The episode also has the first time Maris is on location, just not with the other characters. She goes to the charity and is trying to social climb—which comes with some great narration from Hyde Pierce—while not sitting at the table with the rest of the cast.

There are a lot of good jokes, especially at the charity, where Mahoney’s got a previous history with nun Helen Geller and Grammer’s about the make his own. Keenan comes up with a fantastic twist for the last Grammer foot-in-his-mouth section….

Jane Leeves doesn’t get much, other than ignoring Hyde Pierce sniffing her hair at one point (I barely noticed it because it’s so on brand for him), but she does get a fantastic monologue about ringing phones.

Two guest callers—Alfre Woodard and Sandra Dee—with Woodard being the one who ends up getting Grammer in trouble and then Dee reading him her version of a riot act.

It’s a good one. Keenan’s dialogue’s real funny. And David Lee’s directing is good too. He’s got a nice rhythm with the actors.

Crooklyn (1994, Spike Lee)

Crooklyn is a series of memories. They’re mostly the main character’s memories—and if they’re not, they’re definitely from her perception. The memories start in the spring and go through the summer. Director Lee and his cowriters—and siblings (Crooklyn is semi-autobiographical) Joie Lee and Cinqué Lee frequently change the pace of the memories. Some are long scenes with a lot of action, some are shorter transitional scenes, memorable for their placement in the narrative and their location. The Lee siblings are very comfortable with the film’s narrative distance and changing it; they nimbly move between characters during the first half or so then turn around and slow down to focus on the protagonist. When they speed up again, there’s still the same tighter focus, but a lot more going on and at a different pace.

Zelda Harris is the protagonist. She’s nine years old; the only daughter of schoolteacher Alfre Woodward and successful working musician but not successful composer Delroy Lindo. She has four brothers. Carlton Williams plays the oldest, presumably Spike. He’s a jerk. He also gets the most material to do because he’s the oldest and he and Harris have a whole character arc going on through the movie but it’s one of the quietest subplots, because there’s not much room for laughs. Because Crooklyn has a lot of laughs. Woodward’s intense and the kids are stinkers. And Lindo not really being any help is one of the louder subplots. The masculinity isn’t terribly toxic, but it’s far from good. It leads to some big fights and tense discussions between Woodward and Lindo, which feature some phenomenal acting from the pair. Harris usually gets involved too, since her brothers are too busy being boys. The brothers being boys often contributes to a lot of the humor, which the script never uses to alleviate the drama. The two can coexist, but ones not a solution for the other.

As the film goes on—it starts towards the end of a school year, with Harris dreading the possibility of leaving Brooklyn to visit Southern relations over the summer. There are no scenes at the school. The film either takes place on the block, in the house, or down South. Until the third act, anyway. Third act is a completely different—appropriately—story for locations. But as the film goes on, the Lees take their time establishing the ground situation, establishing the characters, establishing the relationships. Exposition dumps are rare, usually only when they need to give context for an earlier detail, usually from Woodward, who is very fallible, she’s just not fallible about dumb things. She’s never sainted in the film, but she’s closer than anyone else to being a saint. The script doesn’t shy away from children’s cruelty or stupidity (not even Harris’s). It also is very careful in how it portrays Lindo, who takes the longest to get established. It’s a great script.

When summer finally arrives—in the second half of the film—and Harris goes down South to visit aunt and uncle Frances Foster and Norman Matlock and, more, cousin Patriece Nelson, Harris gets to really run the movie for a while. She gets to experience the strangeness of her relations and the South, but not to be aware of how that experience is going to perturb her character development.

Because she’s nine.

When the summer vacation is over, there’s a different Harris, but there’s also a very different situation waiting for her back at home. The script changes the pacing of the memories. Some events get missed, some events have more weight, and we’re watching Harris exist through them and experience them but have no idea what’s happening to her. Crooklyn isn’t a kids movie per se… but it’s also not not a kids movie. The film’s always from a kid’s eye-level, let’s say, and then it turns out that eye-level just perfectly matches Harris’s. It’s a really great script.

Performances—Harris, Woodward, and Lindo are the whole show. There are some really good supporting performances (Isaiah Washington’s performance as a Vietnam vet deserves its own movie). But it’s all about Harris, Woodward, and Lindo. As for whether Harris has better scenes with Woodward or Lindo on her own… it’s probably Lindo, just because how the character development arc goes. But there are still some fabulous ones between Woodward and Harris. Harris knows Lindo’s not exactly the most responsible adult. So lots of gristle for scenes.

Technically, Crooklyn’s near flawless. Great photography from Arthur Jafa, even better editing from Barry Alexander Brown, which is made even more effective thanks to the awesome Terrence Blanchard score. Wynn Thomas’s production design is awesome too. Especially when Harris goes down South and Lee stretches the screen to show it as otherworldly (distorted and televised). The production design is almost more important during that section, since the audience has to see and understand what Harris is seeing because she might not really understand it.

The stretching is director Lee’s most extreme style choice. He’s got a dream sequence, which fits into the film’s existing stylistic flourishes—Spike Lee appears a neighborhood glue-sniffer and jerk, so he gives himself most of the flash. It fits, given how his stand-in, Williams, treats Harris. Meanwhile, Joie Lee–Harris being her stand-in—shows up as a slightly overbearing aunt. Uncredited. Third screenwriter Cinqué Lee doesn’t cameo.

I haven’t even gotten to the soundtrack, which maybe was produced by Alex Steyermark. The use of seventies songs is exquisite, both in the narrative—as a detail—or as non-diegetic accompaniment of the scenes. It’s awesome.

Crookyln’s awesome. Harris, Woodward, Linda, and Lees Spike, Joie, and Cinqué make something special.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Joie Lee, Spike Lee, and Cinqué Lee, based on a story by Joie Lee; director of photography, Arthur Jafa; edited by Barry Alexander Brown; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Wynn Thomas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Zelda Harris (Troy), Alfre Woodard (Carolyn), Delroy Lindo (Woody), Carlton Williams (Clinton), Sharif Rashed (Wendell), Tse-Mach Washington (Joseph), Christopher Knowings (Nate), José Zúñiga (Tommy La La), Isaiah Washington (Vic), David Patrick Kelly (Tony Eyes), Patriece Nelson (Viola), Frances Foster (Aunt Song), Norman Matlock (Uncle Clem), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Uncle Brown), Spike Lee (Snuffy), N. Jeremi Duru (Right Hand Man), Ivelka Reyes (Jessica), and Joie Lee (Aunt Maxine).


Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

First Contact works out well for a number of reasons. The script’s structured beautifully, it’s well-cast, Frakes knows how to direct for both humor and action… but also because it’s not a possessive picture. The film involves time travel, sending the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” crew into the past (but still the future) and introduces James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard as locals. In the third act, I realized they’re the only ones with anything at stake. The Enterprise crew… well, sure, the franchise could be in jeopardy, but not the actual characters. Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore obscure that situation quite well.

The film also gives Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner a lot to do. After some lengthy exposition at the open, the script splits into three parts–Stewart and Woodard on the Enterprise, Spiner and villain Alice Krige on the Enterprise, Frakes and Cromwell on Earth. It might even be fun to sit down and time how the film handles passing from one subplot to the next. It’s always rather well done, possibly because the pairings are so good.

Frakes–the director–doesn’t give Frakes–the actor–much to do. He just gets to be amused at Cromwell’s fun performance as a drunken, reluctant genius. Meanwhile, even though Stewart’s great, it’s because Woodard’s there to act off him. She’s wonderful. Krige’s good, Spiner’s pretty good.

The special effects are good in space, less so in the action scenes.

Contact is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, based on a story by Rick Berman, Braga and Moore and on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), Neal McDonough (Lt. Hawk), Robert Picardo (Holographic Doctor), Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay) and Alfre Woodard (Lily).


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