At first this movie appears to be the standard, local girl make good, dance film, appealing strictly to an audience of teenage hip-hop and R & B fans, but later an ambitious social message emerges.
Directed by Bille Woodruff and starring Jessica Alba and Mekhi Phifer, Honey marks a series of impressive debuts. It's Woodruff's first feature, Alba's first starring role and the first solo feature of screenwriters Alonzo Brown and Kim Watson.
Honey, (Alba), a talented and glamourous dancer and choreographer, is not only hungry for success in her own right, but has ambitions to transform the lives of the kids in her neighbourhood by enabling them to find a creative outlet for their energy rather than hanging around on the street. Discovered by a video director, (David Moscow), Honey's hopes are raised, only to be dashed when he fires her after she rejects his advances. Only momentarily daunted, Honey with the aid of her supportive boyfriend (Phifer) and best girl friend (Joy Bryant), decides to open her own dance studio and organises a triumphant benefit to fund the purchase.
While the dance sequences are tough and energetic, the message of the film is refreshingly moral. Honey's a good
girl who says her prayers, loves her parents, and is loyal to her friends. She isn't prepared to sleep her way to the top, and wants to give back to her neighbourhood. Mothers of teenagers can happily accompany them to this film with the added bonus that, if it appeals, they will no longer have to fear raids on their wardrobes. Costume designer, Susan Matheson's research took her to Harlem as well as to dance auditions in New York and Los Angeles. The results are so cutting edge that I defy any woman over thirty to possess anything remotely similar.
Directed by Mehdi Norowzian and starring Joseph Fiennes, Elizabeth Shue and Dennis Hopper, Leo, like Honey, is the director's full length feature debut as well as that of the scriptwriter, Massy Tadjedin. The film appears initially to consist of two unconnected plots. In the first Stephen (Fiennes), a marvellously brooding presence even with a crew cut, is
released from prison where he has served fifteen years for murder, and taken to work at the diner run by Vic (Sam Shepard) a Bible reading philanthropist.
Stephen's attempts to keep on the straight and narrow are constantly hampered by the violent interference of Horace (Hopper in a reprise of his role as the psychotic Frank in Blue Velvet). The second plot strand concerns a bored housewife (Shue), who has given up a budding academic career to have babies with her professor husband only, seemingly, to be rewarded by his infidelity with a student. When informed of this, Shue falls into the convenient arms of her builder, Ryan (Justin Chambers). Shortly afterwards her husband, who was innocent after all, is killed with their daughter in a road accident, leaving his wife pregnant and consumed by guilt. When her son is born she neglects him totally, finding solace in booze, fags and rough stuff. We gradually become aware that the infant Leo is, in fact, Stephen, a Messianic figure, loving, forgiving and slow to anger except in the defence of others. The film ends with the promise that he will be able to escape his violent past through literary recognition.
Although the plot is at times improbable, the film is enjoyable because of its excellent acting. In an era where it is necessary to put on false noses and three stone in weight to get an Oscar, Shue, who remains slim, bright-eyed and shiny-toothed after fifteen years of boozing, is never going to get a look in, nevertheless I enjoyed her performance immensely. The scene where her professor husband marches her over to confront his accuser in the middle of the night is both original and delicious. Fiennes is always compelling to watch, and Hopper makes a satisfying ogre. The scenes between the young Leo and his mother, such as when he cuddles up to her as she lies in a drunken stupor, are surprisingly touching, and the moral, redemption through writing, is a positive one.
Perfect Score, directed by Brian Robbins, is the story of six American high school seniors who hatch an elaborate plot to steal the answers to the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test to you and me), which they need to pass in order to get into university.
Each of the kids, (played by Erika Christensen, Chris Evans, Brian Greenberg, Scarlett Johansson, Darius Miles and Leonardo Nam) represents a distinct type: the swot, the mastermind, the lover, the poor little rich girl, the athlete, the dopehead, but as the story unfolds the plot and characterisation are convincing enough, and the suspense taut enough, to make the audience care about them and want them to succeed in spite of the worrying moral abyss that lurks at the heart of the story.
After a successful heist during which the group bond as a team and develop a rather touching loyalty to each other, a last minute twist saves the ethical situation and enables the group to ride off into different but equally glorious futures to the ones originally envisaged. Recommended for its suspense and excellent ensemble playing.
ROME - 18 March 2004 - 320 words