Something New [DVD]
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Although not perfect, the movie did a very good job portraying the hesitation, uncertainty, obstacles, unknown, pain, awkwardness, and yes, passion, excitement and humor, involved with inter-racial relationships. Both leading characters were very likeable and believable. (Who said Sanaa Lathan is not attractive and talented--you've got to be kidding??) Brian and Kenya's first meeting at Starbucks is priceless. You also just have to smile and laugh at the scenes involving Brian/Kenya and her hair---white men really don't know anything about black women and their hair!!
For me, one of the most telling scenes in the movie is when Brian and Kenya are arguing in the supermarket, and Brain states he does not want to "talk about race" that night. Kenya responds that "race" is something black people are forced to deal with every day and every night. This is something I did not appreciate as a white person until I married a black woman. When you are a black "minority" woman in a predominately white male world, you're forced to deal with race everyday, whether you want to or not. I have found this to be true with my own wife. Race is always something we are ready to talk about or deal with--but it does not dictate or drive our relationship/marriage.
Lastly, I believe black women--like all women--simply want a man that will treat them well and respect them. That's all Kenya wants in the movie. Some black women only want to date black men. Some black women are open to dating outside their race. Its all good. I know that there are many white men who are attracted to and interested in dating black women--but, for many reasons, they are very hesitant and unsure about going "down this path." The world continues to change for the better. It's not perfect and there is still a long way to go, but I remain optimistic. Inter-racial relationships are not for everyone, but for some like myself, it is worth the effort. It was worth the effort for Brian and Kenya.
Fortunately, like myself, the majority of professional and audience critics recognized this movie for the gem that it is. Sanaa Lathan has such magnetism that you can't take your eyes off her on screen. Not only is she obviously beautiful to look at, but she has an inherent screen presence rarely seen in actresses nowadays, of any race. Simon Baker is ridiculously handsome in grungy jeans and tee-shirts, and, instead of playing Brian purely as eye-candy, turns the leading man into a multi-dimensional character with flaws just like the rest of us (check out the break-up scene in the grocery store). And, as usual, Alfre Woodard effortlessly nails the role of Kenya's insufferable mother. The rest of the cast is a hoot, especially Kenya's brother Nelson, and her girlfriends.
If you are the type of person who was shocked by the original "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" or "Jungle Fever," then you might find Something New uncomfortable to watch, but that's all the more reason why you should. For the rest of us (hopefully, the majority) who can appreciate a solid movie with quality acting, and beauty/talent in all colors, shapes, and sizes, Something New will definitely not disappoint. Add this movie to your DVD collection.
The moral of the story is that social conventions don't always know best in matters of the heart: You might find the companion you seek if you are open to other possibilities. Kenya and Brian's story is predictable, but Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker are attractive and interesting to watch. The greater social insight of the film may be in Kenya's coterie of friends, all upper-middle class professional black women who fret over the dearth of suitable black men available to them. Their predicament and their views of men and race are interesting from the perspective of an outsider. White members of the audience will doubt Brian's willingness to tolerate the enormous chip Kenya carries on her shoulder. And he is more tolerant and self-sacrificing in the face of Kenya's self-absorption than is believable. But romantic comedies require some suspension of disbelief, and "Something New" is entertaining.
The DVD (Universal 2006): In "The Do's and Don'ts of Dating" (5 min), 8 members of the cast give their do's and don'ts of dating and relationships. "The Making of Something New" (11 min) features interviews with director Sanaa Hamri, writer Kriss Turner, producer Stephanie Allain, and the cast in which they talk about making the film and discuss the film's themes. Subtitles are available for the film in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Kenya is on the fast track to making partner - but only at her law firm. Her personal life sucks. Where are all the eligible black men? She and her similarly high-achieving girlfriends chalk up their track record to the miserable statistics on the marriage prospects of professional African-American women. Apparently, only 42.4% of them ever marry.
But Kenya's real problem is that she has impossibly high standards, and she has a list of what she does and doesn't do, a mental index of uncomely attributes - bad teeth, poor education, kids, previously married. She seems to be convinced that she has to land an IBM: Ideal Black Man.
Kenya is also insufferably uptight, she wears a full work outfit on Saturdays, and complains to her friends about the "black tax," the idea that blacks have to work twice as hard to achieve the same accolades as their white peers. And just like the garden in the back of her newly purchased house, Kenya is just as dry and emotionally barren.
The man of her dreams arrives in the form of hunky blond haired and blue eyed Brian (terrific Tasmanian actor Simon Baker). They meet on a blind date, but because Kenya can't think outside the box and would never dream of dating a white guy, she tells him she's not interested. Coincidently, she meets him again and hires him to landscape her garden.
The more Brian wrestles manfully with a hoe, biceps bulging, the hotter Kenya gets under her starchy, buttoned-up collar. "You need me," Brian says when he first sees Kenya's pathetic garden, clearly meaning to make this stunning but chilly woman blossom along with the seedlings.
Obvious problems arise with the race card - not so much from Kenya's family and friends - but from her own views and insecurities over dating a white guy. Brian sees women as women, and looks beyond the skin colour, he's also remarkably laid back, almost spiritual in his outlook, and he sees Kenya as "a piece of work," she's absolutely gorgeous but seems damaged by her life experiences.
The two leads are enormously appealing and have obvious screen chemistry - Baker - an actor of formidable talents - is suitably earthy and sexy as Brian, whilst Lathan is absolutely gorgeous as Kenya. The film is also smart enough to address the economic gap between the two principals, which is considerable; and there's a class barrier as well as a racial one. And in a kind of reverse racism, Kenya's brother and his friends rib Brian for being white every chance they get.
This is a lovely, elegant and beautifully acted movie, the humor coming from the characters themselves as they grapple with their perceived limitations of living in the modern world. The movie also doesn't shy away from the subtle, everyday racism that has made Kenya so guarded and distrustful in the first place.
Yet when all is dead and done, true love conquers all, the colour of one's skin is superfluous, and both Brian and Kenya realize they are meant to be together. Something New is very smart and very entertaining, and if at times it hedges on matters of stereotyping and ethnic tension while focusing on the steamy love affair, then all the better. Mike Leonard May 06.
Don't believe me - think back to all the bruhaha over Halle Berry's and Billy Bob Thornton's love scene in 'Monster's Ball'.
'Something New' does do something refreshing that very seldom happens in American cinema - black characters who transcend the stereotyped images so popular these days. Kenya (played by the talented and gorgeous Sanaa Lathan) is a lot closer to the reality of black life than what is seen in the media. There are many upwardly mobile and successful black women in this country (outside of Oprah of course).
As is the staple in many romantic comedies that feature white actors, Kenya's looking for Mr. Right, not knowing that Mr. Right just so happens to be the white landscaper, Brian (Simon Baker, who's just so darn sexy). The film is as much about the class differences between the white collar Kenya and the blue (or green) collar Brian as it is about their obvious racial differences.
Of course, it's understood that Kenya's idea of the perfect man certainly isn't of the 'caucasian persuasion', and the prerequisite jokes and barbs follow. Brian, on the other hand, simply sees this highly attractive and intelligent woman who just so happens to be black.
I think the film's most poignant moment (and the one that makes me hit the *replay* button) is when Brian tells her that her natural hair is far more attractive than the fake stuff she's been wearing. Talk about scoring big points with this 'natural sista'! My boyfriend (who's Mexican--I'm Black) reached over to me in the theater and ran his fingers through my short crop and whispered "they got that right".
And like all romantic comedies, this one wraps everything up in a nice, if not always tidy bow and sends the audience away with the faint hope that we're smart enough to see our shared humanity. Fluffy in parts, oh yes. Then again, who said that black films always have to be ghetto-fabulous and heavy-handed?
I hope we get a 'Something New 2' soon!