Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Black Oscar's Good, Bad and Murphy

A night that began with a buzz of historic proportions ended in ecstasy for Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker, and agony for three other Black nominees, Will Smith, Djimon Hounsou and Eddie Murphy.

For the first time, it appeared that three Black actors, who were favorites in their categories, would stand together in the winner’s circle at evening’s end. But, for the third time this decade, only two out of three walked away with the coveted prize.

Whitaker’s Best Actor win puts him in exclusive company as one of only four Black actors ever to hold that distinction. He joins Sidney Poitier (Lillies of the Field, 1963), Denzel Washington (Training Day, 2001) and Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004). Whitaker, who first gained notoriety in the slacker film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, shares another distinction: He is the second person from that cult classic to win an Oscar; Sean Penn won for Mystic River In 2003.

Hudson became the third Black woman ever to win in the Best Supporting Actress category, joining Hattie McDaniel (Gone With The Wind, 1939) and Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost, 1990).

But perhaps the story of the night was Murphy’s loss to Alan Arkin in the Best Supporting Actor race. Murphy had to feel good about his chances after securing several major critics group’s awards and the Golden Globe. Murphy’s loss is reminiscent of Denzel Washington’s Best Actor loss (for The Hurricane) to Kevin Spacey (for American Beauty) at the 1999 Oscars.

Washington had been the favorite to win for his role as wrongfully convicted boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane. Almost a decade earlier, Washington lost another close Oscar contest that everyone thought he should have won for his career-turn in Malcolm X. Washington would win the covet Best Actor prize three years later for Training Day, but he is best known for the Oscars he didn’t win, versus the two he did.

Murphy’s role in Dreamgirls was a critical success. For the past two months, he was the toast of Tinseltown as he continued his transition from comedian to bona fide actor. All was proceeding as planned until his latest film, “Norbit,” was released to scathing reviews and complaints from African-American activists for its depiction of Black women. Who knows if “Norbit” played a part in sinking Murphy’s chances? History will show it didn’t help.

From the outset, it appeared that Dreamgirls suffered from inflated expectations. After securing wins for both Hudson and Murphy and a nomination for Beyoncé Knowles, the film received eight Oscar nominations but none for Best Picture or Best Director. The film was also shut out in the Best Song category, despite having three songs nominated.

The reality of Dreamgirls is that Hudson gave the strongest performance of the film and won an Oscar. Unfortunately for the film, the strongest songs in “Dreamgirls” were not eligible for award consideration because they were adapted from the stageplay. Thus, Hudson’s powerhouse performance of “And I Am Telling You,” which would have been a virtual lock to win, was not considered. Ultimately, “Dreamgirls’” two Oscar wins are disappointing, but understandable. Remember, 1985’s Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars and didn’t win one!

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A 'Dreamgirl' and a 'King' Reign on Oscar Night

Forest Whitaker became the fourth African American to win the Oscar for Best Actor after taking home the prize for his larger-than-life portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

His win, coupled with Jennifer Hudson's Oscar, marks the third time since 2002 that two Black actors have won major acting Oscars on the same night. In 2002, both Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) won; in 2005, Jamie Foxx ("Ray") and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) took home awards.

Hudson's rags-to-riches story was fulfilled Sunday night after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Effie in the hit Dreamgirls.

A tearful Hudson praised her grandmother as the inspiration for her performance.

Hudson, 25, who was voted off "American Idol," thanked "everyone for keeping the faith when nobody else would." Hudson is the the third Black supporting actress winner in Oscar history, joining Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind) and Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost).

The story of the night was Dreamgirls, which led all other films with eight nominations but only won in two categories: best supporting actress and best sound achievement.

Murphy lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to veteran actor, Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. Not only was Murphy denied, but also Blood Diamond's Djimon Hounsou suffered his second setback in his attempt to win the coveted award. Housou was previously nominated for In America.

Murphy, who won the Golden Globe for his performance as doomed singer Jimmy Early, was the frontrunner to win in this highly competitive category and appeared to have the momentum after winning the Globe last month. Unfortunately for Murphy, stinging reviews of his latest film Norbit, may have doomed his chances to take home the Oscar.

Earlier in the evening, sound mixer Willie Burton won his second Oscar for Dreamgirls. Burton became the fourth Black person to win multiple Oscars following Sidney Poitier, Washington and sound engineer, Russell Williams III.

Other Winners

Best Art Direction
Pan’s Labyrinth

Best Makeup
Pan’s Labyrinth

Best Animated Short Film
The Danish Poet

Best Live Action Short Film
West Bank Story

Best Sound Editing
Letters From Iwo Jima

Best Sound Achievement

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine

Best Animated Film
Happy Feet

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Departed

Best Costume Design
Marie Antoinette

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Best Foreign Language Film
The Lives of Others

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
The Blood of Yingzhou District

Best Documentary, Features
An Inconvenient Truth

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Little Miss Sunshine

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
An Inconvenient Truth - Melissa Etheridge("I Need To Wake Up")

Best Achievement in Editing
Thelma Schoonmaker - The Departed

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Helen Mirren - The Queen

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland

Best Achievement in Directing
Martin Scorsese - The Departed

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Departed

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Conversation With Craig Brewer | Black Snake Moan

I recently had a candid conversation with director Craig Brewer about his latest film, Black Snake Moan. What is apparent is that Brewer, who directed the surprise hit Hustle & Flow, will not be the victim of a sophomore slump. He is in it to win it, and we should expect to see him around for a long time.

Tim Gordon: Thank you, first and foremost, for the time and opportunity. As we were saying I like the film and sort of understood it. Is the film's backdrop the same as your debut film, Hustle and Flow?

Craig Brewer: It's not Memphis, but it's kind of a North Mississippi type of movie. I set it in a small Tennessee town. I'm doing movies that are of musical genres of my region. I'm not just doing movies and throwing music behind them. Hustle and Flow was my rap movie. Right now, I'm exploring the music that's been the passion of my life, which is Blues. I've always been interested in Blues and Blues artists from Charlie Patton to Robert Johnson to R.L. Burnside to T. Miles Ford. These were some hard people; they’re older than old school. They were the first pioneers in really doing what I think rap has been able to do for a couple of decades which is articulate the fears, the anxieties and the injustices on poor people; to give a voice to it, even give a howl to it; by doing that you gain control over it.

I think it’s very important that these Mississippi Delta Bluesmen who had a palpable fear of death, of being killed, of being lynched, of levees breaking and having their whole town underwater and I’m not talking about Katrina. I’m talking about these are in the songs of these Bluesman. In the times where whites didn’t want them to say anything, they chose to go in the juke joints and not only articulate these fears and these injustices but to put song to it and to repeat it over and over again. I think by doing that they gained control over it; they had power over it instead of it having power over them. I think the same thing happened with kids in L.A. that grew up to be Dr. Dre, or Biggie Smalls. It just came a point where I don’t those guys wanted to celebrate like Kool and the Gang, they had something else on their mind.

Like rap, I’m trying to let a lot of people know that blues were the first. That song that Sam Jackson sings is 100 years old, that’s not just something that we wrote; we didn’t put all of those MFs in there; that song is part of African-American and southern culture. I can’t help it because I’m a music nut, I guess it means to some extent, I’m going to have to be an African-American nut.

TG: What is the correlation between Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan?

CB: Very much so. I’ve been very excited because the response because it has changed the way the studio is releasing the film. They tested it in Pasadena; you can’t get more lily white than Pasadena. I got to tell y’all, I know that I’m inviting the world to see these movies, but I’m making movies for the south. I’m a regional filmmaker; John Singleton is a South Central filmmaker. He was a person telling stories of his street. Spike Lee is a New York filmmaker; Woody Allen. These are people that we call directors because their passions are on their avenues, on their streets and the people and music that are constantly around them.

I can’t believe that this movie, even though it tested well, that you’re basing everything on a California audience. So they took the movie to Atlanta; a mixed audience and African-American audience. The studio heads were asking each other, “Why are they laughing when Sam’s taking out the hair dressing?; or when Sam puts the bible down because he doesn’t want evil to pass over it. The African-American audience went through the roof. They wouldn’t stop talking about it. They knew people like Lazarus, they didn’t necessarily chain up women, but they knew people who had live hard lives. They choose to love people unconditionally. It’s like that mean old uncle that would whip you, but he loved you. You had no doubt that he would lay his life down and even lay his life down for a stranger in need. I’ll be blunt, in the country where all my people are from there’s a strong African-American community. It’s through the church; I’ve seen it first hand where there are lost children, lost White children. I have an uncle who was adopted because they went to a small church and said, “Their momma left these two kids, who wants him?

I was very encouraged that Blacks saw Black Snake Moan and they were like I know that. I heard people say is Sam the Magical Negro in this movie? I’m waiting for that movie to get made. I don’t really think that’s what’s happening here. The worst things in the South have happen because of the collision of us coming together and the best things in the South happened because of the collision of us coming together and it usually starts with music. We just start playing, especially in Memphis the black artists were incredible but those white engineers knew how to record Howling Wolf just right. They knew how to jam with Booker T and M.G.’s.

I guess I just feel like I’m part of new generation that wants to be respectful of cultural boundaries. But I celebrate cultural boundaries, I tell people that I go to see movies in Memphis with predominantly Black audiences and it is a different experience than seeing it with a full White house; it’s not worse, it’s better situation. It’s like going to church, it’s interactive. We’re a Saturday/Sunday culture, it never stops. We go into Saturday night and we’re sinning, and sweating and drinking and we ride that crazy devil all the way into Sunday morning. Because the music is still happening, everybody’s sweating again, everybody’s up dancing again and we get a whole different experience and we start our work week and do the same damn thing the next weekend. That’s something that we’re all in the same mix with, we all respond to that in the South.

If there’s anything with this outlandish situation of this white woman being chained up by this old, black bluesman. I don’t want to offend anybody, I want everybody to put this in a big old stew and come to the end of it and go, “wait a minute are we supposed to be chained to each other? Could it be as simple as Christian values that the way to salvation is to save someone else? The way to peace is to give peace to someone else? I don’t think this girl has ever had unconditional love in her life. I think that Sam’s character with the blues he’s feeling, he put that devil music behind him and he’s a man who wants to live life right and by the book. Suddenly this girl, that everybody is saying, man that girl is crazy, she’s got to get sex, be careful around her. It deals with all those kind of Southern anxieties. You look at To Kill a Mockingbird; that poor man just went in to move a chifforobe and that white girl attacks him.

It’s all that tension throughout the movie people are thinking what is going to happen between these two or someone is going walk in the door because he didn’t beat her up. At the end, this ending where we all kind of put this stuff behind us and kind of felt a little foolish. I feel that in the South, around my people. I believe in boundaries, but I believe we’re closer than most people think.

TG: Do you see how people would be uncomfortable or turned off from the film by the way it’s being marketed?

CB: If we attacked the humanity and put it on a poster, would people want to see that? I like the fact that old white people have rented that movie (Hustle and Flow) and I hate rap, but I love the rap in your movie. I usually look them and say have you really listened to rap? Have you given rap a chance? Have you read about the artist who writes this rap? Is this movie the first time that you allowed yourself to appreciate it?

You have to understand where White America is coming from with Black culture is that at times, we’re completely obsessed with it because it’s pretty damn good. The best music that has come out of the world has come from African-Americans, predominantly in the South. We don’t feel like we have a right to appreciate it, we don’t feel that it’s our place to appreciate it. Many African-Americans would agree with that. From Elvis to Eminem its like well is that really their music to take? So this isn’t a studio idea, it’s my idea, its John Singleton’s idea. This is an idea where it’s like please don’t come at this movie thinking that this some heavy duty thing. I want you to laugh, I want people to have the experience of going through this crazy ride but at the end there is peace, there’s harmony. I think that the initial response when you hear the logline is that Sam Jackson is just having sex with this woman over and over again? That’s not what this movie is about. I’m not going to lie, I know it’s a flip on the Southern imagery that we’re used to. I’m getting hate from Aryan people out there that are saying, why the hell is our beautiful blond, White woman on the end of a chain of a country Black man?

TG: How do you answer critics or women who have a problem with the way women are portrayed in your films?

CB: I don’t think that you’re talking about all women who have seen my movies. If we’re talking about women who are critical of the way women are treated or saying it’s a misogynist movie, I think to myself man do we have to go retroactive on some films that are already out there. Do we need to pull Raging Bull off the shelf; do we need to pull A Streetcar Named Desire off the shelf. I remember one time when I was in Atlanta and one woman said could you explain your thoughts on how women are treated in your movie? I said that moment when he throws Lexus in the street? I said you’ve seen that kind of brutality in movies before? She’s says “no I haven’t,” in this nice little White Southern voice. I said let me explain this one movie to you, it’s about this guy named Stan Kowalski. He’s with his boys and their house playing dominos and their girls are in the next room and they’re making too much racket. Stan’s wife is pregnant. He goes in there and takes the boom box, drunk as all get out, and throws it out the window. Then he starts beating on his wife and punching her in the face. All his boys are grabbing him, putting him under the shower to somber him up. Her girlfriend takes her upstairs and he punches his boys telling them, we can’t have women around when we’re gambling. Then he calms down and says, where’s my girl, my baby? He goes outside and yells “bring her down here.” Her girlfriends say, you can’t be beating on her like that and he yells ‘bring her down her, Stella, Stella! What does she do? She goes downstairs and she fucks him and she wants to and we kind of want to too. His shirts all ripped, he got put under that shower; it’s Marlon Brando and he looks all good. It’s wrong, it’s really, really wrong!

I think about that a lot. We want to remove A Streetcar Named Desire off the shelves? We want to take “M.A.S.H.” the movie off the shelves because people women are saying we don’t like the way the characters are treating those women. I don’t necessarily like it either.

TG: That’s a wonderful comeback. But two wrongs don’t make a right. Major directors have these misogyny issues in their films. I’m not trying to pick on you, but how do you respond?

CB: That’s not our job. Our job is to bring up these things. I respect critics, but they really can’t do anything until we do something. We judge your position on what you think about our position. Our job is not necessarily to do what is right. I can’t believe that people will come to the end of Black Snake Moan and believe that I have a hatred for women.

TG: Initially, you received a lot of flack for your vivid portrayal of pimping in Hustle and Flow. In your opinion, what was that about?

CB: What people had issue with was that we could not separate Djay him from humor or outlandish behavior. We couldn’t say he’s the caricature pimp. 12 year olds know what a pimp is, that’s what music videos do or movies like Superfly or Truck Turner; there are some colorful pimps out there. That’s not the type of pimp I was talking about, I wanted to take the lowest of the low. Terrence was like I want to do this and that and I said you don’t have money for this and you’re not that smart. You’re not a good pimp! You’re a damn chauffeur and look at Lexus standing over you letting you know that you’re nothing. Everyday you’re thinking you were something back in the day for a little bit of time in high school when you’re doing your beats and your mixtapes and some other cat on the other side of the city is doing the same thing and now he’s on music videos and you’re not. Who doesn’t feel that.

The problem is that people wanted me to judge Djay; they wanted me to have him atone for doing wrong. Well it wasn’t on his mind and the pimps that I know it’s not on theirs. They’ll do something else because they would prefer not to do that. I know some people that say, I wish I had some hoes on the tray, so I can feel like I’m a pimp. That’s bullshit! Nobody wants to live that life and he didn’t want to either. I think that’s what the issue was that people sympathized with him, even possibly, identified with him. Can we identify with a man who is in a job that is tedious and boring and not exploiting his true gifts? Then you start to root for him and then he throws that girl out with her baby.

TG: I thought scene could have had more edge; his character could have been more of a gorilla pimp versus being a sugar pimp?

CB: He just wasn’t that good of a pimp. He just needed to get that woman out of his life. There’s no easy way to throw a woman and her child out in the street. That is scene that when audiences watch it they feel ambushed. They feel like wait a minute I started this movie not wanting to like this guy at all and now they just made a song called “Whoop that Trick,” and I want this team to work and now he does some stupid shit like that. Then they see that tape in the toilet at the end of the movie and they’re like, “Oh, no I don’t know what this guy is going to do.” You watch this with a crowded house and people are shouting at the screen what he should do. People who aren’t worried about their bylines being on a bunch of things, are in theatres they’re saying “kill that motherfucker.” I’m not saying that we need to go into that bloodlust but its there because people get passionate about their creative endeavors. People watched him make, It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp,” they watched all the girls suffer, they watched the struggle and there it is in the toilet. They wanted to kill that guy and I think there is a victory to some extent in us wanting him to be mad, because we watched that outlandish dream. If I can just get a tape in this guy’s hand, then we’re golden; we’re out of here. It’s so unrealistic. The journey got him a little bit further. That’s what I want my movies to be.

I got a feeling that people are going to get some distance from BSM, they’re going to see my country music movie. My next film, I’m going to tell the story of the sanitation strike that leads to King’s assassination. That will be my soul movie. Isaac Hayes was in those marches, he was kicking German Sheppard off of nuns. No one has told that story and I’m going to tell it. It’s not because it’s an African-American story, but it’s a Memphis story. It’s about garbage men who are wondering if they can exist on their own and a black and white-owned record label wondering can they be on their own out from under Atlantic with Otis (Redding) just have died with all the Bar-Kays. All they have is this young man named Isaac Hayes and he wants to songs that are nine minutes long. That will be my film after my country western film.

TG: You have a level of comfort telling stories about African-Americans, would that be accurate?

CB: I am comfortable because I feel that I’m doing the research and I have a true passion and desire to tell these stories. I come at from a place that these are my neighbors, my citizens; I don’t mean Blacks but Memphians. I’ve got two Black mayors in my city. We are not in a segregated society in Memphis; we’re in the mix working side by side. I think some of the greatest stories and heroes of my region are African-Americans. I like blues music and I must say African-Americans abandoned blues music and I think that needs to be addressed. There’s a legitimate reason why it was abandoned, it was historically needed to be abandoned. The civil rights movement couldn’t really adopt blues, they needed gospel; they needed we shall overcome, they needed those battle cries. Soul music changed after the shot rang out at the Lorraine. I look out my office everyday and I see that wreath. It’s hard for me but I do want to earn the respect. I do not go into these projects, disrespectfully; I think about what I am doing. I know that I’m pushing the boundaries, but why do you think Sam was leaping to do this project. He knew that this would be a lasting movie. I just want people who look at me and scratching their head and saying, “what’s this guy doing?” should give me the benefit of a doubt because my heart is in the right place.

TG: Are you comfortable with how Black Snake Moan is being marketed?

CB: I very comfortable with it because the nod to this is those sex-ploitation movies. Let’s be honest, it’s a big old stew of all southern obsessions and fears. I like the fact that audiences sit in the dark watching my movie and are somewhat uncomfortable, but oddly aroused at the same time. I like that the audience would say that “I can’t believe that she just attacked that boy like a damn pit bull!” I go to movies in the South where people talk at the screen; I come from the theatre so there’s pageantry to our work. You know Tyler Perry didn’t just come up in the last couple of years, he’s been around for a long time in Memphis because those shows sell out. I’ve seen some crazy church plays where the devil comes out and grab people take them to hell! It’s absolutely outlandish, but I can’t help but love it. My message is that we’re all okay, I know this like a big old thunderstorm but it passes!

This interview also appeared on

Thursday, February 22, 2007

23 Reasons to Stay Away | The Number 23

Ever wake up excited about the prospect of a wonderful day but by mid-afternoon you realize that your whole day’s a bust?

That’s sorta like Jim Carrey’s latest film, The Number 23. After beginning with so much promise, it eventually falls apart right before your eyes.

The story begins on Walter Sparrow’s (Jim Carrey) birthday, Feb. 3 (2/3). He is late meeting his wife to celebrate because of a mishap at work. His wife, Agatha (Virgina Madsen), wanders into a bookstore, and a hardcover, titled The Number 23, catches her eye; she decides to buy it for Walter. It is the story of one man’s, initial obsession with the number and how that obsession drove him to dark and depressive depths.

Walter begins reading the book, and suddenly he’s seeing the number everywhere. Whether looking at his name, people on the street or coincidences in history, he becomes convinced that there is a hidden message in the number. Before long, Walter begins to view life through the eyes of the main character of the book, Fingerling. Where Walter is introverted and unsure, Fingerling is confident, cocky and dangerous.

Fingerling also begins a torrid affair with the sexy and sultry, Fabrizia (Madsen), and she is stimulated by how far she can take him sexually. To Fingerling, their relationship equates to “death and sex.” Meanwhile, Walter has become thoroughly engrossed in the tale, suffering frighteningly darker visions, including thinking Agatha is having an affair with a family friend, Issac (Danny Hutson). On and on it goes, Fingerling exploring his dark world of the number and Walter falling deeper into its powerful grip.

The story reaches its zenith, when Walter discovers a connection to the strange dog that got away earlier on his birthday, a mysterious dead girl and the search for the author of the hypnotic tale. To say that the “twist” is disappointing is being WAAAAAAYYYYY too kind. The film quickly loses its way with illogical actions from characters and the film’s conclusion, which felt like it took 23 minutes to explain.

Earlier in the film, Walter said he wanted two words on his tombstone – “what if.” I wonder what if Carrey and director Joel Schumacher got 23 kicks in the ass from every person who had pay to sit through this disaster? One could only wish!

This review also appeared on

Grace is Sufficient | Amazing Grace

In the midst of the annual celebration of Black History Month comes the latest film documenting another dark chapter of the history of Africans and the slave trade. Amazing Grace tells the story of noted abolitionist William Wilberforce and his battle to abolish the slave trade in England in the 18th century.

The story unfolds establishing Wilberforce’s (Fantastic Four’s Ioan Gruffudd) anti-slavery sentiments, including a strong scene in which he is playing cards with other members of Britain’s Parliament and is asked to accept a “ni**er” as an IOU marker. This incident, along with many similar ones, helped fuel his desire to work to “change the world.”

He undergoes a religious conversion and, initially, is torn whether to pursue his new-found faith or politics. His boyhood friend and later prime minister, William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), arranges a dinner party that includes several other anti-slavery supporters and a freed African slave, Oloudaqh Equiano (Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour). Searching for further clarity, he seeks out clergyman John Newton (Albert Finney) for counsel. Newton, a former slave ship master who wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, is living in seclusion and shares with Wilberforce that he is haunted by the “spirits of 20,000 Africans.” Their meeting emboldens Wilberforce to champion the anti-slavery movement.

Several scenes very effectively display the horrors of slavery. A large shipload of British aristocrats are shown sailing along – eating, drinking and making merry – when they encounter an anonymous vessel. Wilberforce emerges from the mysterious ship to explain to the partygoers that he’s aboard a recently arrived slave ship that delivered a cargo of over 200 live occupants – minus the other 400 who perished during the Middle Passage. He implores them to “smell the stench and remember” those that were lost.

The film indicates that his journey was a five-year odyssey when in reality Wilberforce fought for anti-slavery legislation for over four decades. Joining forces with Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon) and Newton, Wilberforce and his supporters overcome much of the house’s opposition, including surly Lord Tarleton (Ciarán Hinds), to finally gain enough support to pass his anti-slavery bill.

The story is well told, but doesn’t appear to be a film that will draw a large African-American audience. Although the filmmaker’s heart is in certainly in the right place, many African-Americans may take issue with the film’s overall storytelling perspective.

One recurring issue that proved troublesome was the absence of Africans in telling the story. A second problem was that there are only three instances in the entire film that African characters are even onscreen.

It was only after a near-death experience by Newton that he wrote the song, “Amazing Grace.” While it’s difficult to question the Wilberforce’s grace and passion of his convictions, the film is just slightly above average.

This review also appeared on

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Meet the Nominees -- 2007 Academy Awards

For the first time in Academy Awards history, five Black actors are nominated for major acting awards. As we countdown to the industry's star-studded night, here's one more look at this history-making group of nominees.

Djimon Hounsou, 42
Blood Diamond
Role: Hounsou stars as a fisherman who is snagged by rebels and finds a rare pink diamond in Sierra Leone.
Why We Like Him: Hounsou’s exotic look and passionate performances make him one of the industry’s most sought-after actors.
First Exposure: His raw and powerful cry of “Give Us Free,” electrified audiences in Amistad.
Little Known Fact: He came to Paris from Benin at the age of 13, couldn't find a job and ended up as a vagrant, sleeping under bridges and rummaging in trash cans for food. His life changed when fashion designer Thierry Mugler discovered him and made him a fashion model.
Next Project: He will star as a talented pianist trying to free himself from his friends in the ’hood in Trunk.

Jennifer Hudson, 25
Role: Hudson stars as the odd singer out in the girl group The Dreams in Dreamgirls.
Why We Like Her: She is living a true Cinderella story after being voted off of “American Idol.”
First Exposure: As the soulful and animated singer that Simon Cowell and company dismissed on “American Idol.”
Little Known Fact: She beat out “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino for her role in Dreamgirls; One of a very few actors to receive an Oscar-nomination for a debut performance.
Next Project: She is currently guest-starring on BET’s “One Night Only.”

Eddie Murphy, 45
Role: Murphy plays a doomed, womanizing soul singer, Jimmy Early, who is a hybrid of several artists, including James Brown and Jackie Wilson.
Why We Like Him: He has been making audiences laugh for a quarter-century in films such as Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America, Boomerang and The Nutty Professor.
First Exposure: On TV, Murphy made his name on “Saturday Night Live” and later in the movies, in “48 Hrs.” and Beverley Hills Cop.
Little Known Fact: Has starred in more sequels than any other actor: Beverly Hills Cop II, Another 48 Hrs., Dr. Dolittle 2, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Shrek 2 and the upcoming Shrek 3. In addition, he is arguably the biggest movie star ever to come out of "SNL," yet he has never attended a cast reunion and is not known to even talk about having been on the show.
Next Project: He will reprise his role as “Donkey” in the upcoming Shrek 3.

Will Smith, 38
The Pursuit of Happyness
Role: Smith plays a struggling single father, raising his son on the streets of San Francisco; based on a true story.
Why We Like Him: Smith’s affable personality, coupled with his star power, makes him one of the industry’s true good guys
First Exposure: On TV, as the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and as a gay con artist in Six Degrees of Separation.
Little Known Fact: His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, went to high school with the late Tupac Shakur. The two once made a homemade video, singing “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” by her future husband, Smith.
Next Project: After fighting Sonny Liston and Aliens, Smith will battle vampires in I Am Legend.

Forest Whitaker, 45
The Last King of Scotland
Role: Whitaker played former Uganda dictator Idi Amin.
Why We Like Him: Whitaker’s range is extensive. Recently, he has shown a flair for the big screen as well as television with an intense guest performance on “ER.”
First Exposure: He was part of the ensemble of the cult comedy classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Later, Whitaker gained additional attention in Platoon.
Little Known Fact: He was born with an eye condition called amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye."
Next Project: Later this year, Whitaker will play the role of “Happiness” in the film, The Air I Breathe.

This feature also appeared on

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Who Can You Trust? | Breach

Five years ago, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was arrested and charged with selling secrets to the Soviets. This story has been turned into a fine film, Breach. Powered by a strong lead performance by Academy Award winning actor, Chris Cooper, this film is miscast as a winter/spring release and deserved a prominent fall spot for serious awards consideration.

At the beginning of the film, former U.S. Attorney General is talking about the capture of former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen. The film unspools through the viewpoint of young aide, Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), who helped bring down Hanssen, who was arrested on February 18, 2001, at Foxstone Park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, charged with selling American secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 15-year period. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. His treason has been described as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history".

Young O'Neill is an agent on the rise, but understand that he can't be promoted unless he placed on a high-profile detail. Before he blinks, he is called into a meeting with Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney) and told he will be placed on a new detail to observe and work with Agent Hanssen (Cooper). Initially, O'Neill's supervisors keep him in dark and not totally understanding the larger picture of his involvement.

O'Neill's ambitions are not lost on his young wife, Juliana (Caroline Dhavernas), who is supportive of his career that only provides her "surface knowledge" of his work. Before long, O'Neill encounters his "assignment," Hanssen. In Hanssen's world everything is about trust. From their first meeting, he begins to test his new aide to see if he can gain his confidence or expose him as a fraud.

O'Neill observes early that Hanssen is a very religious man, attending daily mass and suggesting that a man with strong moral beliefs is also godly. Hanssen's is married to the perfect wife, Bonnie (Kathleen Quinlan) with his family and before long he and wife are inviting Agent O'Neill and his wife and trying to inject them with "solid Christian values."

But Hanssen is hiding several secrets. Shortly thereafter, his superiors inform O’Neill that Hanssen has been spying for the Russians for years, even exposing allies loyal to bureau to mortal danger. O'Neill's assignment is to continue gaining Hanssen's trust and provide information that can help bring him down. In addition, he has been secretly making videotapes of lovemaking sessions with his wife and selling them to unidentified parties. Wow, a perverted spy; Hollywood can't make this type of stuff up!

The film then becomes an edge-of-your-seat thriller that races to an exhilarating conclusion that you already know the outcome, but the beauty of the film is how director Billy Ray gets you there.

Ray, who directed the equally thrilling film, Shattered Glass with Hayden Christensen, finds an actor that embodies many of the same physical features and talent in Phillippe. He gives a solid supporting performance as a man who initially is suspicious of his new assignment only to begin to respect him. Once O'Neill realizes what destruction that Hanssen is responsible for, he feels betrayed and duped by him.

One of Hollywood's best-kept secrets remains the Oscar winning actor, Cooper. His performance is already the best performance of this young year and if this film had been released last year, he would easily be in this year's Oscar conversation. He captures the claustrophic paranoia, initially before seeing O'Neill as someone who can continue his traitorous work. Once he is caught, he appears more relieved that a huge burden has been lifted from his shoulders.

Even though many of the 2007 releases have been major disappointments to this point, Breach is rare February treat - an intelligent, well made film for adults. Much like Titanic, knowing the outcome won't spoil one of the best performances of the young year by Cooper.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ride or Die | The Ghost Rider

Last time we saw Nicolas Cage, he was starring in the absolutely dreadful film, The Wicker Man. So excuse me if while watching the trailer for his latest film, The Ghost Rider, I wasn’t filled with anticipation. The film is not on par with comic classics such as Spider-Man and X-Men, but it is light years better than disasters including Elektra, Daredevil and The Punisher.

In this film, Cage stars as motorcycle stunt rider, Johnny Blaze. Years earlier, he discovers that his father has inoperable cancer and faces certain death. He makes a deal with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) that in exchange for his father’s health, he forfeits his soul (I guess Blaze hadn’t seen this coming in countless films with the same theme). Blaze discovers quickly the hard way the consequences of his deal losing his family, friends and his true love, Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes).

Fast forward to the present and Blaze has become a major motorcycle stunt star. By chance, he is reunited with his sweetheart Roxanne, who now is a newscaster and secretly still loves him. She decides to give our hero another chance, but Mephistopheles has other plans for him.

Attempting and completing outrageous stunts, Blaze displays an Evel Knievel-esque flair of surviving horrific crashes and surviving. While all around him think that he has guardian angel protecting him, he understands that is partly true. He is allowed to cheat death because Mephistopheles has other plans in store for him.

Mephistopheles has problems of his own. One of his chief adversaries, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), has escaped from Hell. Rounding up his own legion of doom, the elements (earth, wind, sand and water; The Ghost Rider already had fire on lock down!) he is searching for the contract that was originally stolen from the devil and hidden. Legend has it that whomever possesses the contract can gain access to the lost souls and reign as all-powerful.

For Mephistopheles, that’s where Blaze comes in. According to his curse, night time is the right time for the “rider” and before Blaze knows it, he has gone all “Fire Marshal Bill” and soon he and his motorcycle are transformed into a fiery mechanisms of destruction. His assignment is simply to hunt down Blackheart and his cohorts and gain possession of the contract before they do. Along the way, he meets a cemetery caretaker (Sam Elliott) who helps him understand not only his power, but also how he can use it for good.

The special effects in the film are absolutely amazing. Blaze transformation to the “rider,” with a literal “hot wheels” is well done and very effective. His hot seat is equipped to ride on any surface, up and down walls as well as ride on water!

Apparently the film’s budget went into the special effects and not into hiring screenwriters that could write believable dialogue. The film features many one-word Terminator-esque lines that are funny, but for all the wrong reasons.

Cage’s Blaze is played as a distant goof, who more interested in jellybeans, chimps and music by The Carpenters. He isn’t all there (maybe it’s the pressure of trying to deliver some of the film’s lines without laughing out loud!). Cage doesn’t hit a home run as The Ghost Rider, but the film entertains enough to give him a pass. I expect to see a sequel to this film, but for my money Cage will have to ride his bike a long time to make the public forget The Wicker Man, but this film is a small start.

The review also appeared on

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our Queen of Soul | Aretha Franklin

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure to watch the United Negro College Fund's Tribute to Aretha Franklin. The tribute celebrated one of the signature voices of 20th Century music and a true female pioneer. Franklin continues a legacy that begain with Bessie Smith through Mahalia Jackson and Billie "Lady Day" Holliday to Whitney Houston and Mary J. Blige.

Her father was the legendary Reverand C.L. Franklin. Franklin's houseguest included a plethora of civil rights leaders, including the Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr. Aretha who counted MLK as a mentor and a friend, understood early that she was a black woman, but would not let race confine her to just singing R&B. Franklin successfully tackled soul, gospel, blues, rock and several years ago, opera on her musical journey.

She inspired an entire generation of woman to demand "Respect," showing us that no mater what she was always a "Natural Woman." To understand how prolific Franklin was at the onset of her career, she had 10 top 10 songs the first 18 months of her career! Along with James Brown, Franklin had number one hits each year from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. As a child, I remember my father playing her landmark gospel album "Amazing Grace" until we almost destroyed the grooves in the wax.

Franklin has continued to evolve and remain relevant today. One of my fondest memories was a decade ago while hosting an entertainment show, I interviewed her at DAR Constitution Hall during a soundcheck. I told her that "Angel" was my favorite song and she had me take a seat and serenaded me with the song. It would be years later that I realized that the song, written by her sister Carolyn, would elicit such tearful emotion from Franklin during the UNCF tribute.

To stay in the proper frame of mind to write about "The Queen of Soul," I watched various performances of her on YouTube (as many that were left after the "corporate purge" of videos) and discovered that the UNCF tribute was one of several honoring this icon. This latest tribute featured young singers, Rueben Studdard, Fantasia Barrio and Jennifer Hudson as well as veterans Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole.

There were some wonderful renditions of Franklin's songs but the best performance belonged to Fantasia brought the house down with a passionate, energetic version of "Baby, I Love You," which featured her coming down from the stage and singing directly to Franklin.

With the passing recently of "The Godfather of Soul," James Brown, I'm delighted that Franklin is honored and saluted while she still remains with us. I'm not sure if I said it then, but thank you Ms. Franklin for being an "angel" for one adoring fan!

Perry's Father Figure | Daddy's Little Girls

Tyler Perry has made a small fortune and garnered quite a large and devoted following, initially with his stage plays and now with his films that tell stories of redemption and spirituality starring various flawed southern African-Americans. His latest film, Daddy’s Little Girls, returns to Perry’s favorite formula, but with mixed results.

Monty (Idris Elba) is a mechanic struggling to raise money to buy the garage that he works in with proprietor Willie (Oscar winner, Louis Gossett, Jr.). In addition to his job, his main passion is for his three daughters China, Lauryn and Sierra (real-life McClain sisters). Living with their grandmother, Monty is advised to take care of the girls “because she won’t be around much longer.”

Once she dies, custody of the children is awarded to the children’s trifling mother, Jennifer (Tasha Smith) who lives with the neighborhood drug kingpin, Joe (Gary Anthony Sturgis). In an effort to raise more money to fight a custody battle, Monty takes a job as a driver for corporate attorney Julia Rossmore (Gabrielle Union). After an initial period of trepidation, Julia and Monty begin to bond as she admires his dedication for his daughters.

Unfortunately for Monty, Julia’s two closest friends, Cynthia (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Brenda (Terri J. Vaughn), disapprove of her relationship with the mechanic. They see Monty as a poor reflection of Black manhood and not as a human being. Instead of standing up to her friends and telling them that this blue-collar man treats her with respect and love, she hides her feelings for him and keeps him at arm’s length. Ultimately, Monty is not just fighting a battle for his daughters but Julia’s heart as well.

As good as an actress as Union is, how many times can she play the icy, career-driven, white-collar woman who just can’t find a “good Black man” and happens to keep falling in love with blue-collar men? Much like her character in Deliver Us From Eva, Union’s Julia is a driven and determined workaholic who only becomes comfortable after several drinks..

Elba’s Monty is a cross between his cool, smooth demeanor in “The Wire” and his cold, calculating performance in The Gospel. Although Elba and Union look nice together, you get the feeling that they are never totally comfortable with one another on-screen like Union was with LL Cool J in Eva.

Much like Spike Lee used Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in some of his earlier films to give them additional “weight” and credibility, Perry has adopted the same practice with his films. In Madea’s Family Reunion, he cast Oscar-nominee Cicely Tyson; Gossett serves the same purpose in this film.

One of the things that Perry should be applauded for is once again documenting the love that Black men have for their children. Just as Will Smith fiercely guarded Jaden Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, Monty is equally protective of his girls in this film. It has taken a long time and several generations for this cinematic stereotype to take hold, and bravo to the filmmakers who are attempting to reverse the trend of the absent, disinterested Black dad.

Still, between the depictions of the childrens’ mother, Jennifer, and the conversations between Julia’s girlfriends, it would seem that Perry has pigeon-holed most Black men as clueless, disrespectful and classless. I was amazed that Monty did not get high-blood pressure as a result of his experience catching hell from his high-strung, babies’ mamma and the relentless characterizations from Julia.

Perry’s screenplay opens the door for several subplots that either are never revisited or totally ignored, creating an effect that will leave viewers feeling like the story is incomplete. The story, and ultimately the film, has merit, but quite frankly you’ll feel as if you’ve seen it before – and you probably have.

This review also appeared on

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jones-en' | Q&A with Orlando Jones

Orlando Jones is a busy man these days. This multi-talented performer, writer, sketch comedian and film star also is making lots of noise on the small screen. He has a recurring role on ABC’s “Men in Trees,” and on Monday he will play the substitute teacher from hell (at least for Chris) on “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with him. While his reputation as a funnyman is well deserved, he is levelheaded and incisively candid about his career choices and the nuances of the film industry.

Tim Gordon: Orlando, describe the character that you play on “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Orlando Jones: His school is kind of grey or lily white. Because I’m a Black substitute teacher, he thinks he’s going to have it easy, but in reality I’m twice as hard. I become his living nightmare.

T.G.: Did you use any of your teacher/student experiences to prepare for this role?

O.J.: Once, I was pulled to the side by one my teachers who explained to me that I was starting with two strikes against me. He told me, “You Black, they already think you stupid. You from the South, they already know you’re stupid.

T.G.: Are you more comfortable as a television or film actor?

O.J.: They’re kind of the same. I had a good time doing both. I was on “Mad TV” for two years. In film you get to spend more time with your character, while on TV, you’re three minutes and then gone. I wasn’t big on the recurring thing. The fun on TV is that you had to keep updating your character.

T.G.: Recently, you’ve received some very bad reviews for your latest film, Primeval. Were you happy with the finished product and what drew you to that project?

O.J.: I’ve never taken a role about some cash, that’s not me. What you do is not about your performance, but how it’s marketed or edited. When they approached me about Primeval, they said that these recent horror movies were about nothing and they wanted to do a true-to-life film about a real story in Rwanda. There is a documentary about a crocodile [that’s] 23 feet long and weighs a ton (National Geographic’s “Gustave: Have You Seen This Crocodile?”). They pitched the story to me as Hotel Rwanda meets Jaws, and its true!

T.G.: In your opinion, why hasn’t this story received more attention?

O.J.: Who gives a s*** if it’s just killing Black people?

T.G.: Does this situation of a film being mis-marketed occur often or is this just one of those things?

O.J.: It’s a crapshoot if that situation occurs often. No matter who you are, they’re going do what they want to do with these films. It happened to Jamie Foxx in Stealth after Ray. I’m sure Eddie Murphy had the same amount of dedication and passion in The Adventures of Pluto Nash that he had in Dreamgirls.

T.G.: Is there a double standard for Black actors versus their White counterparts?

O.J.: There is absolutely a double standard, which is most upheld by members of the media who don’t hold White actors to the same standard that exists for African Americans. They don’t hold Robert De Niro, Jim Carrey or Owen Wilson accountable when they make films that aren’t successful. It’s unfortunate that the people that should be most concerned are Black people.

T.G.: It sounds like you think that the business has become more about marketing than quality filmmaking.

O.J.: They are more accurate marketing White actors than Black actors. Eminem and 50 Cent’s stories were presented differently. Justin Timberlake’s film, “Alpha Dog,” was presented better than 50 Cent’s film, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Each had an equally impressive director, but both were not marketed the same. The media needs to hold filmmakers accountable as well.

T.G.: One of your more successful films was Drumline. How did that film come about for you?

O.J.: I didn’t want to be in the magic tennis shoe movie (Like Mike). I choose Drumline instead. Nobody thought the film could cross over. I saw the film about a Black college band at an HBCU as a part of American history that nobody talks about nor knows about. Drumline made $70 million and they’re no talk about a sequel!

T.G.: Do you ever get discouraged with your career and think that you should be further along?

O.J.: It took Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey 20 years to get where they are today. My mentor, Laurence Fishburne, told me to just relax and do the work. “You’re only in your sixth or seventh year in front of the camera,” he said.

T.G.: How do you cope with peaks and valleys that come with your profession?

O.J.: All of this is the realities of the business. It’s just the way that it is. I love what I do. It’s a blessing to do it. Occasionally the stars are aligned and it comes out right.”

This feature also appeared on

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Fat Twisted Fable | Norbit

Eddie Murphy sure is lucky. Currently the toast of Hollywood, he is fortunate that his latest film, Norbit, wasn’t released a little earlier. If it had been, all of the good will that he generated as Jimmy Early in Dreamgirls would be gone in 60 seconds. This latest reach to the past should signal to Murphy that’s he’s been there and done that – a whole lot better than in this film.

For those who fondly remember such comedic gems as Coming To America and The Nutty Professor, you’ll recall how Murphy played multiple characters in those films and inserted small slices of humanity into each. In Norbit, he revisits this formula, but with disastrous results. The story revolves around Norbit, who was abandoned as a child (thrown from a moving car, no less) and raised by the bigoted and racist Mr. Wong (Murphy).

Mr. Wong ran an orphanage, and one of Norbit’s closest friends was young Kate. The two form such a close-knit relationship that even trips to the bathroom can’t separate them. When she is adopted and leaves the orphanage, Norbit’s world is turned upside down, but soon there will be a new lady in his life. Several years later, two bullies are thrashing our shy and defenseless hero in a schoolyard, when he is saved by the large and imposing Rasputia (again Murphy). Instantly, and inexplicably, they begin a relationship, which leads to marriage. It’s perplexing because there’s not one happy moment EVER shared between the two; nevertheless, the film overlooks that crucial point in the name of comedy.

As if his relationship with Rasputia isn’t bad enough, he also has to contend with her three large brothers, Big Jack (Terry Crews of “Everybody Hates Chris”), Earl (Clifton Powell) and Blue (Lester “Rasta” Speight). The equally imposing threesome run a construction business that serves as a front for their financial shakedown of local merchants. Norbit’s life revolves around serving as a lapdog for his loud and boisterous mate, and trying to stay away from being pummeled when he fails to please her or her crazy brothers.

Just as his situation appears hopeless, his childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton) returns to town. After selling her business, she now has plans to buy their old orphanage and take over for Mr. Wong. Norbit’s dreams of reuniting with Kate are put on hold when he discovers she is engaged to the hustling con man, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). While Kate is looking forward to spending the rest of her life with him, Deion is only in it for her money. He teams up with Rasputia’s brothers to scam Kate out of buying Mr. Wong’s orphanage so they can build a strip club in its place. Can Norbit find a way to alert Kate before it’s too late?

Murphy, in his quest to create a United Nation of characters, infuses Norbit with a shred of credibility but never explains what would keep him in such a demeaning and defenseless position, throughout the film. His Norbit is a walking disappointment, a sad more despondent version of Bowfinger’s Jefferson “Jiff” Ramsey, even featuring the same voice.

Rasputia is another story entirely, a breathing stereotype that reinforces the myth of the loud, aggressive, overweight Black woman. Under amazing makeup by Rick Baker, Murphy plays her as an incredibly vile woman, who is as offensive as Vera (Della Reese) in Harlem Nights, without any ounce of sweetness.

The biggest disappointment is that the crowd reaction to this unimaginative work, based on an idea by both Charlie and Eddie Murphy, was consistent and enjoyable. Featuring jokes about pimping women, threats to pets and small children and domestic violence, Norbit is an equal-opportunity offender. It is films like these that make me feel completely out of step with the tastes of the casual filmgoer. For a man of Murphy’s immense talents, Norbit is not only a huge disappointment, but also bona fide headscratcher. Murphy may indeed win the Oscar, but this time next year he could also have a Razzie as it's companion.

This review is also appeared on

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Chew on This! | Hannibal Rising

One of Hollywood’s most fearsome killers returns in the fourth installment of the Hannibal Lecter franchise, Hannibal Rising. Penned by author and series creator, Thomas Harris, this latest film examines the origins of the renowned cannibal and killer.

The story opens at the end of World War II, where young Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) and his family are living in war-torn, eastern Europe. He witnesses the death of his parents – and then it gets really bad. While protecting his baby sister, Mischa, rogue Russian soldiers break into his family home and – let’s just say invite themselves to dinner – and the children are the main course! This revelation fuels Lecter’s revenge and helps him evolve into the man that he becomes (at least in the latter three films).

Placed in an orphanage, Lecter escapes to France to find his uncle. He arrives to discover that his uncle is dead, but his aunt, the lovely Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li from Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice), now occupies the castle. She teaches young Lecter samurai-swordplay, immersing him in ancient Japanese culture. One day while shopping at the market with her, Lecter observes as she is disrespected by a lecherous butcher. Before long, Lecter hunts down the butcher, and with fine “Ginsu” precision, slices him down. The killing brings him the unwanted attention of Inspector Pascal Popil (Dominic West of “The Wire”) who is in charge of the case. The two of them share the unfortunate experience of losing parents in the war, and Popil hopes that connection will help Lecter trust him. While Popil wants to use the law to go after the “alleged” war criminals, Lecter has other ideas.

Lecter has identified the men who “disposed” of his sister and begins to hunt them down. Lady Murasaki knows his plan and tries to bring the impending carnage to a halt. Inspector Popil is also on to Lecter, but he needs more proof to stop him. Will the two them of them succeed in stopping his thirst for blood?

After Red Dragon, there did not appear to be an overwhelming amount of interest in continuing this series. The filmmakers, seem to miss the larger point about Lecter – that he becomes less, not more, interesting when further explored.

On a side note, Ulliel is groomed to be Anthony Hopkins later in this story, but “Prison Break’s” Wentworth Miller played a young Hopkins in The Human Stain. I have to research to see if any other actor has that “type” of versatility.

If history is any indicator, the film should do solid opening-week business. In horror franchises, nothing succeeds like gore, and no upcoming film has as much to “chew on” as Hannibal Rising. Hopefully, Lecter has had his fill so that he can push back from the table and let us all move on with our lives.

This review is also appeared on

Sienna Sizzles | Factory Girl

Factory Girl stars Sienna Miller, Guy Pierce and Hayden Christensen. Miller moves centerstage in her first starring role as debutante Edie Sedgwick. It’s 1965 New York and Sedgwick meets celebrated artist Andy Warhol (Pierce). Instantly smitten with Sedgwick, Warhol bonds with the beautiful woman and thrust her into his bizarre, pornographic inner circle. Sedgwick’s family comes from old money and initially she is the darling of the Gotham fashion world, wining and dining her newfound friends while reveling in plenty of free love, sex, drugs and lots of groovy, psychedelic sounds at Warhol’s factory. Sedgwick is having the time of her life until she meets a Bob Dylan-esque “folk singer” (Christensen, who looks an AWFUL LOT like Bob Dylan; I’m just saying!). The two men who are polar opposites in every way, both vie for Sedgwick’s affection.

He warns her that Warhol treats her as a prop and that she should be furious with him. When Sedgwick loudly proclaims, “I can’t be mad with him,” the Dylan-esque character tells her sadly, “You’re afraid to lose everything that doesn’t mean anything.” Under pressure to make a choice, she makes the wrong one and unfortunately lives to regret it. When her parents’ object to her friends and life style, she is cut off only to find that her “friends” (including Warhol) used her and when she suddenly was out of style, simply discarded her.

In no time flat Sedgwick, who has developed a speed and heroin addiction, is degrading herself and out on the street. The celebrated 1960’s personality tragically predicted that she would not see her 30th birthday and she was correct, dying of a drug overdose when she was 28. The film does not cast Warhol in a positive light and Pierce’s quirky performance helps cement that point.

Miller radiates on screen as Sedgwick, with a virtuoso performance that surely would have merited Oscar buzz if the film had been released last year. Both Hayden and former SNL alum, Jimmy Fallon, who acquits himself in a rare dramatic turn, also registered positive supporting performances.

Dreamgirls Reigns Supreme at the Eighth Annual Black Reel Awards

With just two weeks to go until the Academy Awards, nominees Forest Whitaker, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Hudson were honored today by The Foundation for the Advancement of African-Americans in Film (FAAAF) in the group’s Eighth Annual Black Reel Awards.

Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Musical Dreamgirls, which set a Black Reel Awards record with a stunning 11 nominations, was the winner in 6 categories, another Black Reel Awards record, tying it with Ray, Love and Basketball and The Corner. The vibrant, worldwide hit danced away with honors for Best Film, Best Supporting Actress, Best Breakthrough Performance, Best Original Score, Best Soundtrack and Best Song – Original or Adapted.

In one of the Black Reel Awards’ biggest developments, iconic director Spike Lee finally won his first award as he was named Best Director (Inside Man), after a record 12 nominations during the history of the awards.

Hudson was a 2-time winner for Best Supporting Actress and Best Breakthrough Performance, continuing to prove she has made the greatest film debut in the history of Hollywood with her stunning, show stopping performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls.

Following up his wins with the National Board of Review and the Washington, DC Area Film Critics, Hounsou was named Best Supporting Actor for his fiery, heartbreaking performance as a father trying to save his family and son in war torn Sierre Leone in Blood Diamond, while Forest Whitaker walked away with the Black Reel Awards’ Best Actor award for his equally frightening, comical and charismatic portrayal of infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

Meanwhile, HBO dominated the television category as its productions of Walkout and When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts took the Black Reel Awards for Best Television Film (Walkout), Best Actress (Alex Vega – Walkout), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Pena – Walkout), Best Television Director (Edward James Olmos – Walkout), and Best Television Documentary (When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts).

FAAAF also continued its dedication to the promotion of independent cinema honoring Traci Townsend – a film where one woman interviews her ex-boyfriends to find out why they never proposed marriage – as Best Independent Feature, and Snapshot – a story about a young woman who takes the photograph of a man who later is murdered – as Best Independent Mini Feature.

The Black Reel Awards were voted on by over 50 movie and television critics across the nation from January 8–19, 2007.

The Black Reel Awards are presented by the Foundation for the Advancement of African-Americans in Film, a nonprofit organization with a mission to target, identify and prepare candidates who will represent the next generation of filmmakers and potential film executives that will be able to provide a different sensibility to the stories currently told on screen.

FAAAF seeks to provide educational opportunities to this next generation of filmmakers and studio executives through two programs, Reel Kids and The Producer's Institute. Both programs will provide scholarships opportunities to minority junior high, high school and college graduate students who pursue a business career in the movie and television industries.

2007 Black Reel Awards Winners

Best Actor
Forrest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland

Best Actress
Keke Palmer – Akeelah and the Bee

Best Supporting Actor
Djimon Hounsou – Blood Diamond

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls

Best Director
Spike Lee – Inside Man

Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted
Kriss Turner– Something New

Best Film
Dreamgirls/DreamWorks (Laurence Mark & David Geffen)

Best Breakthrough Performance
Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls

Best Original Score
Dreamgirls/Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas

Best Original Soundtrack
Dreamgirls /DreamWorks SKG

Best Song, Original or Adapted
And I'm Telling You – Dreamgirls (Henry Krieger/Tom Eyen)

Best Documentary
The Heart of the Game/Miramax

Best Independent Feature
Traci Townsend/Craig Ross, Jr.

Best Independent Documentary
Ithueng/Willie Ebersol

Best Independent Mini Feature
Snapshot/Kevin Coleman

Best Independent Mini Documentary
God Sleeps in Rwanda/Kimberlee Acquaro & Stacy Sherman

Best Actor
Andre Braugher – Thief

Best Actress
Alex Vega – Walkout

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Pena – Walkout

Best Supporting Actress
Alfre Woodard – The Water is Wide

Best Television Director
Edward James Olmos – Walkout

Best Television Film
Walkout/Marcus De Leon, Ernie Contreras and Timothy J. Sexton

Best Television Documentary
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts/HBO

Movies That Matter | Part 2

The Color Purple (1985)
Stars: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey
Plot: Steven Spielberg’s masterful adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the story of Celie (Goldberg, in her impressive screen debut), a sharecropper's daughter living in rural Georgia. The film opens in 1909, finding a young Celie as a victim of incest, pregnant with her father's child. Ugly and unloved, separated from her children and her sister, Celie's only option is marriage to an abusive, philandering husband, Mister (Glover) who treats her little better than a slave. Her life changes forever when her husband brings his mistress, a beautiful blues singer named Shug (Avery), into the house.
Social Significance: The film brought Walker worldwide attention as well as raising the profile of other prominent Black authors. With 11 nominations, it remains the most nominated film with an African-American cast.
Why It’s On the List: This movie received 11 nominations and ZERO wins for producer Quincy Jones and Spielberg. Made BS (Before Schindler’s List), if this film were released today, it would have surely won several Oscars. This film also introduced the world to billionaire Winfrey and Oscar winner Goldberg.
Little Known Fact: The Color Purple was also the film debut for Oprah Winfrey, who played Celie’s sister-in-law, Sofia. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including one each for Goldberg, Avery, and Winfrey) but surprisingly won no Oscars, and although the film was nominated for a Best Picture award, Spielberg was snubbed by the academy and was not nominated for Best Director.

Cooley High (1975)
Stars: Glynn Turman and Laurence Hilton-Jacobs
Plot: Director Michael Schultz (Car Wash) directs this coming-of-age story, focusing on the lives of two 1964 Chicago high school seniors as they prepare for adulthood. Cochise (Hilton-Jacobs) is a basketball star and Preach (Turman) is his scholarly best friend. Together, with their pals Willie, Pooter and Tyrone, the boys spend their days running around the city, pulling off an endless string of harmless scams. But when they agree to go for a joyride in a car that Stone (Sherman Smith) and Robert (Norman Gibson) have stolen, their previously carefree existence takes a turn for the dramatic. This also threatens Preach's relationship with the beautiful Brenda (Cynthia Davis), who he has finally begun to woo. By the time their actions have caught up with them (in the form of the police, as well as Stone and Robert), it might be too late to escape.
Social Significance: In a decade with many classic films, this film continues to standout for Black America. The film examines the teenage high-school experience with tenderness and above all, innocence. Cooley High also featured a standout ensemble performance, including two sparkling performances by Turman and Hilton-Jacobs in the lead roles.
Why It’s On the List: For anyone 40 and over, this film is highly revered for its authentic look at inner-city Black teens navigating peer pressure and maintaining their dreams.
Little Known Fact: Schultz's film, which owes an obvious debt to American Graffiti, also inspired the television series “What’s Happening.” The film also had an unforgettable vintage Motown soundtrack, including the perennial funeral song, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Stars: Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor
Plot: Lady Sings the Blues captures the essence of Billie Holiday in this semi-biographic sketch of the tragic life of the famous blues singer. The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress-- Ross, Best (Original) Screenplay and Best Song Score.
Social Significance: While it may be commonplace today, the trio of Ross along with Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield all made history becoming the first Black actors to receive Best Actress and Best Actor Oscar nominations in the same year.
Why It’s On the List: Diana Ross gave a tremendous performance in her film debut opposite Billy Dee Williams in this romantic biopic.
Little Known Fact: Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, and Lola Falana were early contenders for the role of Holiday before Ross demanded to Motown head Berry Gordy that she play the role. Dorothy Dandridge was to star in the role of Billie Holiday in an earlier proposed film version of the singer's autobiography, but died before the film was made.

Boyz ‘N the Hood (1991)
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding, Nia Long, Ice Cube, Angela Bassett and Morris Chestnut
Plot: From the opening shot--a sign reading "Stop"--to the final message of "Increase the Peace," Director John Singleton's desire to galvanize his audience is clear. The violence destroying South Central Los Angeles is seen through the eyes of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), whose intelligence and common sense would be wasted in the 'hood if not for his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), who imparts discipline and responsibility to his son. Tre's friends aren't so lucky, though, especially Doughboy (Ice Cube), who has been in and out of institutions since childhood and now sits on his porch with a forty in his hand and a pistol in his waistband. The film is ambitious enough to tackle a host of problems, from African-American business practices to the bias of the SAT test. The real power of Boyz ‘N the Hood lies in the performances of its principals. Gooding, in his first role, doesn't let Tre come off like a goody two-shoes, while Ice Cube gives a tragic nobility to a young man who knows he's doomed.
Social Significance: Singleton emerged from USC film school with his passionate script already written, and at age 23, he made the film that spawned a score of ghetto dramas (including the impressive Hughes Brothers debut, Menace to Society). In arguably the most dominant year ever for African-American studio films (there were a record 19 films directed by filmmakers of color), Singleton’s debut still rise above the rest. At 24, Singleton also became the youngest director to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar for this film.
Why It’s On the List: Simply for being the one of the first films to feature a rapper transitioning from music to acting (NWA’s Ice Cube; Ice T co-starred in “New Jack City” that same year.). Although many of the young cast members had appeared in smaller roles in forgettable films, Singleton is credited with introducing several fresh faces in this film. This group included Gooding, Chestnut, Long, Regina King and future Best Actress Oscar nominee Bassett. She and Fishburne would reunite, onscreen, later for two other films, What’s Love Got To Do With It and Akeelah and the Bee.
Little Known Fact: In order to maintain a sense of realism (i.e. shots firing unexpectedly), Singleton never gave the actors cues as to when the shots would be fired. As such, their reactions are real. Fishburne who plays Gooding father is only six and a half years older than him in real life.

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Claudia McNeil
Plot: Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil), the stalwart matriarch of an impoverished Black family, dreams of owning a nice home in a tidy, integrated suburb. In the meantime, she shares a small apartment on Chicago's South Side with her underemployed adult son, Walter (Sidney Poitier); his emotionally resilient wife, Ruth (Ruby Dee); their child, Travis (Stephen Perry), and her daughter, Beneatha (Diana Sands). Though there's plenty of love in the family, the close quarters breed desperation and discontent. But Lena's prayers are finally answered when she receives a $10,000 insurance policy her husband left behind. The money becomes a symbol for freedom for each member of the Younger family: Lena sees it as a ticket out of the ghetto and into a home of her own, Walter sees it as a chance to regain his dignity and start his own business, while Beneatha dreams of medical school. Their internal struggle threatens to tear the Younger family apart in this moving and claustrophobic vision of life in the bigoted and oppressive environment of a 1950s tenement.
Social Significance: Director Daniel Petrie's highly acclaimed drama is a seminal portrait of African American life in the mid-1950s, based on Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking play that achieved critical and commercial success at a time when the viability of a Black audience or a White crossover audience was not considered a possibility.
Why It’s On the List: The film was chosen as the number one Black Film of all time by a group of African-American film critics. Hansberry’s rich story is so engaging that it would work with any ethnic group, not just a black family.
Little Known Fact: Future Best Supporting Actor, Gossett made his debut in this film. The cast reprised their roles from the 1959 Broadway play. The title, A Raisin in the Sun, comes from the Langston Hughes poem, "Harlem (What Happens To A Dream Deferred?)."

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