Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rediscovered Masterpiece | Killer of Sheep

Writer/director Charles Burnett vividly captures the essence of inner-city African-American life in 1970s' South Central Los Angeles in the re-release of his independent classic, Killer of Sheep.

Told through the eyes of Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders), he is a proud man who just can't seem to find any semblance of happiness. He performs menial tasks at home during the day and works at a slaughterhouse. He lives with his wife and several small children in what could best be described as abject poverty. It is only in quiet moments, the touch of a coffee cup to his face or observing his daughter, that Stan even manages a small smile.

His unnamed frustrated wife (Kaycee Moore) tries to tries her best to comfort him only to repeatedly be turned away. It's not that Stan doesn't love her, it appears that he has lost the capacity and ability to feel affection.

Proud and content, Stan is secure with his station in life. When a couple associates try to talk him into participating in their criminal enterprise, as bad as Stan could use the money, he turns them down. Later in the film, Stan tells a friend that "he's not poor, he gives things away to the Salvation Army and you can't do that if you're poor."

Burnett's film feels so authentic that in many scenes it doesn't appear that the performers are acting, but are simply participating in a documentary. He does an excellent job of conveying the sense of normalcy and utter hopeless with his black and white photography and stirringly soulful score featuring Paul Robeson, Dinah Washington's passionately moving, "This Bitter Earth" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "Reasons." The music is largely responsible for the film never receiving distribution because the songs were too expensive. Made for $10,000 that Burnett received in grants, what it lacks in production values, it compensates by instilling a fierce sense of soul and pride.

Burnett uses the children in the film to balance out the main characters, showing them gleefully playing almost ignorant to the fact that their surroundings are bleak and full of despair. It is through them that film offers the audience hope.

Much like 1964's Nothing But A Man and Spike Lee's 1986 debut, She's Gotta Have It, Killer of Sheep is raw, gritty, uncompromising and absolutely moving. The saying goes that "cream always rises to the top." It may have taken 30 years, but another generation can now view Burnett's well-deserved "Killer" film.

Knocked Up is a Comedic Knockout!

For more than 15 years, writer/director Judd Apatow has put his twisted, dark contemporary humor on display. On the heels of the surprise 2005 hit comedy, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow goes from one extreme to the other in his latest film, Knocked Up.

Life is just one big party for Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and his friends. Getting their drink or smoke on, playing juvenile games or just hanging out, Stone and his crew are just passing time. Unemployed, Stone and his friends are slackers whose career aspirations are creating a porn site that documents nude moments for actors in films.

On the other side of town, TV producer Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is working for the E Channel and is on the verge of a promotion. Allison is informed that she will exchange places, going from behind the scenes to network talent, she’s ecstatic. She invites her married sister, Debbie (Lesley Mann) for a celebration at a local club. Allison and Ben meet, and after several hours of dirty dancing and alcohol consumption, bad judgment takes over and the two do the dirty deed.

The morning after, Allison immediately realizes her “hookup” was a horrible idea and that the two have nothing in common. With a career change on her horizon, she thinks she’ll put this little episode behind her and go on with her life. Not so fast, because eight weeks later, she finds out that she’s pregnant and the one-night stand guy, Ben, is the baby’s daddy!

While initially it looks like a mismatch, soon Allison discovers that many of Ben’s childlike ways are a perfect compliment to her personality. Ben charmingly embraces Allison’s pregnancy and soon is winning her over. He gives it his best effort, but forces conspire against their happiness.

Where Ben and Allison are navigating their tenuous relationship, her sister, Debbie, and her sister’s husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), are struggling. Each pines for the glory days, and their interactions are full of comic misadventures.

Much like in Virgin, Knocked Up succeeds because Apatow understands that it’s not that bad things happen but that there is plenty of humor in life’s dark’s moments. He never drives a stern message to the audience that the situation is bad, Apatow simply mines every humorous moment he can throughout the entire nine-month birthing cycle.

Leave it to Apatow to find the comic ray of sunshine in a potentially sour situation. Although Knocked Up runs a little too long, the journey is hilariously fulfilling.

This review also appeared on

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Cinematic Washout | Rain

Cultures collide; secrets are revealed; and bad acting “reigns” supreme in the latest CodeBlack release, Rain. Based on the late author, V.C. Andrews book of the same title, this film is a poor adaptation from her popular book.

The film tells the story of biracial Rain Arnold (Brooklyn Sudano). She lives in a rundown house with a devoted, sickly mother, Latitia (“CSI: Miami’s” Khandi Alexander), an absentee and sometimes abusive father, Ken (Giancarlo Esposito). While Rain is a good student and fledgling musician, who’s trying to do the right thing with her life, her sister, Beni (Jerrika Hinton), loves the allure of the fast life in the streets. Soon enough, she encounters the neighborhood kingpin, Jared (Mario Mims), who drugs her, rapes her and seeks to blackmail her with incriminating photos.

In the midst of all of this madness, Rain finds out that her real parents paid the Arnolds to take her in and raise her as their own. If that admission is not hurtful enough, Beni is killed by neighborhood thugs, setting events in motion that will reunite Rain with her birth family. Fortunately, she escapes Jared’s wrath by moving, but he has unfinished business with Rain and continues to track her down.

Much like the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Rain leaves the inner city and heads to upper-crust society, moving in with Hudson family matriarch Isabel Hudson (Faye Dunaway). She is ridiculed by snobby White relatives, taught “proper” manners and how to ride horses, and sent to the exclusive Coventry school for further “refinement.” While it was humorous in the “Fresh Prince,” it is demeaning and offensive in this film. The only person that Rain opens up to is the chauffeur and retired police officer, Jake (Robert Loggia)

The film takes many liberties with Andrew’s book, inserting characters into the film that were absent from the book. Also the politics of the film leave much to be desired. Sudano, the daughter of singer Donna Summer, is the light-skinned good daughter, while her sister in the film, Hinton, is the dark-skinned “wild” child who lusts after fast money and the street life, only to end up dead. Mims’ portrayal of Jared seemed to be modeled after rapper, 50 Cent, giving him menacingly stupid dialogue and a viciously violent gang persona.

Much like Oscar-winner Helen Mirren’s appearance in the lackluster indie film, Shadowboxer, Dunaway appears to bring limited life to this sad and predictable affair. Along with Loggia and Alexander (who hasn’t looked this bad since she was “cracked-out” in “The Corner”), the threesome are probably the only reasons that this film was made in the first place.

Sudano is fair in her first leading role, but the script ultimately lets her down. It’s amazing that in 2007, a filmmaker thought that a Black person going to an exclusive White school and living with a White family merited special treatment. The shock that she was intelligent, creative and articulate, wow! Sudano acquits herself well and may have a future if she chooses the right material. Despite brief moments of sunshine, the film is a cinematic washout.

This review also appeared on

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

After an unsatisfactory voyage in Curse of the Black Pearl, the fun and adventure returns in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. This latest film finds the bodacious buccaneers returning to the high seas to save Captain Jack Sparrow and all his pirate brethren.

When we last saw Sparrow (Johnny Depp), he had been captured by a Kracken and pulled into a watery grave. This film finds him being held captive in Davey Jones’ locker. Not exactly dead or alive, Jack is trapped in purgatory aboard his beloved ship, The Black Pearl. He lives out his days hallucinating about a crew that doesn’t exist aboard a ship in the middle of the unknown.

After Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), Will (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) rescue Jack, they must face their foes, Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) and Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett, now with control of Jones' heart, forms a dark alliance with him in order to rule the seas and wipe out the last of the pirates.

Arrr, looks like it’s time for some pirate U-N-I-T-Y. Soon Sparrow, Barbossa, Will, Elizabeth, Tia Delma (Naomie Harris) and crew must call on the pirate lords from the four corners of the globe, including the infamous Sao Feng (Chow-Yun Fat), to a gathering that will make their final stand against the scallywags – Beckett, Jones, Norrington, the Flying Dutchman and the entire East India Trading Company.

At World’s End has all of the ingredients for the perfect summer popcorn film: great battle scenes, loud explosions and intrigue. The film runs a ridiculous 168 minutes (which is waaaaaay too long for any summer film).

But with its explosive beginning and a swashbuckling finale, At World’s End succeeds where The Curse of the Black Pearl failed. Depp is deliciously decadent as Sparrow, modeling his character after rocker Keith Richards (who makes an appearance as his father in the film). Although a supporting player, Harris’ character may hold the key to their survival of all pirates. If you’re a fan of the first two, At World’s End surely won’t be the end of Sparrow’s enjoyable tale.

This review also appeared on

Buggin' Out | Bug

Ashley Judd is the ideal supporting actress. When surrounded by a cast of other actors, she shines. Unfortunately as a lead actress, her judgment is terrible. After several unconvincing lead performances in films such as Twisted, High Crimes, Double Jeopardy, The Eye of the Beholder and Kiss the Girls, she’s up to her old tricks in her latest film, Bug.

Judd plays Agnes White a loner who lives in a rundown hotel room, drinking her dinner and feeling sorry for herself. Constantly receiving anonymous phone calls, White is terrified that her ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.) has escaped from prison and is after her. One day her lesbian friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) brings a strange man (that’s putting it mildly), Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) to her room. The two loners make an instant connection. There’s something about Peter that Agnes can’t put a finger on. In no time, she’s opening up to him and taking him into her bed, (instead of giving him and STD, Agnes gives him a BUG!) that’s when the madness really begins.

Peter shares with Agnes that he has escaped from a military hospital after they injected bugs into his body that now feed on his blood. As Peter slowly descends into paranoia and madness, he takes Agnes gladly along for the ride. Soon the two are holed up in a room covered completely in aluminum and hiding from the outside world. What will become of this twisted dynamic duo?

For the second time in less than a month, we see another film featuring White people in cheap motels. White folks in cheap motels go together like Judd and quality leading performances, NOT! Bug fares no better, devoid of any level of common sense. The longer the film continued the deeper it descended into total stupidity. After engaging in the one of the dumbest games of charades ever filmed, Agnes delivers the cheesiest film line of 2007, “I’m the Queen MotherBug,”

With apologies to Epic Movie, Bug is easily the worst film I’ve seen this year. With so many other choices at area theaters, don’t “bug”-out and see this mind-numbling stupid story.

This review also appeared on

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gang Green | Shrek the Third

When we last left Shrek (Michael Myers), he had overcome the objections of his father-in-law, King Harold (John Cleese) to win a place in the heart of his true love, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). In the process, he also foiled the plans of the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). In this latest installment, Shrek the Third, the big green guy is dealing with family issues.

Life seems grand in Far, Far Away, but soon a dark shadow falls over the kingdom. The King is dying and wants Shrek to succeed him as king, but the ogre has other ideas. When he discovers there is another heir, Artie (Justin Timberlake), he and his traveling crew, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) beat a hasty retreat to bring him back as the new king.

Before he departs, Shrek finds out that Fiona is pregnant. Not sure that he will make a good father; he humorously agonizes over his future parental responsibilities. Soon, Shrek will discover that his impending fatherhood is the least of his issues; Charming has organized all of the fairy tale villains and is set to attack Far, Far Away. If successful, he will install himself as king.

Once Shrek locates Artie, he is quite surprised that the future king is a high school loser. Even the nerds harass poor Artie, whose self-esteem is non-existent. Shrek and friends must help him find his inner-strength to rule the kingdom. Along the way, the crew meets “retired” wizard Merlin (Eric Idle), who gives them a “magical assist,” while fighting various villains to save the kingdom. All in a short day’s work!

The first two films in the series featured engaging characters and wonderful sight gags (who can forget the “Rodeo Drive”-type street in Far, Far Away?). While the first two were uproarious sendoffs with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, this film overall feels just amusing. The problem is that many of the things that were humorous in the earlier films are established, and the film has few little surprises.

Word on the street is that Puss in Boots will get his own movie and may not be a part of future Shrek stories. That would be a shame, because Shrek gets by with more than just a little help from his friends; Donkey and Puss in Boots are the comic engine of Gang Green, while Shrek serves as the story’s straight man. This film entertains but falls short on the wit and laughter of the earlier installments. Fortunately, there’s still enough here to make it an enjoyable experience while leaving you green with comic envy.

This review also appeared on

Friday, May 11, 2007

Running Scared | 28 Weeks Later

Hope sprang eternal at the conclusion of the 2005 horror film, 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, those happy feelings quickly disappear in the inspirationally challenged sequel, 28 Weeks Later.

Wasting no time, the story picks up in a remote cottage where a small group of survivors are hiding out. Over dinner, the small party is interrupted by a frantic knock on the door. With suspicious glances, they discover a small boy running from “the infected.” Although it was the right thing to do (rescuing the boy), it also alerted our fiendish friends of the whereabouts of everyone, and faster than you can say “run for your lives,” the ghoulish horde swarm the cottage. Not your garden variety slow fiends, these zombies sprint hungrily after their prey. In an outrageous cowardly display, only Don (Robert Carlyle) escapes, leaving his poor wife to be devoured by the zombies.

Twenty-eight weeks after the last of the infected have died, residents return to repopulate London. In this group are Don’s two young children. Living in closely guarded quarters with a small group of returning residents, the reunited family tries to move forward, minus the mother they believe is dead. Forbidden to go back to their home, the two kids sneak away to retrieve some items and find a huge surprise – the supposedly dead mother. Found to have a special immunity to the virus, her blood holds the key to curing the deadly epidemic for good.

Overall, this film is an absolute money-grab, lacking all of the charm, suspense and intelligence of the first film. After an initial horrifying 15 minutes, the film never regains that pace and relies too heavily on the terrifying foundation joyously presented in the first film. The bigger crime is wasting the talents of two prominent actors of former HBO shows, Idris Elba (“The Wire”) and Harold Perrineau (“Oz”), relegating both to several scenes with little or no explanation.

Culturally, there remain major differences regarding logic in horror films. Too many times White characters react in ways that frustrate Black audiences. This continued lack of insight and the inability to use basic common sense make watching 28 Weeks Later a study in frustration. If this represents the best effort that the filmmakers can muster, the audience should say “later,” and run like zombies from this film before you become infected with its stupidity.

This review also appeared on

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Been There, Done That | The Salon

There are people that think that the art of releasing a film is “sometimes better late than never.” Unfortunately, in the film industry late or delayed releases are usually a sure sign that something is not right. In this case, screenwriter/director Mark Brown goes to the well one too many times in somewhat familiar, The Salon.

Brown who wrote the screenplay for Barbershop, also pens this tale, based on Shelly Garrett’s play, Beauty Shop, where the audience gets to experience what sistahs talk about while getting their hair done. Not only is the story familiar, but every character-type as well.

Based in Baltimore, The Salon stars Vivica A. Fox who assumes the Ice Cube role as shop owner, Jenny trying to save her shop from becoming a parking lot. Instead of Cedric the Entertainer, we get Kym Whitley, who provides the wit and wisdom for everyone at the shop. There is the obligatory gay character, D.D. (De'Angelo Wilson), white character, Tami (Brooke Burns) and woman who’s getting dogged by her man, sad sack Monica Calhoun. Instead of the token woman (Eve) in the barbershop, Dondre Whitfield is the token “straight” man in the salon.

In addition to saving her shop, Fox must deal with a potential suitor (Darrin Dewitt Henson), an insubordinate son and being strong for everyone else. Much like the barbershop, the salon is the center of plenty of activity. When the neighborhood hookers need a place to rest, there’s the salon; bootleg CDs, hey sell them in the salon. There are fights, confrontations and a Soul Train dancing line. Even Oscar nominee, Terrence Howard has a small role.

The film’s major problem is that it was scheduled for release in 2005 and although the commentary in the film is on par with Brown’s work in Barbershop, much of the material feels dated. References to JLo, Puffy and Ben Affleck are distant stories of the past. One character even talks about her “gold-digging idol,” none other than the late Anna Nicole Smith. Another recently deceased entertainer also makes a cameo in the film, hanging out in the shop.

The Salon is the fourth and last film (Beauty Shop, Nora’s Hair Salon, Hair Show and this film) released telling almost the same story. Imploring the audience to “believe,” my belief is that I think I’ve seen enough films about this subject for quite awhile. It’s not as if The Salon is not cool, I was just a little too familiar with the story – before the film began! Viewers who have seen both Barbershop and Beauty Shop, can save their money and their time, there are no new style to be discovered here.

This review also appeared on

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Tasty Cinematic Slice of Life | Waitress

Every summer nestled among the big budget action films and countless sequels are small hidden gems. The summer’s candidate is the feel-good fairytale, Waitress.

Kerri Russell stars as Jenna, a woman who works in a pie diner by day and is married to an ogre of a husband, Jeremy Sisto. A “pie genius,” Jenna escapes the sadness and chaos in her life by constantly concocting different pie recipes in her head that are served in the diner. Featuring a strong cast including, “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly and Andy Griffith, Jenna has resigned herself to a life filled with unhappiness.

Suddenly Jenna discovers she is pregnant, which doesn’t sit well with her or her controlling husband. While on a routine doctor visit, she meets the town’s new MD, the handsome, quirky Dr. Pomatter and in no time the sparks fly between the two. With a baby on the way that she doesn’t want, forbidden love in the air and pies baking in the oven, will Jenna live happily ever after?

Shelly, who was murdered earlier this year, has created a lush beautiful film that will surely do for pies what Sideways did for Pinot Noir. Russell soars in the lead role giving a wonderful sweet effective performance; we feel her pain; cheer her triumphs and wish that we can taste her delicious looking pies.

If you need a respite from standard summer fare, you can enjoy a wonderful tasty slice of cinematic heaven in Waitress.

This review also appeared on WETA-TV's "Around Town."

Steppin' To The Bad Side | Spider-Man 3

It’s been often said that the “third time is a charm.” Last spring, the third installment of the X-Men series performed below expectations – and it’s not alone. Spider-Man 3 has good intentions, but it tries to stuff 10 pounds of action into a five-pound bag.

Since we last saw Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), his fortunes have improved considerably. Where he was once misunderstood, he is now openly embraced as a hero. Like Rick James, he’s in love with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and planning to propose. Peter’s also feeling something foreign – himself – as he arrogantly walks the streets of Manhattan. Even as he saves the police chief’s daughter, Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard), from a crumbling skyscraper, the cocky Spider-Man/Peter knows that he’s the man and is comfortable with that fact.

While Peter is living in his world, hate is slowly welling up around him. His former best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), has now become the New Goblin, with designs on avenging his father’s death. Peter also has begun to take Mary Jane for granted, and we all know that if “mama ain’t happy . . ..” After a romantic evening “hangin’ out,” Peter is pursued by a dark, clingy, sticky substance, hmmm.

Meanwhile, criminal Flint Marko has escaped from prison. Authorities think that he may have a connection to the death of Peter’s uncle. While attempting to elude the police, Marko has an accident that transforms him into The Sandman. With an ailing daughter, he vows to steal enough money for her treatment.

Back at The Daily Planet, a new photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), arrives, posing an immediate threat to Peter. It doesn’t help that his girlfriend, Gwen, is the same woman Spider-Man saved earlier in the film. Their friendship will disappoint Mary Jane and set Eddie on a vengeful course.

One night when Spider-Man is at his most vulnerable moment, the dark substance takes hold of him, transforming him, the mild-mannered nerdy Peter, into an aggressively mean and abusive new “dark” hero/villain. Turning his red and blue suit black, his new look gives him the feeling of additional power and control. You know we can’t have that! Before he sheds his alternate suit, he will give ammunition to another adversary, Venom.

There lies the film’s biggest problem. With a runtime of 140 minutes, there is too much action going on and as a result, the story suffers. The first two films brilliantly gave audiences a perfect balance of story and action, showing how Peter juggled the responsibilities of being a superhero and the demands of being a college student. This film skips the story and throws the audience, dragging and kicking, into one action sequence after another. While the earlier films in the series appealed to fans of the comic book, they also worked for those who didn’t know the story. This installment leaves both groups hanging, by not explaining/rushing through story elements for casual viewers and not making it believable enough for true fans.

Perhaps by subtracting one villain, that could have created more space to delve deeper into more character development. Nevertheless, this latest chapter falls short of the first two films, and if this is the last film together for Maguire, Dunst and director Sam Raimi, that truly would be a shame. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, and both Peter and Spiderman will suffer headaches as a result of this lackluster, underachieving attempt. With great power, comes great responsibility and, for Spider-Man 3, also great disappointment.

This review also appeared on

Five to Watch

The summer movie season is notorious for releasing some of the biggest films of the year. With so much pressure from studios trying to win the opening weekends, the people truly in the hot seat are the film’s stars. We take a look at five actors who may find their temperatures rising or falling with films this summer.

Don Cheadle
Film: Talk to Me and Ocean’s Thirteen

Last Seen In: Reign Over Me
The Upside: Talk to Me could be his Ray. He further enhances his solid credentials with an interesting and eye-opening biopic about D.C. personality, Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene. In addition, he joins his A-list pals in another Ocean picture.
The Downside: If his Ocean film tanks (unlikely) and the biopic is overshadowed by bigger blockbusters (perhaps).
Outlook: With one strong performance under his belt already this year in Reign, Cheadle walks to his own beat and balances work in bigger films with small personal stories (Hotel Rwanda and the upcoming Talk). He’ll be just fine.

Queen Latifah
Film: Hairspray

Last Seen In: The HBO film, Life Support
The Upside: Her role as Motormouth Maybelle is another quirky, offbeat and funny performance by the incredibly smart Latifah. Co-starring with John Travolta and receiving a huge marketing push by New Line Cinema, look for this film to be a summer surprise – and another feature in her highness’ cap.
The Downside: If the film doesn’t get cannibalized by bigger-name fare, and Black audiences don’t warm to a period musical, it could be in trouble.
Outlook: In her 16-year career, Latifah is one of the best in business in finding roles that either fit her perfectly or provide enough room for her to work her magic. The Oscar-nominated actress has a strong shot at an Emmy nomination for her fantastic work in Life Support. If history is any indication, Latifah will continue to cruise along, even if Hairspray isn’t successful.

Chris Tucker
Film: Rush Hour 3

Last Seen In: Rush Hour 2
The Upside: With over $350 million from the first two films in the series, it seems like a no-brainer this project has a good shot at being successful. The creative team behind the previous two teams remains intact; if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The Downside: Tucker has been in a film in six years. To put that in a better prospective, Samuel L. Jackson has starred in 20 films since the last Rush Hour! Will audiences even remember his earlier films?
Outlook: The jury is out on his career. We don’t doubt that his latest will be successful, but what happens when he’s cast in a film that doesn’t have Rush Hour in the title or doesn’t star Jackie Chan? He runs the risk of being a one-film pony who may suffer an early career flameout. Time will tell.

Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Film: Daddy Day Camp
Last Seen In: Norbit
The Upside: Stepping in for Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy, Oscar winner Gooding reprises the role of Charlie Hinton in the Daddy Day franchise. With an entirely new creative team behind this project, Gooding has a chance to shine in this film.
The Downside: With a resume featuring far more bombs than hits, Gooding may have finally reached a critical career fork in the road. There is a good reason that Murphy chose to move on from this project. Gooding may be walking into a creative minefield in this film.
Outlook: As a member of a very special fraternity of Black Oscar winners, Gooding, by far, has been the biggest disappointment. He always seems to be around the wrong films at the wrong times. After laying another egg, critically, in Norbit, his career may get an added boost co-starring with fellow Oscar winner Denzel Washington as drug dealer Nicky Barnes in American Gangster, this fall.

Morgan Freeman
Film: Evan Almighty

Last Seen In: 10 Items or Less
The Upside: Freeman returns as God in the runaway Almighty franchise. The entire creative team from the first film returns, but no other return was more important than that of the consummate veteran actor. With comedic actor Steve Carrell, who is on par with the original film’s star, Jim Carrey, the film should not miss a beat and could be a very formidable presence this summer.
The Downside: For Freeman, there’s not a lot. He balances small indies with big Hollywood blockbusters, plus having that small shiny gold trophy doesn’t hurt.
Outlook: In an interview once, Nelson George called Freeman one of the industry’s steadiest actors and the glue that holds together many films that pit an inexpensive actor with the steady vet. In his illustrious 33-year career, Freeman has played big and small. Freeman is as versatile an actor as you’ll find and, no matter what you wonder about Evan Almighty, one thing is certain – if it doesn’t work, it won’t be because of Freeman.

This feature also appeared on

Sequel Summer | Evan Almighty

Film: Evan Almighty
Stars: Steve Carell, Lauren Graham and Morgan Freeman

Where We Left Off: In the original, Jim Carrey complains about how God has only made his life a total waste. He meets God and is given all of his powers. At first he loves it. He can do anything, but when he discovers others are praying, he learns that maybe this job of being God isn't really that easy. He learns humility and ends up with his love, Grace.
The Skinny: The last time we saw Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), he was being tormented onscreen by rival Bruce, live from their Buffalo TV station. But as time passed and Evan made up with Bruce, he's gone onto bigger and better things. Newly elected to Washington D.C. as a congressman, Evan has left Buffalo, N.Y., in pursuit of a greater calling. But that calling isn't to serve in the illustrious ranks of America's politics, but he is being summoned by The Almighty Himself (Morgan Freeman), who has handed Evan the task of building a new ark, much like the one built by Noah in the Bible days. With time passing by and his family belittled by Evan's newfound realization, Evan will have to do the work that God has given him in what promises to be an unusual adventure for a man who just wanted to serve his country.
Total Gross: $242.8 million – $242.8 million (Bruce Almighty)
Black Quotient: High
Prediction: The producers of this film struck gold when a little known comedic actor, Carrell, was cast alongside Carrey in the original. When it came time to make a sequel, Carrell’s profile had risen high enough to potentially equal Carrey’s comedic impact from the original. Plus, having Freeman giving a God-like performance won’t hurt. If Carrell can channel Carrey’s comedic charm, this film should be a runaway hit. My prediction: $200 million. (June 22)

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Sequel Summer | 28 Weeks Later

Film: 28 Weeks Later
Stars: Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Mackintosh Muggleton and Idris Elba.
Where We Left Off: Several survivors overcome flesh-eating infected zombies and over-zealous militia members to stay alive in disease-ridden London.
The Skinny: “Just as I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The infected have returned in the sequel to the cult-classic zombie film. Seven months after the rage virus has annihilated the British Isles, the U.S. Army declares that the war against infection has been won and that the reconstruction of the country can begin. In the first wave of returning refugees, a family is reunited – but one of them unwillingly carries a terrible secret. The virus is not yet dead, and this time, it is more dangerous than ever.
Total Gross: $45 million – $45 million (28 Days Later)
Black Quotient: Low
Prediction: The original caught everyone by surprise with a different kind of swifter, more mobile zombie. The cast is different, but the concept is solid and has been established. In a summer heavy on action-adventures, a horror film like this one could easily find an audience as well as sustain it. This film should easily surpass the gross of original and could be one of the sleepers of the summer. My prediction: $75 million to $100 million. (May 11)

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Sequel Summer | Daddy Day Camp

Film: Daddy Day Camp
Stars: Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Where We Left Off: Two men, Charlie (Eddie Murphy) and Phil (Jeff Garlin), get laid off from their jobs and become stay-at-home dads, pulling their kids out of the expensive, exclusive Chapman Academy. They open their own daycare center throwing them into competition with Chapman and its tough-as-nails director, played by Anjelica Huston. After being offered their old jobs back, the two decide that money isn’t everything and keep open Daddy Day Care.
The Skinny: Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. steps in for Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy in the sequel to the hilarious 2003 comedy. After Daddy Day Care, Charlie (Gooding, Jr.) and Phil embark on another kid-harried adventure as they take over running a summer day camp in Daddy Day Camp. But troubles start when Charlie's father, Col. Buck Hinton (Richard Gant), starts to control it.
Total Gross: $104.2 million – $104.2 million (Daddy Day Care)
Black Quotient: High
Prediction: Trouble, pure and simple. After stalling in 2005, the film lost its star, Murphy, and the entire cast from the first film. Only the original writer is back in the one sequel that is “least likely to succeed.” Gooding takes over from Murphy, who has experience making bad movies for kids (Snow Dogs and Home on the Range). Without its creative team and likable cast, including the funny Murphy, from the first film, it will be hard for this film to make half of the original’s gross. Gooding’s fall from award winner to kid movie fodder is almost complete. Next up for the embattled actor is a role as Nicky Barnes in the Denzel Washington film, American Gangster. My prediction for Daddy Day Camp is an overly optimistic $60 million. (August 8)

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Sequel Summer | Ocean's Thirteen

Film: Ocean’s Thirteen
Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino

Where We Left Off: Danny Ocean’s crew had a deadline to pay back the money from the first film and is also in an elaborate competition with an intelligent, suave French thief to steal a valuable FabergĂ© egg. The crew secures the egg, pays Terry Benedict back his money, and Pitt and sexy Inspector Catherine Zeta-Jones get together. All in a day’s work for best cat thieves on the planet!
The Skinny: Hollywood’s annual A-list filming “event,” which doubles as Ocean films, brings together industry heavyweights Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Cheadle, Roberts and crew for two to three months of work and a whole lot of hanging out and partying. The latest adventure finds our crew reassembling for a third heist after casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses one of the original 11, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Also joining the cast is Ellen Barkin.
Total Gross: $308.9 million – $183.4 million (Ocean's Eleven); $125.5 million (Ocean's Twelve)
Black Quotient: Medium
Prediction: The Ocean films always have been about excess. Excess star power, exotic locations and tremendous guest star appearances. The films are cool as ice, but the question remains in a summer of action adventures, “Will this party, designed as a film, find an audience?” Twelve grossed less than Eleven; My prediction: $150 million. (June 8)

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Sequel Summer | Hostel 2

Film: Hostel 2
Stars: Jay Hernandez

Where We Left Off: Three backpackers in Amsterdam are lured to an out-of-the-way hostel, where wealthy people torture, maim and kill unsuspecting tourists. Only one survives, Paxton (Jay Hernandez), who inexplicably returns in the sequel.
The Skinny: The WPID Meter (“White People in Distress”) is off the charts in the sequel to this bloody and scary original. Three White kids in, three out and the cycle begins again in Part II, where this time three college students are tricked into entering a hostel where the “hosts” like to torture, rape and murder. Following a geographical tour of Slovakia, three women are lured into a hostel by a handsome young man who sells them to the twisted masters, who tie them up and bring upon an unthinkable world of pain. If you have a stomach for this type of mayhem, this is the perfect movie for you!
Total Gross: $47.3 million – $47.3 million (Hostel)
Black Quotient: Blank
Prediction: Director Eli Roth took some time away from his horror franchise to produce a fake trailer (Thanksgiving) for Grindhouse. The first film made with a modest profit almost grossed $50 million. With heightened expectations, expect a modest gain. My prediction: $75 million (June 8)

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Sequel Summer | Live Free or Die Hard

Film: Live Free or Die Hard
Stars: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q, Justin Long and Jeffrey Wright.

Where We Left Off: 1995, that when. Back then, John McClane is separated from his wife and suspended from the NYPD. But he's quickly put back on the force because of a man named Simon (Jeremy Irons), who set bombs all over the city and gives McClane the challenge of finding them before they go off. McClane was aided by a Harlem store owner named Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson).
The Skinny: When a criminal plot is in place to take down the entire computer and technological structure that supports the economy of the United States (and the world), it's up to a decidedly "old-school" hero, police Detective McClane (Willis), to dissolve the conspiracy, aided by a young hacker (Long).
Total Gross: $300.5 million – $83 million (Die Hard); $117.5 million (Die Hard 2: Die Harder); $100 million (Die Hard: With A Vengeance)
Black Quotient: Low
Prediction: It has been 11 LONG years since the last action hero, Willis, played this character. Sly Stallone showed in Rocky Balboa, last year that audiences will embrace a character they love. The question is, “Will they still love McClane?” The jury is still out. I’m betting that the film will be a moderate success but without huge numbers. My prediction: $100 million. (June 27)

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Sequel Summer | The Bourne Ultimatum

Film: The Bourne Ultimatum
Stars: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles and David Strathairn

Where We Left Off: The ticking time bomb that is Jason Bourne is set to detonate again when agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is conducting an operation to find a rogue CIA agent, but something goes wrong, and her investigation leads her to him. Although Bourne has been trying to put his life as a CIA man behind him and remember his past, by film’s end, Bourne has gotten his man and discovered his real name and identity, David Webb.
The Skinny: The government won’t leave Bourne alone as he races to discover the final mysteries of his past in this latest film. While a government agent tries to track him down after a shootout in Moscow, Bourne must travel from Paris, Madrid and London to Tangier and New York City as he continues his quest to find the real Jason Bourne – all the while trying to outmaneuver the scores of cops, federal officers and Interpol agents who have him in their crosshairs.
Total Gross: $297.8 million – $121.6 million (The Bourne Identity); $176.2 million (The Bourne Supremacy)
Black Quotient: Blank
Prediction: Potentially white hot. Damon, who stars in two big franchise summer movies (along with Oceans series), is perfectly cast as the former killing machine that just wants to be left alone. This is the third and final book in the series by Robert Ludlum, although two additional books, “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Bourne Betrayal,” feature the same character written by another author. If this film performs as well as the previous two, look for the other books to also be made into films, and the franchise will continue. My prediction is that Bourne equals sure money, $200 million. (August 3)

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Sequel Summer | Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley

Where We Left Off: Captain Jack, in a heroic moment, has come back to save his beloved Pearl when he and his ship are destroyed by the Kraken. Davey Jones’ beating heart has been turned over to East Indian Trading Company, and Barbossa returns with a vow to sail to the end of the Earth to save Jack.
The Skinny: After Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), Will (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the clutches of the Kraken, they must face their foes, Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) and Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett, now with control of Jones' heart, forms a dark alliance with him to rule the seas and wipe out the last of the Pirates. Now, Jack, Barbossa, Will, Elizabeth, Tia Delma and crew must call the Pirate Lords from the four corners of the globe, including the infamous Sao Feng (Chow-Yun Fat), to a gathering that will make their final stand against Beckett, Jones, Norrington, the Flying Dutchman, and the entire East India Trading Company.
Total Gross: $728.7 million – $305.4 million (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl); $423.3 million (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest)
Black Quotient: Low
Prediction: With over $700 million in two films, the Pirates franchise is one of the summer’s surest bets. Filmed back-to-back, At World’s End has a built-in audience waiting for Captain Jack Sparrow’s next adventure and, surely, neither he nor the story will disappoint. My prediction: $450 million. (May 25)

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Sequel Summer | Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Film: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson

Where We Left Off: Harry's fourth summer and the following year at Hogwarts are marked by the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, in which student representatives from three different wizarding schools compete in a series of increasingly challenging contests. Harry and his new older rival, Cedric Diggery, compete not only in the tournament but also for the affections of Cho Chang. Lurking in the shadows again is Lord Voldermort, who kills Cedric, regains human form and will play a much larger role in subsequent films.
The Skinny: Trouble brews as Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts begins. The authorities are ignoring Harry and Dumbledore's warnings of Voldemort's return, causing his fellow classmates to view him with disdain. Meanwhile, a new witch assumes control at Hogwarts, throwing the entire school into chaos. Will Harry lose everything?
Total Gross: $1.1 billion – $317.5 million (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone); $261.9 million (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets); $249.5 million (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); $290 million (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
Black Quotient: Blank
Prediction: With over $1 billion in domestic gross, the Harry Potter franchise continues to roar along. Audiences continue be fascinated by the adventures of Harry and his friends as he wards off trouble from his nemesis, Lord Voldermort. The film won’t be the highest grossing film of the summer, but history shows that the story will cast a spell over an eager audience. My prediction: $250 to $300 million. (July 13)

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Sequel Summer | Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer

Film: Fantastic Four 2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer
Stars: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis; Directed by Tim Story

Where We Left Off: Our fearsome foursome gain superpowers after an accident in outer space. Soon they are adjusting to their new found abilities and saving the people of New York, but Dr. Doom had other plans. Our heroes defeat the evil Dr. Doom (we think) and Reed Richards (Gruffundd) proposes to Sue Storm (Alba).
The Skinny: After the death of Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four feel life is back to normal. Soon Reed Richards and Sue Storm get married, but not before a new enemy, the Silver Surfer, takes charge to destroy the Earth. Once again it's up to the Fantastic Four to stop him. Oh yeah, they also deal with the return of Dr. Doom.
Total Gross: $154.6 million – $154.6 (Fantastic Four).
Black Quotient: Low
Prediction: The first film set the stage and pulled in over $150 million, despite unkind reviews. The trailer for the sequel looks better than the original and, with some familiarity, this film should do well. If it does better than the original, Story will have the distinction of having the highest grossing film by a Black director. That would be “fantastic” for him. My prediction: $150 million to $175 million. (June 15)

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Sequel Summer | Shrek the Third

Film: Shrek the Third
Stars: Mike Myers (Voice), Eddie Murphy (Voice), Cameron Diaz (Voice) and Antonio Banderas (Voice)
Where We Left Off: The evil fairy godmother tried to trick Fiona into marrying Prince Charming when Shrek and friends storm the castle and save the day. In the process, King Harold is turned into a toad and our three principals revert back to their original form.
The Skinny: The gangs all back as the adventure of Shrek, Princess Fiona and Donkey continues. When his new father-in-law, King Harold, falls ill, Shrek is looked at as the heir to the land of Far, Far Away. Not one to give up his beloved swamp, Shrek recruits his friends Donkey and Puss in Boots (Banderas) to install the rebellious Artie as the new king. Fiona, however, rallies a band of royal girlfriends to fend off an attack by the jilted Prince Charming
Total Gross: $708.8 million – $267.6 million for Shrek and $441.2 million for Shrek 2
Black Quotient: Medium
Prediction: If history is any indication, this film will be HUGE! The previous installment almost doubled the original. With a witty script, familiar characters and the mighty DreamWorks marketing machine, this film will be one of the top five films of the summer, perhaps top three. The fairytale continues . . . My prediction is $350 million to$400 million. (May 18)

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Sequel Summer | Rush Hour 3

Film: Rush Hour 3
Stars: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker
Where We Left Off: Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) is on vacation in Hong Kong, but Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) is too busy doing police work. After an explosion at the American Embassy, Lee attempts to track down the man who may be responsible, Ricky Tan, a Triad gang leader and the former partner of Lee's father, who was also a cop. Obviously, Carter doesn't appreciate being dragged along like that, but what choice does he have? Lee discovers a power struggle among the Triads between Tan and Hu Li (Zhang Ziyi). They later find out it has something to do with the death of Lee's father and a counterfeiting scheme. Lee and Carter go back to Cali, and later Las Vegas, where they discover that everything that's happened goes way beyond an explosion at the Embassy.
The Skinny: Welcome back Chris Tucker! After a six-year absence, Tucker returns to do . . . another Rush Hour film. Their cinematic world tour continues for the dynamic duo, this time in Paris, where they battle a wing of the Chinese organized-crime family, the Triads.
Total Gross: $367.2 million – $141.1 for Rush Hour and $226.1 for Rush Hour 2.
Black Quotient: High
Prediction: This film has been stuck in neutral for several years. As recent as 2005, Chan himself talked about being dissatisfied with Tucker because of his many demands. The two actors share wonderful on-screen chemistry, and audiences may be ready to get the “rush” on. Hopefully, Tucker will have the desire to make “other” movies that AREN’T Rush Hour! My prediction is $175 million. (August 10)

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Sequel Summer 2007 | Spider-Man 3

Film: Spider-Man 3
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard
Where We Left Off: Spider-Man kills villain Dr. Ock; Peter Parker once again tells Mary Jane that they can’t be together; Harry Osborn gets a visit from his dead dad demanding that he avenge his death; Mary leaves her fiancĂ© standing at the altar and chooses . . . Peter!
The Skinny: Spider-Man’s back, and this time he’s Black! (Well, at least his suit is.) Peter’s life seems to be coming together; he’s got his girl, a potential new position at The Daily Bugle, and love from the citizens of New York. But it is just the calm before the storm. Soon, he’ll have to face multiple enemies, and he will have to reach deep inside himself to free the compassionate hero he used to be if he is ever to conquer the darkness within and face not only his greatest enemies, but himself.
Total Gross: $777.2 million – $403.7 million for Spider-Man and $373.5 million for Spider-Man 2.
Black Quotient: Blank
Prediction: Director Sam Raimi, Maguire and Dunst have all said that this will be the final Spider-Man film for them together. The MOST anticipated film of the summer, Spider-Man 3 easily will be the highest grossing of the series and very well could be the top-grossing film of the summer. My guess is $500 million, domestic, for Spidey. (May 4)

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