Friday, June 29, 2007

Culinary Rat Pack | Ratatouille

Brad Bird who gave the world The Incredibles, returns with the hilarious story of a mouse who can only smell the sweet smell of cooking success in animated film, Ratatouille (*** ½ stars).

The film tells the delightful story of a rat named Remy. While his rat colony searches for food, Remy dreams of culinary delights. He spends his days poring over cookbooks and watching celebrated chef Gusteau cooking show. His fortunes take a turn for the better when he is separated from his family and friends escaping the home of an angry inhabitant.

Remy finds himself in the home of fine dining, Paris, and immediately is drawn to Chef Gusteau’s restaurant, where he hooks up with bistro’s new garbage boy, Linguini. He forms a friendship with the introverted boy using him as a human puppet to fulfill his culinary dreams. Linguini becomes the chef du jour, creating tasty dishes with the help of his four-legged friend. But when the bistro’s nosy and selfish proprietor senses that something is not right, the two outcasts form an unlikely friendship that will test Remy’s tolerance with humans and help Linguini find his true love.

While Ratatouille is delightful and fun-filled, one has to wonder who the target audience for this film is. The film possesses too much story for children but is not the type of movie that older audiences typically attend without them.

While this flick firmly establishes Bird as a rising-star director in animated films, it would be interesting to see him direct a live-action feature.

Discussing themes such as family acceptance and getting in touch with your “inner child,” Remy is probably the first rat since Ben that is sure to be embraced. Ratatouille is rah-rah fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Last Old-School Action Hero

In what must surely be a record for an action hero, Bruce Willis returns after twelve years giving life to his signature character, Detective John McClane in the fourth installment of the Die Hard franchise, Live Free or Die Hard (**½ stars). While the film features a strong setup, the finale returns to often-familiar territory.

A virtual terrorist, Thomas Gabriel (Tim Olyphant) has hired a group of the world’s best computer hackers to write a program that will assist him in shutting down various branches of the government. This “fire sale” (named because “everything must go;” in his mind, all areas of the government) will create panic, sending the country into chaos. To cover his tracks, Gabriel kills each of the hackers, but one, Matt Farrell (Apple Computer pitchman, Justin Long). Wanted for questioning by the government in DC, McClane has been assigned to bring him in. That’s where the trouble begins.

After a slow start where we see McClain showing his overprotective parental side, the becomes a fuel-driven adrenaline rush as McClane quickly fights the bad guys using everything within his disposal, even taking down a helicopter with a car. While Willis is unable to handle the stunts that were performed in the first three films, he more than compensates by using his razor sharp mind and quick wit. The generation gap between the nerdy Farrell and the grizzled veteran McClane is highlighted by a hilarious scene as they attempt to hi-jack a car. McClane wants to hotwire the stolen vehicle, but Farrell is successful using the OnStar system to get the vehicle moving.

McClane gets beat down by an Asian female adversary, performs a ridiculous stunt which finds him pursued by a military jet while driving a truck over a collapsing freeway and he manages to save the day. Although he is now considered an action-hero dinosaur, the film gives fans of the franchise exactly what they want and expect.

Although, Olyphant is the series’ smartest villain, he is far from the strongest. Die Hard is arguably one of the greatest action films ever made and has become the standard for all films of its genre are judged. The film is high on entertainment and thrills and does not pretend to exist in reality. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagall and Sylvester Stallone retired; Willis truly is the Last Old-School Action Hero.

Audiences have a choice to either Live Free or Die Hard, but they may find the answer by engaging in the latter with no expectations but two hours of sheer action-packed entertainment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Evil Effin’ Room | 1408

There’s just something spooky about hotel rooms. For the third time this year, Hollywood has shown us that bad things happen to White folks when they don’t respect the power of temporary lodging. While both Vacancy and Bug were just warm-ups, havoc and mayhem are in full effect in the delightfully evil, 1408 (*** stars).

Horror novelist, Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a best-selling author who writes books disproving paranormal events. When the film opens, Enslin is checking into a supposed “haunted” hotel room for his latest book, Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms.” He exhibits a familiar been-there-done-that attitude about his work. Smug and arrogant, Enslin exhibits no fear because not only does he not believe in ghosts but has no respect for the subject he writes about. He is a man slowly ascending on life’s rollercoaster unaware that he is just about to take an incredibly steep plunge that will change his fortunes.

While going through his mail, Enslin discovers a cryptic postcard warning him to stay away from Room 1408. After researching the horrific history of the fateful room, Enslin’s interest is successfully piqued; he decides to pay a visit to the Dolphin Hotel. But before he can check in, he is quickly escorted to the office of the hotel’s manager, Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) who passionately tries to dissuade the author from staying in the room.

Initially, Olin tries to reason with Enslin by offering him a bribe, as well as $800 liquor. Finally, he shares photos of over 50 other people who all mysteriously died within an hour of checking in. After telling Enslin that he doesn’t care about his well-being or cleaning up the inevitable carnage, he shares his true reason – it’s just an evil f***** room! But Enslin is determined to be the one person who will survive and with supreme arrogance, he decides to stay.

All’s working out well for Enslin, until a series of minor occurrences begin to spook him. Suddenly, without warning, The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” begins to blare over the radio speakers and the clock flickers and begins the freaky 60 minute countdown; now he wants out. Remember that rollercoaster we spoke about earlier, well now he’s in the middle of a ride that will feature many strange twists and turns and just when he thought he was out, he is surely pulled back in, again and again.

The one thing that will thrill Black audiences is that they are well represented in this film. In addition to Jackson’s character, which wouldn’t get off the elevator on the 14th floor, there is incredibly insightful hotel maintenance man who refuses to go in the room to service the thermostat. “Any fool can fix one of those,” he barks out while giving Enslin maintenance instructions and quickly making himself scarce. Neither character displays buffoonish Hollywood fear characteristics, but both exercise true common sense – the type that Enslin should have used. The filmmaker’s handlings of these delicate issues as well as the psychological torture inflicted on Enslin are only a couple of the reasons that this film succeeds.

Cusack’s everyman demeanor makes him the perfect candidate for this role and his performance sells the film. Unsettling and uncomfortable, 1408 is high-style terror on a grand scale and one of the year’s scariest films.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Too Few Shades of Black | AFI's Top 100 Films

Earlier this week, my film brethren at the American Film Institute convened to announced their list of the 100 Greatest films of All-Time, AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies --10th Anniversary Edition. While I didn't watch the show, I was curious to see which films made the cut and which ones were excluded. But more importantly, I wanted to see if the list had any "Shades of Black.”

1,500 filmmakers, critics and historians compiled the list and while I was not among that number, I wondered if notable Black film historian Donald Bogle, writer/filmmaker Nelson George or even Black Filmmaker Foundation head Warrington Hudlin were consulted to contribute their opinions.

After perusing AFI's list, I must admit that there are some fantastic films included on the list. But what really jumps out is the number one, which represents the films on the list that have a Black star in the lead. One, wow! Coming in Number 99 is the 1967 interracial classic, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. To put this in perspective, if the world were to suddenly stop spinning right now and a new civilization sprung up and they went through the history of film in this country for the past century, there would be no record of the rich achievements of thousands of talented black award-winning actors and filmmakers.

I know there will be those who will say simply that by not being a part of this project that I'm just "hatin'. While there may be a shred of proof in not being able to raise my voice for some films that I felt were worthy, the fact of the matter is that in the early 21st century, it's time to acknowledge that for many years the playing field in Hollywood was uneven (and still is to this day). For the first 50 years of the 20th Century, black men were coons, bucks and buffoons on the big screen. It wasn't until legendary actors such as Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge emerged in the 1950s to begin creating new possibilities for people of color on film.

While Poitier won an Oscar for Lilies of the Field, he distinguished himself in two earlier films, The Defiant Ones and A Raisin in the Sun, performances that were superior to his Oscar win. For my money, Raisin is not only one of the top Black films of all-time, but one of the top 100 for sure.

Other films that should merit serious consideration are 1964's Nothing But A Man with Ivan Dixon and Abby Lincoln, the historic In the Heat of the Night, 1972's Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues, as well as 1974's Claudine. Films from the 1980's include 11-time Oscar nominee, The Color Purple as well as Spike Lee's riveting look at a sweltering cauldron of racial activity in Do the Right Thing.

What about Glory? Where's Malcolm X? Don't forget Boyz 'N the Hood. What's Love Got To Do With It, The Hurricane, Ray and Ali all are candidates for recognition. Don't get me wrong, I've seen about 85 of AFI's Top 100 and I enjoyed them all. While those films are good, you'd have to admit that having only ONE film with a Black lead from the past 100 is just short-sighted and plain wrong.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Not a Black film on AFI's list, that who. Until organizations such as the American Film Institute can recognize the proud heritage and contribution of Black actors and filmmakers, we should treat their list like they treat Black films, to borrow a phrase from Rhett Butler, "frankly AFI we don't give a damn!" That's "Black"atcha!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A "Mighty" Love | A Mighty Heart

In 2002, Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was abducted and beheaded while on assignment in Pakistan. That horrific ordeal is lovingly recreated in the new film, A Mighty Heart (**** stars). Sure to be remembered later this year during awards season, this film could bring its star Angelina Jolie her second Academy Awards.

Based on the memoirs of Marianne Pearl, the film recreates the final days of Daniel's life as he was preparing to interview a Muslim Sheik when he was abducted. Marianne, six months pregnant at the time, enlists the aide of the Pakistanian as well as U.S. government to try to secure his release. The film takes viewers through the grueling process that ultimately led to Daniel's demise.

It has been such a long time since audiences have seen Jolie flex her dramatic acting muscles that she is known primarily as half of the Hollywood power couple, “Bradgelina,” as opposed to the Oscar winning actress from Girl, Interrupted. But her performance in this film is layered and multi-dimensional and finds her hitting every emotional note -- and scoring big time. She gives a quiet, retrained performance that draws audiences to her and allows them to wrap themselves in her emotional pain and subsequent loss. If eyes are the windows of the soul, Jolie's lets the audience swim in her irises and feel her joy and pain while enduring this terrible ordeal. She is brilliant and even in early in the summer, Jolie feels like a certain Best Actress Oscar nominee.

Dan Futterman stars as doomed journalist Daniel Pearl, who in a limited amount of screen time and several flashbacks conveys his burning love for his wife and unborn child. For people who may not be familiar with the story, screenwriter John Orloff infuses the story with enough suspense and hope to keep audiences riveted to this heartbreaking story.

There has been a campaign for African-Americans to boycott the film because of the casting of Jolie as Marianne. With a mixed heritage that consists of Dutch-Jewish, Afro-Latino-Cuban, French and Chinese-Cuban bloodlines, the casting of Jolie works as well as says, Thandie Newtwon. The simple fact of the matter is that Jolie and her companion Brad Pitt's names and visibility help get the film made and widely distributed.

Historically, the summer movie season is about the big-budget blockbusters with A-list talent living out their super dreams. Well Jolie's film may not have a huge budget or explosions, but it is an emotional blockbuster that is a fitting tribute to journalists worldwide -- and that’s a mighty love.

"Evan" Can Wait | Evan Almighty

The Lord may work in mysterious ways, but the filmmakers behind Evan Almighty (* ½ stars) show no imagination in this modern-day retelling of Noah’s Ark. Even the mighty Morgan Freeman can’t save this tired sequel to the successful Bruce Almighty.

Former news anchor Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) has been elected to Congress. With a lofty campaign promise, “to change the world,” Baxter is determined to make a difference. But his success at work has created a rift at home between him and his kids as he continually chooses work over them.

One day he receives a mysterious shipment of tools in the mail. Huge bundles of wood also begin to appear on his property. The Lord (Morgan Freeman) appears to him asking him to build an ark, which of course Baxter dismisses. Only when the Lord sends the entire animal kingdom to his work and home, in pairs of two no less, does he finally agree to follow God’s word.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Baxter is recruited by a corrupt congressman who hopes to use him to pass a piece of faulty legislation. All the while, the once fastidious Baxter is growing a biblical beard and walks around in Old Testament fashion. Funny right? Not exactly.

In Bruce, Jim Carrey was given a much better supporting cast and script. Surrounded by Jennifer Anniston, Carell, Freeman, as well as Carrey’s amazing physical comedy, Bruce was hokey, yet heartwarming and very funny. That film presented a moral dilemma (God giving Bruce his powers for a short time) that is missing from Evan. In addition, Wanda Sykes is wasted in a performance that felt like she had no lines, but was given a green light to insert a joke whenever one was needed. This stripped-down version of the Noah’s Ark tale ultimately falls flat because it relies far too much on Carrell and Freeman – and cheesy special effects.

God is good all the time, too bad the same can’t be said for this disappointing sequel. Bruce truly was almighty, but Evan still needs work.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Silver Surfer's Up | Fantastic Four 2

It can be argued that The Fantastic Four are the least interesting of all of the Marvel comic book characters brought to the big screen. Their latest adventure, The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, hits theatres this weekend. While this second attempt is miles ahead of the first film, it is saved only by the aerodynamic appearance and special effects wizardry of The Silver Surfer.

When last we saw the foursome, they had vanquished Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) and saved the world, from total annihilation. Frozen stiff, Dr. Doom was last seen on a crowed merchant ship, cast away for eternity, or so we thought. As this film begins, wedding preparations are underway for Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd). The paparazzi camp out below their residence, trying to get the scoop of the “social event of the season.” But while the foursome prepares for this festive event, there are ominous signs of impending trouble occurring far, far away.

Flying across the galaxy is a small, fast meteor-type object that is seen, initially, fleeing from a exploding planet as it makes its way to earth. Everywhere the object goes, it changes the temperature and weather pattern of that location; whether freezing water in Japan, snow in the desert or sucking the ocean dry in London. If that’s not bad enough, the object forms craters that within eight days will explode, destroying the planet.

Dr. Richards’ wedding plans are interrupted by a sudden visit from Army General Hager (Andre Braugher), who needs the scientist’s help to stop the object. Secretly, Richards agrees to build a tracking mechanism that would help them identify the mysterious object. Lo and behold, during his wedding ceremony, we finally get an up close look at the mysterious object that is none other than the dynamic Silver Surfer.

At first glance, this gleaming silver visitor with the underwear model’s body and balanced perfectly on a board seems striking, but only when he leads Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) in hot pursuit, do we really marvel at his unique skill (which include the ability to ride above or below his board, while either eluding objects or flying through solid matter, all at supersonic speed). His surfboard doubles not only as a flying device, but also an energy source as well as a weapon that can absorb all forms of solid matter. Blessed with the authoritative voice of Morpheus, Laurence Fishburne, the surfer is doing the bidding of Galactus, who seeks to destroy the planet.

Wow, there’s a whole lot going on and thankfully for the audience, The Silver Surfer diverts the audience’s attention away from one of the most boring groups of superheroes onscreen. Far from Fantastic, this bickering foursome grows more annoying from scene to scene. Sue and Reed want a normal life, Ben and Johnny resent them wanting to break up the group, Dr. Doom returns after an encounter with the Silver Surfer wanting to assist, and blah, blah, blah.

With a runtime of 90 minutes and some “fantastic” special effects, The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is easily digested like a light summer snack. While I still question the wisdom of making a sequel after such a lackluster first film, it is apparent that if there is to be a third film for our foursome, they will definitely need to find another guest star with “wow-ability” like our shiny silver friend. He is worth the price of admission and the only thing that makes this film a “fantastic” viewing experience.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Black Men/Silver Screen | The Distinguished Gentlemen

From the inception of film, there have been five dominant archetypes that have been prevalent and consistent for African-Americans. Author Donald Bogle wrote a book over 30 years ago called Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. In an effort to clearly clarify the archetypes for the 21st Century, we introduce seven new Black Male Movie Archetypes, The Distinguished Gentleman, The Angry Black Man, The Class Clown, The Savior, The Emasculated Man, The Entertainer and The Lover.

The Distinguished Gentleman
Denzel Washington

For over 25 years, Denzel Washington has been the epitome of class on and off screen. In over 50 films, Washington’s career has been legendary, including five Oscar nominations (two wins) and countless memorable performances in films such as Malcolm X, Glory, A Soldier’s Story, Training Day, and many others. Although, critics will argue that Washington’s strong suit is not playing an everyman, there’s no denying his cinematic regal bearing and ability to inject stirring passion into every role he sinks his teeth into.

Up Next: Another potential Oscar turn as drug lord turned informant, Frank Lucas in American Gangster.

Cinematic Forefather
Sidney Poitier

In a career that spanned 50 years, Sidney Poitier blazed historic trails. Coming straight out of Cat Island, Bermuda, Poitier burst on the scene and forever changed the game for Black-leading men. Prior to Poitier’s arrival, black men played servants or second fiddle to array of White counterparts. But Poitier’s passion and determination, along with some outstanding acting, would not let him be denied. After riveting performances in films such as The Defiant Ones, Raisin in the Sun, Poitier became the first Black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role. In 1967, he released three highly successful films, In the Heat of the Night, To Sir, With Love, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, ending the year as the top grossing actor in Hollywood. Poitier received an Honorary Oscar in 2002 and remains the platinum standard of excellence for all Black actors.

Next Generation
Will Smith

The actor formerly known as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith has made the transition from rapper and sitcom star to a bonifide heavyweight in Hollywood. In 15 short years, Smith has garnered A-list status defeating aliens (Independence Day and Men in Black), criminals (Bad Boys 1 & 2) and big bad George Foreman (Ali). His performances have garnered the kid from Philly two Oscar nominations as well as over $2.5 billion in box-office grosses for his films. In addition to his continuing influence in front of the camera, Smith has begun to exert his influence as a producer, relying on good judgment and an eye for picking scripts that accentuate his strengths and talents.

Up next: Last man on earth and vampire fighter in I Am Legend.

Black Men/Silver Screen | The Angry Black Man

Samuel L. Jackson

Nobody in Hollywood can go from zero to sixty on the anger meter like Samuel L. Jackson. The native of the Nation’s Capitol has made his name, and built his career, with a string of high intensity, loud and sometime profane, yet effective performances. Jackson’s first big break came as a dancing, strung out crack addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Several years later, his scripture-quoting, gun-toting hitman, Jules, brought Jackson A-List status and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Subsequently, in over 100 films, Jackson has played an array of both good and bad characters, plus has had his persona spoofed by Dave Chapelle. But one thing has remained constant; he still mad as hell and he definitely will let you know he won’t take it anymore

Up Next: Jackson plays a homeless who was a former boxing legend in Resurrecting the Champ and a knowledgeable hotel manager in the thriller, 1408.

Cinematic Forefather
Jim Brown

During the heights of the civil rights movements, Hollywood was struggling with Black actors’ transitions into unfamiliar roles. Much like the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X differed; Jim Brown style was seen as the antithesis of Sidney Poitier. Where Poitier was poised and smooth, Brown’s performances hit audiences with the power of the fist of fury. In The Dirty Dozen, Brown held it down among a cast of some of the biggest actors of his time. He made cinematic history in 1969’s 100 Rifles, when he became the first actor of color to have a love scene with a woman outside of his race (Raquel Welch) on-screen. Known primarily for his starring roles in 1970’s Black action films and numerous TV guest appearances, Brown’s legacy as arguably the greatest running back in football history and the first Black action star is secure.

Next Generation
Tyrese Gibson

After an inauspicious start featuring small guest spots on TV sitcoms and a short career as MTV VJ, Tyrese Gibson’s big break came in the John Singleton film, Baby Boy. Gibson portrayed a young man struggling with his immaturity and irresponsibility, while living at home. In subsequent films, Gibson has honed this quality of a slightly flawed man who when provoked quickly reaches his boiling point. Gibson starred in a string of films where adversaries that got on his bad side were quick to feel his cinematic wrath. While his experience is limited, it will be interesting to watch how Gibson’s career continues to evolve.

Up Next: Gibson stars in the CGI summer blockbuster, Transformers and will star in superhero film, Luke Cage.

Black Men/Silver Screen | The Class Clown

Eddie Murphy

For over 25 years, Eddie Murphy has consistently made people laugh at his collection of various characters. From his legendary run on Saturday Night Live to becoming the largest box-office star of his generation, Murphy was, is and continues to be a comic trailblazer. His films have grossed over $3 billion and earlier this year, he received his first Oscar nomination for his incredible dramatic work in Dreamgirls. Murphy has reinvented himself into a family friendly movie star with his hilarious portrayal of Donkey in the Shrek trilogy. Although, Murphy’s films don’t always hit their mark, one thing is for certain that he has and will continue to inspire all subsequent comics.

Up Next: Axel Foley returns to familiar ground in the fourth installment of Beverly Hills Cop, due in 2008.

Cinematic Forefather
Richard Pryor

If Murphy is his generation’s biggest comic star, then here’s the man that he needs to pay homage to for the rest of his days, none other than the King, Richard Pryor. Beginning with a sensational dramatic performance in the Oscar-nominated film, Lady Sings the Blues, Pryor appeared in a succession of memorable films during the 1970s which included, The Mack, Uptown Saturday Night, Car Wash, Silver Streak, Greased Lightning, Which Way Is Up, Blue Collar and The Wiz. In 1980, Pryor starred in Stir Crazy, the first film directed by a Black director, Sidney Poitier, to gross over $100 million. Due to illness, Pryor appeared sporadically in films, but his large comic legend continues to live on.

Next Generation
Dave Chappelle

Although he does not currently boast the body of work of either Murphy or Pryor, Dave Chappelle is the heir to their cinematic comedy throne. Born with a comic’s fearlessness, Chappelle has created a series of memorable characters in his sketch comedy and on the big screen. He first gained notoriety as a foul-mouth comedian who mercilessly heckles Sherman Klump in The Nutty Professor. Chappelle also starred overly suspicious Conspiracy Brother in the spy comedy spoof, Undercover Brother. Along with his writing partner, Neal Brennan, he created the hilarious weed classic, Half Baked. Chappelle took a break from the big-screen to create “The Dave Chappelle Show,” which ran for two short seasons.

Up Next: Currently, Chappelle has no projects in development

Black Man/Silver Screen | The Savior

Morgan Freeman

No actor has served as a cinematic problem solver more than respected, veteran actor Morgan Freeman. Whether playing a hardcore pimp (Street Smart), The Commander-in-Chief (Deep Impact) or even the Lord (Bruce Almighty), Freeman has consistently lived by the mantra, “there’s not a problem that he can’t fix.” Writer/director Nelson George once said that Freeman was the one actor that studios relied on to give their films balance and acting credibility. A four-time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for Million Dollar Baby, the 70-year Freeman has no plans to slow down with six films in production and seven more in development.

Up Next: Freeman gets his God complex on again in the comic sequel, Evan Almighty.

Cinematic Forefather
Ossie Davis

Actor, writer, director, and civil rights activist – Ossie Davis. His death in 2004 closed a groundbreaking 54-year chapter that found him quietly revolutionize Black film. Davis made his film debut in 1950 alongside Sidney Poitier in the drama, “No Way Out.” After starring in two notable 1960s films, A Man Called Adam and Gone Are the Days, Davis climbed into the director’s chair joining Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks to form the modern Black Directors Trinity. Davis directed several 70s films including, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Black Girl and Gordon’s War. His career was revitalized beginning in the late 1980s, when he starred in a series of films for Spike Lee, School Daze, Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Get on the Bus and She Hate Me. Known for his sage counsel on-screen, Davis contributions and body of work will not be forgotten.

Next Generation
Laurence Fishburne

One of the industry’s most versatile actors is cinematic everyman, Laurence Fishburne. Still in his mid 40s, Fishburne has been acting for over thirty years. He co-starred in the classic Vietnam film, Apocalypse Now, when he was 18. Other notable Fishburne films, include The Cotton Club, The Color Purple, School Daze, King of New York, Boyz ‘N the Hood and Deep Cover. He received an Oscar nomination for a terrifying turn as Ike Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? He was introduced to a new generation as Morpheus in the sci-fi classic trilogy, The Matrix. Last year, Fishburne produced and starred in the inspirational charged, Akeelah and the Bee.

Up Next: Fishburne lends his voice to comic book villain, The Silver Surfer, in The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Black Men/Silver Screen | The Emasculated Man

Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Since winning a Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s career has been stalled in neutral. After giving solid performances in early films, Boyz ‘N the Hood and A Few Good Men, Gooding’s performance as football player Rod Tidwell won him the industry’s highest honor. What happened next to “Mr. Show Me the Money” was one bad decision followed after another. Aside from Men of Honor and Radio, Gooding appeared in a succession of two title bombs including, Chill Factor, Rat Race, Snow Dogs and Boat Trip. With an opportunity to play meatier roles in independent films, Dirty and Shadowboxer, Gooding seeks to reclaim his long-lost acting respect. The jury is still out after a throwaway performance in Norbit.

Up Next: Gooding takes over for Eddie Murphy in the comedy, Daddy Day Camp and plays drug lord Nicky Barnes in the November release, American Gangster.

Cinematic Forefather
Howard Rollins, Jr.

As Sidney Poitier was entering into the twilight of his fabulous career and before Denzel Washington’s rise to prominence, Howard Rollins developed quite a reputation as the “next” Black leading man. This Baltimore, Maryland native’s big break came when he was cast as Coalhouse Walker in the 1981 film, Ragtime. Rollins was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for his performance. His final important big screen performance was role in A Soldier’s Story. Playing a Black Army Captain investigating a murder mystery, Rollins’ understated passionate performance would be his career apex. Ironically, Rollins was cast as Detective Virgil Tibbs in the TV show, In the Heat of the Night, a role that Poitier had originated twenty years earlier. Rollins died prematurely from complications from lymphoma in 1996.

Next Generation
Nick Cannon

In the past seven years, Nick Cannon has emerged from under the proverbial radar to become one of the industry rising stars. Cannon shot to stardom initially as a writer for Kenan & Kel, but soon had his own show. The success of The Nick Cannon Show had Hollywood seeking out his talent. He starred in several moderately successful films, including Drumline, Love Don’t Cost A Thing, Roll Bounce and Underclassman. In addition to performing and producing music, this 26-year old multi-faceted entertainer, has explored sketch comedy producing the MTV show, "Wild ‘N Out" and "Short Circuitz."

Up Next: Cannon appears in the horror sequel, Day of the Dead.

Black Men/Silver Screen | The Entertainer

Jamie Foxx

It may have taken him a minute to get started, but once Jamie Foxx figured it out he quickly established himself as one of the industry’s most effective multi-talented performers. From 1992 to 1998, Foxx starred in one forgettable movie after another. His big break came in 1999’s Any Given Sunday. Playing “Steamin” Willie Beamon, Foxx showed a glimpse that with the right material he would be a star. He got that chance playing Drew “Bundini” Brown in the Oscar-nominated film, Ali. Foxx displayed his skill for mimicry, which he would later display to award-winning effect. He received critical acclaim for three films in 2004, “Redemption: The Stan “Tookie” Williams Story,” Collateral and Ray. Foxx won an Oscar and an Emmy for his work that year, cementing himself as one of Hollywood’s hottest actors. Last winter, Foxx was part of an A-List ensemble in the musical, Dreamgirls. In addition to his film work, Foxx continues his stand-up comedy touring and recently won a Grammy award for his top-selling debut, R&B album. As his career continues to ascend, his choices prove that he is indeed clever like a Foxx.

Up Next: Foxx headlines a team of U.S. government agents is sent to investigate the bombing of an American facility in the Middle East in the thriller, The Kingdom.

Cinematic Forefather
Sammy Davis, Jr.

From his appearance in the short film, Rufus Jones for President, in 1933 up until his death in 1990, Sammy Davis, Jr. was an industry giant. We commonly hear the phrase, “he can do it all;” for Davis it was true. He was an accomplished singer, actor, dancer, stand-up comedian, plays instruments and was a founding member of the ultra-cool sixties group, The Rat Pack. Often billed as “the greatest living entertainer in the world,” you would be hard-pressed to find someone to disagree with his audacious claim. His films included Porgy and Bess (1959, with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge), Salt and Pepper (1968, with Peter Lawford) and Tap (1989). Davis lost his left eye in a 1954 car crash while driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles... Over the course of 57 years, Davis inspired a several generations of performers including Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.

Next Generation

It is not the size of dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. The mantra has served rapper/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges well throughout his career. He made his film debut in the 2001 comedy, The Wash. Although he had roles in other small films, Ludacris hit the jackpot in 2005 when he co-starred in both Hustle and Flow and Crash. Ludacris received a SAG Award for Best Cast in Motion Picture. Both films were nominated for Oscars and he was established as “one to watch.” He also received critical acclaim for his work on TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In addition to his burgeoning film career, Ludacris is a Grammy Award winning rap artist who has released five CDs in the past seven years. This double threat will continue to record and tour as well as act on the big and small screen.

Up Next: Ludacris will play the “angry elf” in the holiday comedy, Fred Claus.

Black Man/Silver Screen | The Lover

Taye Diggs

He helped Stella get her groove back, bonded with Syd over hip-hop and had the skills to keep the Rent paid. Taye Diggs was introduced to audiences as the young lover of Angela Bassett in the romantic comedy, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The following year, Diggs starred in two films with Sanaa Lathan, The Wood and The Best Man. The two would re-team in 2003 for an ode to hip-hop in Brown Sugar. After a couple of action films, Diggs returned to his roots in the theatre starring in the Oscar nominated film, Chicago and Rent. After a short lived TV show, “Kevin Hill,” Diggs returned with a new show, “Daybreak.” In addition, he has a recurring role on the popular medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Up Next: No big screen projects are on Diggs horizon as he continues to concentrate on television work.

Cinematic Forefather
Billy Dee Williams

In a history of sexy leading men, no actor has remained in the public consciousness as long as Billy Dee Williams. Although he has portrayed a variety of different characters in his forty-plus year career, for the ladies it always came down to his smooth, suave mannerisms. Williams had appeared in several films but when he portrayed Louis McKay in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues opposite Diana Ross, a star truly was born. He and Ross recaptured the magic again in Mahogany. Williams’ appealed to a new audience when he was cast as the roguish Lando Calrissian, in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Williams played with his image in a popular set of ads for Colt 45 with the catch phrase, “don’t let the cool taste fool you.” After several forgettable films, Williams was cast as Mayor Harvey Dent in Batman. Since then, Williams has taken small roles in notable films such as The Visit, Undercover Brother, Constellation and a spoof of his sexy image in The Ladies Man.

Up Next: Williams will star in a “Star Wars” type film, Fanboys.

Next Generation
Michael Ealy

Known for his charming looks and deep personality, Michael Ealy has made quite an impression in a short amount of time. The Silver Spring, Maryland native first was noticed in the ensemble comedy, Barbershop, playing reformed thug Ricky Nash. He also starred in the sequel, Barbershop 2: Back in Business in 2004. Ealy piercing stare was also featured in Never Die Alone. He and Oscar winner Halle Berry heated up the small screen in the film, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which led to a short off-screen relationship between the two. Ealy has continued to work on television starring in the Showtime series, “Sleeper Cell.” He received a nomination for his work on the series.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Top 25 Black Music Movies

To commemorate Black Music Month, I compiled a list of the Top 25 Black Music Movies. The films that made the list made you dance and sing - while you watched. After compiling a list of over 100 films, the list was whittled down not by the quality of the films, but by how great the music was in those films.

There are arguments for many films that clearly were outclassed by their soundtracks. Marvin Gaye's only soundtrack was done for the forgettable film, Trouble Man and on and on. In addition to the selection of each film, I also selected the film's signature song. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, are the Top 25 Black Music Movies.

Cooley High (1976)
Why It’s Hot: The story of a friendship between a group of Chicago high-school students in the early 1960s. Featuring a booming Motown soundtrack, “Cooley High” is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Signature Song: G.C. Cameron’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” continues to stand the test of time as a classic song.

Dreamgirls (2006)
Why It’s Hot: This adaptation of the smash Tony award-winning play was equally stunning on the big screen. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and showed off the acting talents of Eddie Murphy while introducing the world to Jennifer Hudson.

Signature Song: Hudson as Effie White in the tour-de-force, “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.”

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Why It’s Hot: Diana Ross was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her searing performance of the late jazz icon, Billie “Lady Day” Holliday. The film also featured Hollywood hunk, Billie Dee Williams and arguably his best film role, Piano Man, Richard Pryor.

Signature Song: Ross as Lady Day singing, “My Man.”

Shaft (1971)
Why It’s Hot: He’s a bad muther, shut yo’ mouth, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Shaft. Issac Hayes’ thunderous soundtrack dominated this film about adventures of private detective, John Shaft. Hayes won an Oscar for the film’s title song.

Signature Song: “The Theme from Shaft.”

Superfly (1972)

Why It’s Hot: Ron O’Neal had brother’s perming their hair in hoods all over America listening to Curtis Mayfield’s uban ode about a brother trying to “get out of the game.” Mayfield’s classic soundtrack is arguably is superior to Issac Hayes’ “Shaft.”

Signature Song: Pulsating with urban urgency is Mayfield’s “Pusherman.”

Sparkle (1976)
Why It’s Hot: Thirty years before the Dream captivated the big screen, Sparkle (Irene Cara) and Sister (Lonette McKee) starred in this drama of the rise and fall of a fabled girl group. Curtis Mayfield’s score provides the film with musical electricity.

Signature Song: “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” led by McKee.

Waiting To Exhale (1995)

Why It’s Hot: Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds’ soundtrack provide a musical storybook for this story of four friends in Phoenix who suffer various trials and tribulations all in the name of love.

Signature Song: Among a galaxy of stars, Whitney Houston’s title song, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” stood out.

The Wiz (1978)
Why It’s Hot: One of the most star-studded films of the 1970s, this musical starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor and Lena Horne. An adaptation of another huge Broadway hit centered on the retelling of the “Wizard of Oz,” from a Black perspective.

Signature Song: A hard choice because of so many solid songs; my choice is the uplifting Luther Vandross song, “Brand New Day.”

Carmen Jones (1954)
Why It's Hot: Dorothy Dandridge broke through stereotypes to create Hollywood’s first Black female sex symbol, Carmen Jones, in her Oscar-nominated performance. Most of the singing in the film was dubbed to match the classic nature of the original production.

Signature Song: Jones’ cautionary tale, “You Go For Me.”

Purple Rain (1984)
Why It’s Hot: Prince rocketed to stardom in this semi-autobiographic tale of a singer who can only hear his own music. Chock full of memorable songs, this soundtrack cemented his Royal Badness’ legacy as a great pop performer.

Signature Song: Prince’s pensive and stirring title song, “Purple Rain.”

Ray (2004)

Why It’s Hot: Jamie Foxx won a Best Actor Oscar while giving a performance for the ages playing musical trailblazer, Ray Charles in “Ray.” Foxx not only shared an uncanny resemblance to the musical giant, but his musical talent enabled him to perform all of Charles’ trademark numbers.

Signature Song: “I Got A Woman” is central to the film’s story line and Foxx nails the song’s raw emotion.

Hustle & Flow (2005)
Why It’s Hot: Terrance Howard received a Best Actor Oscar nomination as a Memphis pimp who finds salvation as a rapper. Several stellar performances, including Taraji P. Henson, Anthony Andersen, Ludacris and Elise Neal. A breakout performance from Howard.

Signature Song:“Whoop that Trick” and “H&F” are funky but “It’s Hard Out There For A Pimp” captures the film’s true essence.

What’s Love Got To Do With (1993)
Why It’s Hot: Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne both shine in this biopic about the live and tumultuous times of superstar Tina Turner. Both leads received Oscar nominations for their strong performances. Bassett was a revelation bulking up to portray the dancing diva.

Signature Song: Bassett belting out the film’s title song, “What’s Love Got to Do With,” provided the film’s punctuation mark.

Beat Street (1984)
Why It’s Hot: This coming of age story of a group of 1980s New York kids who live a true hip-hop lifestyle in the South Bronx. Featuring cameos from many of the early old school hip-hop pioneers.

Signature Song: After the death of one of the main characters, Grandmaster Melle Mel delivers a powerful version of the film’s theme, “Beat Street.”

The Five Heartbeats (1991)
Why It’s Hot: Five childhood friends form a singing group and discover that the recording industry (and human nature) can be a scary thing. The film is loosely based on the story of R&B group, “The Dells.”

Signature Song: The Heartbeats led by Eddie Kane win over an inhospitable crowd by wowing them with “Heart is a House for Love.”

Boomerang (1992)
Why It’s Hot: Lady’s man, Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy) receives his comeuppance in the form of sexy ad executive, Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens). Graham receives a second chance at love, courtesy of shy ad assistant, Angela Lewis (Halle Berry); one of Murphy’s most charming performances.

Signature Song: Toni Braxton triumphant female anthem, “Love Should Have Brought You Home Last Night.”

School Daze (1988)
Why It’s Hot: Spike Lee’s musical about race, love and politics at a fictional HBCU. The film served as a precursor for the NBC drama, “A Different World,” featuring future stars Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Tisha Campbell Martin, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Signature Song: The Jigaboos and Wannabees square off in Madam Re-Re’s Salon, singing “Good & Bad Hair.”

Jungle Fever (1991)
Why It’s Hot: Director Spike Lee examines interracial dating in New York backed by a thoughtful, breezy Stevie Wonder soundtrack. Samuel L. Jackson gives the film’s breakout performance as the crack-addicted, Gator.

Signature Song: Wonder’s title song, “Jungle Fever.”

New Jack City (1991)

Why It’s Hot: To bring down a new jack hustler, you need a new style cop; Wesley Snipes faces off against Ice-T in this strong crime drama. Druglord Nino Brown (Snipes) introduces crack to Harlem runs up against cops who knows its streets.

Signature Song: Ice-T captures the fury of streets with the searing, “New Jack Hustler.”

Love Jones (1997)
Why It’s Hot: Young lovers, Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosely (Nia Long) star in one of the decade’s smartest romantic comedies. Anchored by a cast that included Isaiah Washington, Bill Bellamy and Lisa Nicole Carson, “Love Jones” sizzles.

Signature Song: Dionne Farris’ song, “Hopeless,” brilliantly.

Love & Basketball (2000)

Why It’s Hot: Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) have shared one dream since they were kids, to play in the NBA. As time evolves, that’s not the only thing these two have in common. All's fair in love and basketball!

Signature Song: While Monica plays Quincy in the ultimate one-on-one love game, Meshell Ndegeocello’s hauntingly beautiful “Fool of Me,” served as theme music.

The Bodyguard (1992)
Why It’s Hot: Whitney Houston acting and singing propelled this film to over $400 million worldwide gross. Playing a . . . singer, Houston reached her creative apex in this romantic tale. Although, Kevin Costner co-stars, this film showed that there was no problem with Houston.

Signature Song: Houston’s romantic anthem, “I Will Always Love You.”

Car Wash (1976)
Why It’s Hot: A day in the kooky life of a Los Angeles car wash where the unpredictable is predictably consistent. Norman Whitfield’s soundtrack drives this 97-minute music video. Future director, Bill Duke, made his film debut sharing screen time with Richard Pryor and film veteran Ivan Dixon.

Signature Song: Rose Royce’s loving plea, “I Wanna Get Next To You.”

Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Why It’s Hot: A compulsive gambler, Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) dies during a shooting, but he'll receive a second chance to reform himself and to make up with his worried wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters). But not so fast, Lucifer enlists a secret weapon, the sultry Georgia Brown (Lena Horne), to win Little Joe’s soul.

Signature Song: Little Joe and Petunia’s jubilant duet, “Cabin in the Sky."

Krush Groove (1985)
Why It’s Hot: The semi-autobiographical story of the rise of DefJam, featuring all of the labels stars minus one, Russell Simmons (played by Blair Underwood. Simmons appears in the film in another unnamed role.) In addition, brothers Russell and Run compete for the affections of Sheila E.

Signature Song: We couldn't live without LL Cool J’s “Radio,” in his film debut.

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