Friday, April 27, 2007

Say No to "Next"

After giving arguably two of the worst performances in both Ghost Rider and Wicker Man, excuse me if I was a little skeptical towards Nicolas Cage’s latest film, Next. Although his performance is improved, it is the script that lets him down in this film.

Cage plays small-time Las Vegas magician Frank Cadillac aka Cris Johnson who harbors a special gift – the ability to see the future, but only 2 ½ minutes ahead. The catch is that he can only see his future, not anyone else’s. Without his knowledge, he is being monitored by FBI agent, Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) who suspects that his “magic act” is a little too real. Her office has been tipped off that a nuclear bomb has been stolen and a group is threatening to detonate it somewhere in Southern California. Agent Ferris believes that by using Johnson’s special skill she can stop the terrorists before they strike.

After a childhood of serving as a scientific experiment and constant questioning, Johnson just wants to live a low-key, normal life. He occasionally gambles and is content to win small amounts to avoid casino suspicions. His ability creates some humorous situations throughout the film as he is able to avoid various pitfalls using his talent. While he’s being pursued by Ferris and the Feds, Johnson has his eyes on a sexy woman he sees in his future. Although he has a small window that allows him to see future events, when it comes to this particular woman the length of time of his vision expands. Johnson finally meets his mystery lady, Liz (Jessica Biel) and the two eventually take a road trip, with both the Feds and the bad guys in hot pursuit.

Cage’s sometimes kooky on screen persona is perfect for this character. He gives a performance that is engaging and highly entertaining drawing the audience into this thriller. The problem is that just like in last fall’s time-travel adventure, Déjà vu, there is a fine line between really and fantasy. By the time you reach the conclusion, you may feel cheated. Sometimes what you see may not always be what you get. Like Cage, we see the future and it has us all looking for the Next film.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cold Openings

There’s good news and there’s bad news this week at the movies. The good news is that next week kicks off the summer movies which mean this is the last week that I have to give my report from the freezer, which is the bad news.

This week at theatres is an 80’s breakdancer in a 20-year coma, a death row inmate fighting for his freedom and a young boy who is unseen because of his untimely death.

First up is The Invisible. Nick Powell is the perfect kid, loved by his mom and classmates until one night he is viciously assaulted and left for dead. The next day he shows up for school and discovers that he is invisible. It seems that he’s trapped somewhere between life and death and the only way to make it right is to solve his own murder. The concept sounds interesting, but the lack of faith that the studio is showing lets you know that THEY don’t think this film is any good. If it’s bad enough for them, then it’s bad enough for me.

The Condemned
What’s deal with movies about rich people hunting down poor folks for sport? Stone Cold Steve Austin stars in The Condemned as a prison awaiting the death penalty in a corrupt Central American prison. Bought like a slave by a wealthy TV producer, he is taken to a island in the middle of nowhere where he must fight to the death against nine other condemned killers. Much like Ice-T in Surviving the Game and the poor White People in Distress from Hostel, no matter how rich the hunters, the hunted is always just a little bit smarter and ultimately survives. Do yourself a favor and rent Surviving the Game. It’s not that good, but it’s cheaper than going to see this mess “condemned” to an early DVD date!

Kickin' It Old Skool
Comedian Jamie Kennedy is back after the disastrous Malibu’s Most Wanted, with the equally wretched Kickin’ It Old Skool. In the film Kennedy plays a young break dancer who hits his head during a talent show and slips into a coma for twenty years. Waking up in 2006, he looks to revive his and his team's career with the help of his girlfriend and his parents. The only thing funny about that premise is the smell. Released the week before the summer movie season launched, it’s not an accident that everyone associated with this film wants any record of their involvement “X-ed” out. A week from now the only thing kickin’ about this film will be the speed that theatre owners drop kick this piece of “shiznet” to the curb to make room for the “real movies.”

Dreamgirls "Dazzles" on DVD

After many months of anticipation, Dreamgirls roared into theaters and immediately began living up to the hype. Along the way, the film secured eight Oscar nominations, winning two, and became the fourth largest grossing movie musical of all time. Now, the anticipation returns as the film comes to DVD, featuring a dazzling array of extras and an amazing behind-the-curtain glimpse at the true Dreamgirls experience.

This two-disc DVD features one disc with the film and a second disc that gives viewers unprecedented access from production to the finished product. “Building the Dream,” explains how the process came together. Director Bill Condon talks about his experience after winning an Oscar for Chicago. He was offered every unfilled music script in Hollywood, but his “dream” was to make Dreamgirls. David Geffen owned the rights and never thought it could be made into a film, but Condon convinced him over lunch, and the rest is history.

What attracted him was the unique story arc. According to Condon, most theater productions have thrilling first acts with sad second acts. But “Dreamgirls” gives you a thrilling first act, with Curtis’ rise and Effie’s dream being crushed, and a second act in which their fates are flip-flopped.

The process of casting the actors for the film was equally impressive. After getting the green light to make the production, Condon focused on securing two actors he thought would be perfect: Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy. Beyoncé Knowles, on the other hand, contacted Condon to lobby for the role. She gave a passionate screen test, featuring period costumes and actors dressed in similar costumes. Anika Noni Rose beat out hundreds of actors, using her strong theater background. The most frustrated of the actors auditioning for the film was Keith Robinson, who endured a process that lasted several months before he got the role. Danny Glover just wanted to be part of the star-studded ensemble.

Condon explained that 90 percent of the energy went into casting Effie. One day the filmmakers auditioned more than 700 potential Effies from throughout the United States. Hudson was called and auditioned several times before she was hired. Upon being eliminated from “American Idol” in 200?, Hudson said, prophetically, “I know there is something in store for me.”

In “Dream Logic: Film Editing,” we learn that the film’s editor went through a million feet of film, including sifting through five hours of film for 2 ½ minutes of footage to create “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” The filmmakers also concluded that their first cut left too much music in the film. They removed some of it and finally came up with the version that was released in theaters.

In “Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design,” Sharen Davis talks about her design process and how she fashioned Murphy’s look with rock and roll icons Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Elvis Presley and Prince in mind

“Auditions and Screen Tests” give viewers an opportunity to look at footage of Knowles, Rose and Fatima Robinson’s choreography for “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” Her choreography features several different elements that look good separately and are effective when combined during an energetic and spirited audition.

Viewers also get an opportunity to see the project through the eyes of the filmmakers in “Previsualization Sequences,” in which storyboards were combined with live dancing to see how the scenes translate from drawings to live action. An added treat is also “Storyboards,” which gives the viewer wonderful insights into the visual process that the filmmakers engaged in to create this stunning visual work. If you listen to the soundtrack while going through the storyboards, you can follow along, creating a seamless viewing experience.

The package wouldn’t be complete without spotlighting the exotic period costumes. Davis shows off her work in “Costume Designs,” which displays many of the costumes that made it into the film and some that didn’t. If you were interested in going through the discography of Jimmy Early, The Dreams, Deena Jones and Effie White, check out “Art Department Archive,” where you can see all of the albums from the groups in the film.

If you enjoyed the film in theaters, surely you’ll love the DVD. With so much compressed into one “extras: disc, the filmmakers have given audiences a chance to observe the creative process for this special musical. Great DVDs come from great films, and Dreamgirls offers a great experience for viewers.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

BET Unveils Massive Lineup

This past Wednesday night, BET Networks President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin officially announced to the television industry that his channel would be a major player this fall by unveiling a lineup of 16 new series. The announcement marked the most ambitious lineup of original programs in BET’s 26-year history.

Featuring projects from Oscar-nominated actor/producer, Will Smith, action-star Vin Diesel, as well as comedians D.L Hughley and Orlando Jones, the new shows will provide BET and “diverse array of programming about black culture, ranging from reality shows, scripted comedies, game shows, sports roundtables, music specials and primetime animation."

Speaking to a group of media buyers and industry execs at BET’s upfront presentation, Hudlin introduced the lineup of shows, which include:

BET's first original sitcom, "Somebodies," adapted from the indie movie of the same name that preemed at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Hadjii, the 10 half-hour episodes, which premiere in the fall, will explore a group of University of Georgia graduates who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. “The Bernie Mac Show” executive producers Pete Aronson and Warren Hutcherson, will executive produce “Somebodies.”

Orlando Jones' series, "Bufu," is an animated sketch-comedy half-hour created and voiced by Jones and Ali LeRoi ("Everybody Hates Chris"). It premieres in the fall.

Hughley's series, "S.O.B.," launching in July, is a reality show that will use hidden cameras to test the value systems of people. One scene shows the reaction of the staff and patrons of a segregated restaurant when a black couple try to get served.

"Hannibal," the previously announced series executive produced by Diesel, is an animated half-hour about the life and times of the ancient African king. It's scheduled for 2008.

From Will Smith's Overlook Entertainment comes "Cipha," an animated sci-fi series "set in a future world where hip-hop is outlawed ... to shut down the voices of youth," according to BET.

The most ambitious reality series on BET's schedule, "Baldwin Hills," focuses on the lives of 11 upper-middle-class black teens in suburban L.A. whose parents are professional athletes, TV personalities, doctors, lawyers and engineers. The first of the 10 weekly hours premiere in July.

Other series include the reality show "College Hill Interns," a spinoff of BET's most popular series, “College Hill.”

"Iron Ring," a mixed-martial-arts competition.

"Hell Date," a five-a-week relationship series.

"Judge Mooney," a sendup of court shows featuring comedian Paul Mooney.

"Exalted," a series of biographical documentaries of practicing ministers.

Fractured Fairytale | Fracture

Much like a marathon runner who starts strong and limps to a weak finish, Fracture begins with great promise only to lose its focus and ultimately disappoint.

The setup finds Jennifer Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) spending time with her maintenance man, Rob Nunally (Billy Burke). Unbeknownst to her, her husband Ted (Anthony Hopkins) witnesses her unspoken act. He makes a phone call and pulls out a gun and shoots Jennifer in the head. After retrieving the bullet shells, cleaning up and composing himself, Ted waits for the police.

How surprised are we when no one other than Detective Nunally shows up at the house, only to discover that his lover has been shot by her husband! The enraged detective slams Ted to the ground, punching him several times before he is led away. Nunally insists on being in the room when Ted gives his statement.

Meanwhile, hotshot prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) has just been offered a job at a high-profile law firm. Cocky, arrogant and positively sure of his abilities, Beachum is a younger version of the Keanu Reeves super attorney from The Devil’s Advocate. After giving his two-week notice, Beachum draws a case that no attorney wants: prosecuting the deceptive Ted. With a 97 percent winning rate, Beachum is the perfect lawyer for an imperfect case.

His first impression with Ted is bemusement. Clearly, in his mind, he’s smarter than the elder Ted and just wants to win the case, punch his ticket and move on to more lucrative cases in private practice. But something happens, and he soon finds that his “easy” case will test his will and his livelihood.

Nobody rocks a prison jumpsuit like Hopkins. It seems that he relishes his return to such a celebrated role. His wordplay with Gosling recalls scenes with Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lamb. Soon Gosling learns, as Foster did, that it is a mistake to underestimate the crafty Hopkins.

One huge plot hole finds Beachum encountering the sexy and mysterious Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), a colleague from his prospective law office. They make eyes at each other, spend quality time together and – poof! – she’s gone. Initially, sizzling with anticipation and intrigue, the film loses its way in the closing before limping to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Not even a clever twist at the end could save this film. Clocking in at 113 minutes, it appeared that the filmmakers only wrote enough dialogue for 90. Instead of a classic thriller, they ended up with a fractured fairytale that has to settle for being mediocre instead of good.

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Bad Boys for Life | Hot Fuzz

Several years ago, Director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg collaborated on the zombie comedy cult classic Shaun of the Dead. The two team up once again for the British police comedy Hot Fuzz.

Pegg stars as super cop Nicholas Angel, an officer so gung ho he would put Robocop to shame. He ascends so quickly through the ranks of London’s Metropolitan Police Service that he is exiled to a new post because his arrest rate, which is 400 percent higher than everyone else’s, is making his superiors look bad.

To teach the overeager cop a lesson, he is sent to a distant outpost in the country, Sandford. To say that Angel encounters a culture shock would be to put it lightly. The town has virtually no crime and hasn’t had a murder in more than 20 years.

Angel is paired with the stocky son of the police chief, Danny Butterman (the funny Nick Frost) who is a huge fan of police movies but has no actual police experience. Suddenly, people start dropping dead, and everyone seems to think they’re all accidents. But Angel is suspicious, and soon he and his mismatched partner have to solve the strange ongoing occurrences in “Stepford Sandford.”

Much like their earlier film, Shaun of the Dead, this film features a British comic sensibility, which many people will either love or despise. Wright’s work successfully blends dark elements while managing to keep the tone light. His trailer for the fake film, Don’t, which appeared in Grindhouse, is another example of Wright’s twisted comedic sensibility.

Pegg and Frost, who also starred together in “Shaun,” reunite once again in similar roles. Pegg is the film’s straight man, allowing the humorous Frost to let go, comedically. “Is there a place in a man’s head that you can shoot to make it explode?” the perplexed Butterman asks while Angel is giving a safety lecture to a group of students.

Paying homage to police buddy films such as Bad Boys and Point Break, our British Boys begin slow, but by the film’s conclusion they bring the noise – in a major way! Though as not uproariously funny as Wild Hogs or Blades of Glory, its humor is much more understated, yet effective. Will Smith said it best for our talented police duo, “They ride together, they die together. Bad boys for life.”

This review also appeared on

White People in Distress | Vacancy

One-hit wonder, Rockwell hit the charts in the mid-1980s with his paranoid little ditty "Somebody's Watching Me." That song could serve as the theme to this latest WPID – White People in Distress – film, Vacancy.

There is no more popular genre in film than suspense thrillers. Audiences get a sometimes-twisted rush from watching people in harm’s way. If that’s your pleasure, you’re sure to enjoy this story.

The Foxes, Amy (Kate Bechinsale) and David (Luke Wilson), are riding cross-country in the middle of nowhere late at night. To avoid busy traffic on the interstate, David takes the proverbial shortcut, which is anything but. He soon encounters car trouble and, with a salty wife in tow, the two check into the real “Heartbreak Hotel,” where you check in but usually don’t check out.

From the moment that this young couple settles into their room, a feeling of uneasiness envelops them and the audience. You know it’s going to get bad, but how much? The answer comes quickly when David discovers some tapes that show people brutally tortured and murdered in a hotel room that looks vaguely familiar. As it becomes evident that they can’t escape, the couple must figure out how to survive the night and fight off their attackers.

The film doesn’t rely on gore but on exceptional high tension. The problem with this film, as in most other films of this genre, is that the characters display poor horror-movie logic. Early on, David hears an ominous knock coming from next door. Instead of calling the front desk to report the problem, he barrels over to the room demanding satisfaction. These actions, and many other bad decisions, plague him and his wife in this story of dumb people doing dumb things.

With at least five stinkers so far this spring, this season has been enough to test anyone’s usual enthusiasm for new releases. The good news is that, despite its various shortcomings, Vacancy does give fans of horror films what they’re looking for: quick thrills, that constant sinking feeling in the stomach and, ultimately, a satisfying resolution.

If horror stories work for you, be my guest. If not, you might want to find a Vacancy in another theater.

This review also appeared on

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spring Box Office Winners and Losers

The spring movie season has been a mixed bag. There were some films that were great; others that were OK; and the majority were god-awful. While critics have bashed the majority of Hollywood releases, audiences have pushed several films to record box-office heights. Below is a look at the box-office winners and losers, and all of the surprises in between.


300 – Filmmakers hit the mother lode when they released this film about a little known battle with warriors who looked like models and slow-motion action shots. The film is the year’s highest grossing film with more than $200 million in box-office receipts since its release. You can believe that every studio that has a battle script is now scheduling it for production. I have a sneaky hunch that 301 will not be far behind.

Wild Hogs – Critics bashed this buddy motorcycle road film when it was released in February. All the film did was open No. 1 and rake in $152 million since its release. Maybe the studio knew that the film would have broad appeal by having a former teen star (John Travolta), the original host of Def Comedy Jam (Martin Lawrence), Tim the Tool Man (Tim Allen) and The Cooler (William H. Macy). Maybe the studio just got lucky.

Ghost Rider – Nicholas Cage is one of the most polarizing actors in Hollywood. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the man knows how to make films that impact people. Coming off of one of the worst films of 2006, Wicker Man, Cage follows that up with the bad story, strong-special effects motorcycle film, Ghost Rider. Critics hated the film and audiences loved the flaming ride, to the tune of over $115 million.

Norbit – The film that, perhaps, lost Eddie Murphy his Oscar, starred the comedian in multiple roles, as an elderly Asian man, young nerdy man and an a loud, overweight woman. Critics slammed Murphy for his negative, offensive female caricature while audiences laughed and pushed the film over $90 million. Murphy says he doesn’t read reviews, but I bet he cashes checks!

Blades of Glory – Audiences glided this figure-skating comedy past the $90-million mark after just three weeks of release. Hollywood’s sports star, Will Ferrell, has now done a soccer film (“Kicking and Screaming”) and an auto-racing comedy (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), and he has a football film on the way. If Ferrell keeps this up, he’ll be hard-pressed NOT to star in another sports film.

Stomp the Yard – This School Daze meets You Got Served romp was as predictable as the day was long. It featured dance sequences based on Black fraternities’ steps, and the acting was sophomoric but entertaining. Still, audiences stomped into theaters tipping the box-office scales to over $60 million for this story of a young man’s redemption on a fictional Black-college campus.


Epic Movie - Eighty-six of the most painful, aggravating minutes that I, or anyone else, will spend this year. This unimaginative, crass film ties together four people who all win “Golden Tickets” and are off to an “Epic” adventure. It is almost as if the filmmakers thought of the idea while consuming large quantities of alcohol.

Black Snake Moan – Director Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle and Flow turned audiences off, raking in a disappointing $9 million. Wasting one of Samuel L. Jackson’s best performances, the marketing campaign gave audiences the impression that an elderly Black man was using a young White woman as a sex toy – while chaining her to his radiator. There is a fine line between provocative and lewd, and for viewer’s, BSM crossed that line.

Pride – For years the joke was that Black people don’t swim. That may not be true, but we now know that they don’t go to movies where other Black people are swimming. With only $7 million since its release, this uplifting story – based on a true story of a swim coach who has helped hundreds of kids realize their dreams of higher education – sunk like a stone. Audiences that ignored this story should take no pride in the fact that you send a message to Hollywood not to take future chances on wonderful little stories like these.

I Think I Love My Wife – Despite one of Chris Rock’s best performances and great supporting work by an actress on the rise, Kerry Washington, I Think I Love My Wife bombed. Audiences expecting to see Rock riffing on screen were disappointed by his mature take on modern marriage. The film’s uneven tone, featuring scenes that would play better in his stand-up act, didn’t help audiences make the transition to the “grown-up” Chris. With only $12 million since its release, I guess everyone does HATE Chris!

The Number 23 – Jim Carrey has always walked to his own eccentric beat. From the early days on “In Living Color” and hilarious comedies such as Bruce Almighty and Liar, Liar, to thoughtful dramas such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his latest film, The Number 23, may be the film that ends the honeymoon. This disjointed story about a man obsessed with Michael Jordan’s jersey number disintegrated from bad to terrible in 23 blinks of an eye.

Horror Films - One thing that has also been constant in 2007 is that Horror films have been Horribly repetitive. Duds like Dead Silence, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Hannibal Rising, The Messengers, The Host and The Abandoned scared audiences away from theaters instead of into theater seats. The lure of small-budget scary stories with potential large returns (Saw and The Blair Witch Project) will ensure that the trend of making these apathetic films will continue.

This feature appeared on

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Strange" Behavior | Perfect Stranger

Oh what a tangled web we weave when at first we try to deceive. Never has that saying been more appropriate than in the latest Halle Berry thriller, Perfect Stranger. The film is both an homage to Berry’s incredible beauty and also a reminder of her recent rocky public image.

At the onset, Rowena (Berry) lands an interview with a senator. Shortly after that, deeper-seated intentions are revealed: she is an investigative reporter with damaging information that can bring the official down. But before she and her partner, Miles (Giovanni Ribisi) can celebrate, the senator reaches her source, pays him off and forces a frustrated Berry to quit her job.

She isn’t out of work long, though, because she runs into a childhood friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox) who tells Rowena that she has gone Fatal Attraction on a powerful ad exec, Harrison Hill, played by Bruce Willis. Hill has hit it and quit it and Grace is mad as hell about it. She gives Rowena some incriminating e-mails and suddenly our reporter has a new story to investigate.

A week later, Grace turns up dead and Rowena’s suspects that Hill has something to do with it. She has Hill’s e-mail address but needs proof to connect the powerful business man to the murder. But how? She sets a trap to lure the freaky, horny Hill into her seductive web. Rowena secures a job at Hill’s firm, and along with Miles, looks for information that would tie the powerful ad man to Grace’s death.

The script is tailor-made for Berry’s talents, showcasing her beauty in ways not seen since “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” Rowena is constantly in sexy, alluring outfits, much to the chagrin of Miles who clearly has eyes for her even as she continually ignores him. Willis is charming as the narcissistic ad man who has a gorgeous wife, Mia (the stunning Paula Miranda) but is trying to get with anyone of the opposite sex with two legs. Earlier in the film when Berry begins temping at the ad agency, she and a colleague are discussing Hill’s cheating ways. When Berry remarks that Hill’s wife is gorgeous, the woman replies “you show me a beautiful woman and I’ll show you a man who’s tired of f****** her!

To answer critics in the Black community that say she has forgotten the brothers, Berry’s lover in the film is "CSI"’s Gary Dourdan, who also had a relationship with her deceased friend, Grace. Later in the film Dourdan goes Eric Benet on Berry’s character, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

Hill has issues of his own, trying to run an agency, steal clients from his friends and step to all of the fine interns in his firm. To keep him honest, he relies on his assistant, Josie (Daniella Van Graas), who runs interference for him. Hill is trying to keep his business practices secret, Rowena is trying to get information that would link him to her friend’s death and Miles is trying to keep secrets of his own.

This review also appeared on

Trick of Light | Slow Burn

Timing is everything. In 2001, Mariah Carey released her big screen debut, Glitter, right after the September 11 attacks. The country may not have been in a mood for such light entertainment so soon after a national tragedy; or Carey’s acting and a horrid script may have kept audiences away. History repeats itself once again with the release of Slow Burn.

Originally produced in 2003 and slated for release in 2005, Slow Burn feels dated. The film is a complex tale of race and how it is used for positive results and its negative effects.

The film opens with a young woman, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock) in a police station, the survivor of a rape attempt. She’s also murdered a young man, Issac Duperde (Mekhi Phifer) in self-defense. Through a complicated backstory, we learn that she is the assistant D.A. and a rising star. This bi-racial Black woman has climbed the ladder quickly largely on her ability to prosecute gang members because of her access to them and her race.

Her boss, Ford Cole’s (Ray Liotta) star is on also on the ascent, he is running for Mayor. As the film opens he is being interviewed for a magazine story by journalist, Ty Trippin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he explains that his chief enemy is an unseen powerful gang lord, who has vowed to bring down. We find out through flashbacks that he too is involved sexually with the attractive Timmer.

But the night is still young when a mysterious stranger, Luther Pinks (LL Cool J) comes in, friends with Duperde, with an entirely different perspective on the sexy assistant D.A. He tells Cole that Timmer is a “trick of light,” someone who when the light hits them at a certain angle can pass for White. In Rashomon-type flashbacks, he paints a picture of an opportunistic, conniving operator selling out her office and the people closest to her. To complicate matters, Duperde has left a cryptic voicemail on Cole’s cell phone alluding to something major happening at 5 a.m., four hours away.

The film which is The Usual Suspects meets Wild Things, features a character that is supposedly “passing” for White that has features that make it hard to identify her as Black. Blalock definitely scorches the screen in the lead role, but the film looks and feels like countless other late-night movies that inhabit cable. Some of the fashions in the film look dated, while the screenwriter in an attempt to be clever gives the audience too much to digest further complicating the procedures.

By the time the film draws to its inevitable conclusion, you will be turned inside out. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this sexy thriller ultimately left me unfulfilled.

This review also appeared on

The Fast and the Curious | Redline

Back in January, I had the misfortune of seeing the absolute worst film of 2007: 90 excruciating minutes of Epic Movie. If it had not been for that cinematic low point, Redline would most certainly claim my “Worst Film” title. This mishmash of fast cars, half-naked women, incredibly bad dialogue and horrible acting should not be wished on anyone’s worst enemy.

The story revolves around a group of high-rolling gamblers who place large stakes on car races in various locations. These “thrill-seekers” bet incredibly large sums of money on simple car races. We initially meet Infamous (the driving-impaired, Eddie Griffin) who is looking for a driver to race his car. We also meet our narrator and notoriously bad actress, Natasha (Nadia Bjorlin). Through several flashbacks, we find out that her racecar driving father was killed on the track. There is also the recently returned from Iraq soldier, Carlo (Nathan Phillips), the carefree uber-rich film producer, Jerry (Tim Matheson) and slightly deranged control freak, Michael (Angus Macfadyen).

This group of financial free-spirits embarks on a series of wild, unpredictable yet repetitive activities, all designed to showcase the beautiful collection of cars owned by the film’s producer, Daniel Sadek. Griffin, who was supposed to provide the comedy relief, dials in his performance while the others try to take the script’s lemons and turn them into lemonade. Good luck! One scene features Infamous, and his crew, 26,000 miles in the air getting into an altercation with a female friend. She commands him to “pull the plane over;” he obliges her by dropping off in the middle of nowhere and is back in the air.

In addition, it would help if the two lead characters who are supposed to be lovers had just a smidgen of chemistry that would make the audience believe they enjoyed being together. The only thing that saves the film from being a total zero is the cars; and even that gets tired and repetitive after awhile.

People throw around phrases like “bad” and the “worst,” but here it is truly applicable. Redline goes to the head of the lowlife class as one of the year’s worst films. Only an event of Epic proportion can keep it out of the top spot, but the year is still young.

This review also appeared on

Off the Beaten "Path" | Pathfinder

Hollywood’s re-imagining of history continues with the release of the action-adventure film, Pathfinder. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, this overlong, cliché-ridden story is no 300, But Braveheart-lite.

Karl Urban stars as a young Nordic boy who is left behind during the plundering and pillaging of a Native American village. Found by a young Indian mother and raised as one of their own, Ghost (the filmmakers give no clue what the character’s name is until the credits roll at the end) has the blood of the sadistic Vikings, but the heart and compassion of his adopted people.

Fast forward 15 years and Ghost is full-grown with aspirations of becoming a “brave.” When a visiting tribe arrives in his village, he is denied a seat with fellow Indians and sent away. Ghost must prove himself worthy to his tribe and to himself. While away at a hunting expedition, the Vikings return and destroy his tribe and his village. Teaming with the chief of the neighboring tribe, Pathfinder (Russell Means), and his attractive daughter, Starfire (Moon Bloodgood), Ghost must find a way to avenge his family and destroy the Vikings.

The success (or failure) of Pathfinder hangs on the performance of Urban. Audiences know him primarily from The Lord of the Rings series, The Bourne Identity and The Chronicles of Riddick. He renders an uninspired performance in this forgettable National Geographic-style tale.”

Pathfinder offends on several levels, beginning with its length. The film labors far too long for such a simple story. Ripping off The New World and Apocalypto (as well as the sword-throw in Braveheart, viewers may also feel a sense of déjà vu when watching the story.

Ultimately, the story arrives at its predictable conclusion, proving once again that in a desire to give audiences a new experience, filmmakers continue to tramp the same, tired beaten “path.”

This review also appeared on

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Roscoe Lee Browne Dies at 81

The “voice” has been silenced with the news that Roscoe Lee Browne died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 81.

On television, he had several memorable guest roles. He was a snobbish black lawyer trapped in an elevator with bigot Archie Bunker in an episode of the 1970s TV comedy "All in the Family" and the butler Saunders in the comedy "Soap." He won an Emmy in 1986 for a guest role as Professor Foster on "The Cosby Show."

In 1992, Browne returned to Broadway in "Two Trains Running," one of August Wilson's acclaimed series of plays on the black experience. It won the Tony for best play and brought Browne a Tony nomination for best supporting actor.

Starting in the late 1960's, Browne increasingly became a guest star on TV on both comedy and dramatic shows like “Mannix,” “All In The Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Cosby Show” and dozens of other shows. He also was a regular on the sitcom “Soap” where he played Saunders, the erudite butler from 1979 to 1981 replacing Robert Guillaume who went on to his own show “Benson.” Incidentally, Browne guest starred on “Benson” with Guillaume. His appearances on “The Cosby Show” also drew acclaim as well winning an Emmy in 1986 for his guest role as Professor Foster.

"Some critics complained that I spoke too well to be believable" in the cook's role in The Cowboys, Browne told the Washington Post in 1972. "When a critic makes that remark, I think, if I had said, 'Yassuh, boss' to John Wayne, then the critic would have taken a shine to me."

Browne also lent his mellifluous baritone to the Oscar-nominated film, Babe and the sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. Four over four decades, Browne’s onscreen persona of class and dignity was his defining hallmark. A contemporary of Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis and James Earl Jones, Browne was part of a vanguard of leading black actors in the traditionally white New York theater world and later gained acclaim for giving body and soul to over 100 characters in his long, storied acting career.

Browne made his film debut in 1961 and starred in many hit films including Black Like Me, Up Tight, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, Superfly T.N.T. and Uptown Saturday Night. Although he would continue to work on feature films, it was in television that Browne made his true impact.

He showed great versatility in a plethora of guest appearances in shows from “ “The Flip Wilson Show,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Good Times,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Maude,” “Soap,” “Magnum P.I.,” “227,” “A Different World,” “New York Undercover,” “Cosby,” “ER,” “The Proud Family,” “The Shield,” “Law and Order” and “Will and Grace.”

Three memorable performances from Roscoe Lee Browne

The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970)
After his wife has an affair with a white policeman, a wealthy black man (Browne) files for divorce in this violent tale of racism in the south.

Up Tight (1968)
A desperate African-American man betrays his friend, a black militant leader, for some money to help feed his girlfriend's children, and then becomes the object of a manhunt by a militant group.

The Cowboys (1972)
Wil Andersen finds himself with a herd of cattle which he has to get to market before the winter sets in, but he has no men to help him. He turns to a group of young school boys as his last hope to get the job done. There is no better training for these boys than hands-on as they don't know what they are in for. They set out as schoolboys but return as Cowboys.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hell Up in Haven | The Reaping

Not since Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty bombed in the disastrous Ishtar has an actress made such a boneheaded choice as two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank in The Reaping. The film’s tagline is “What Has God Wrought.” Maybe that should be replaced with “What in the Hell is She Doing in This Picture.”

As biblical cautionary tales goes, The Reaping is standard fare. A former Christian missionary, Katherine (Swank), who specializes in debunking religious phenomena, investigates a small town which seems to be suffering from the 10 biblical plagues. At the film’s onset she and her assistant, Ben (Idris Elba) are investigating another “supposed” miracle in an unnamed South American country. She wanders into harm’s way to conclude that it was an evil corporation’s toxic spill that deceived the people (much in the same way the studio pollute theatres nationwide with these types of films).

Apparently, through multiple flashbacks, we discover that Katherine’s has lost her faith after the death of her husband and daughter in the Sudan. But her faith is put to the test when she is summoned to a small Louisiana town called Haven. Apparently, the river is overflowing with blood, frogs are falling from the sky and livestock are suddenly dying. The townsfolk seemed to believe that an outcast family, and specifically their 12-year old child Loren (AnnaSophia Robb), are responsible.

A priest, Father Costigan (Steven Rhea), has called to warn Katherine after several pictures of her in his possession inexplicably caught on fire – only burning away her face. He explains that she has to destroy the girl before all 10 plagues strike the town. Anyone who has watched enough biblical thrillers, The Omen, The Prophecy, Stigmata, etc. can see the outcome a mile away.

In Hustle and Flow, DJay (Terrence Howard) tells Nola (Taryn Manning) to put her hands on the wheel and proudly say, “We in control.” Well Swank lost control of this film and her credibility to grab the big paycheck and the end result is a story that spiraled out of control. The bible says “you will reap what you sow,” but audiences who put down money to see this horrible disjointed film will be foolish. Swank has now discovered Hollywood’s little secret that artsy films win you awards, but bad movies get you paid.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Triumphant Grindhouse

Outside of Spike Lee, in the past 15 years, no two directors have taken more chances on screen than best friends Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino. Each has had both commercial and critical success with earlier work, but it seemed to act as a prelude for the cinematic experience of 2007, the exhilarating Grindhouse.

The much-hyped homage to 1970s cinema, Grindhouse seemed destined to be a midnight fixture, in the vein of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The experience not only includes a double-feature but also four “faux” trailers, which are also uproariously funny and perverse.

In Rodriquez’s “Planet Terror,” a poisonous gas has been unleashed from a military base on a small Texas town, initially infecting them and later turning them into zombies. Led by the vicious Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis), the soldiers are seeking payback for a botched military assignment that left an entire platoon infected. But a small group of uninfected survivors, led by El-Ray (the sensational Freddy Rodriquez) and go-go dancer, Cherry (Rose McGowan), tries to defeat the walking dead and escape the town.

Meanwhile, there’s a cheating wife, a suspecting husband, dueling brothers, flesh-eating zombies, a mysterious hero and an amputee’s explosive emergence. By the conclusion of “Planet Terror,” you’ll feel as if you’ve come to the end of a long rollercoaster ride as Cherry morphs from a one-leg killing machine to a post-apocalyptic Harriet Tubman.

Tarantino’s film, “Death Proof,” tells the story of a scarred Stuntman, Mike (Kurt Russell), who stalks innocent women for his perverse pleasure. He drives a car that has been reinforced, which gives him the ability to survive any crash; hence, his vehicle is death-proof. He stumbles upon a local radio personality, Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamilia Poitier), who is hanging out with her girls at a local bar. Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) is suspicious of Stuntman Mike. “Are you afraid of my scar,” Stuntman Mike asks Arlene. “No, it’s your car, she replies. Unfortunately, her intuition is correct but too late to save her and her friends.

Fast-forward several years later, and another crew of ladies, featuring the feisty and colorful Kim (Tracie Thoms), adventurous Zoë (real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell) and Abernathy (Rosario Dawson). Zoë is interested in buying a car, when they catch the attention of the lecherous Stuntman Mike. Kim and Zoë are to “Death Proof” as Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) were to Pulp Fiction. What starts off another story of women in peril becomes a thunderous display of sisterhood, in a major way. The film features some of the most amazing stunt work ever captured on film.

Grindhouse is full of over-the-top effects, campy, colorful dialogue and larger-than-life heroes and villains. Rodriquez captures the honor and sheer audacity of Desperado; Tarantino matches him with the ferocity of Reservoir Dogs and the pro-feminist fervor of Kill Bill. The two together give viewers a visceral jolt that has not been witnessed at theaters in a long time.

No matter what other films are released this year, none will match the rush and excitement of Grindhouse. To call it a mere film is a disservice; Rodriquez and Tarantino have reached back into their past to give filmgoers cinematic hope for the future.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Been There, "Done" That | Are We Done Yet?

Back in the late-1980s and the early-1990s, long before he made his film debut as Doughboy in John Singleton’s searing classic, Boyz ‘N the Hood, Ice Cube was known primarily as an incredible lyricist.

Over the past 16 years, since he exploded on the scene with startling authenticity in BNTH, Cube has settled into family-friendly fare. His latest film is Are We Done Yet? the sequel to the 2005 film, Are We There Yet?

For those who remember the original film, Cube played Nick Person, whose life became a living hell when he volunteered to transport two bad-ass kids, Kevin (Phillip Bolden) and Lindsey (Aleisha Allen), to Vancouver to see their mother, Suzanne (Nia Long). Unfortunately for Cube, both Kevin and Lindsey don’t like any man their mother is interested in and they proceed to ruin his Lincoln Navigator and get him in all sorts of trouble before understanding that he’s not that bad of a guy after all!

The latest film, based on Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), continues the story with Nick and Suzanne now married and with her kids living in Nick’s tiny bachelor pad. With Suzanne expecting a baby and Nick now trying to launch a magazine, Suzanne convinces him to look for their “dream house” in the country. The couple meet realtor, Chuck Mitchell (John C. McGinley), who convinces them to buy a house straight out of Money Pit.

He is recommended to a contractor that just happens to be . . . Chuck! When Nick rebuffs him and finds another lower-priced contractor, he is fined by the inspector who also is . . . Chuck! On and on it goes, for Amerika’s Most Wanted in this slightly superior version of a sequel.

Where both Lindsey and Kevin were absolutely obnoxious in the original, they are toned down a bit in the sequel – but they have still have their moments. Suzanne is featured much more in this film, and the chemistry between Cube and Long is believable, forged over several films including, BNTH, Friday and the first film in this series. McGinley lets loose and injects some of the film’s funniest and strangest moments. Ironically, the film tries too hard to go for easy sight gags and quick laughs.

Much in the same way that Eddie Murphy was able to reinvent himself into a family friendly, PG-rated star, Cube has taken a page from Murphy’s blueprint in this lightly funny sequel. Maybe Cube should write the franchise’s third film, Are We Back Yet? It would probably suck, but it would be gangsta. Really, isn’t that all the studios care about anyway?

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