Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Strays

Monday, March 30th, 2015

tn_straysrookies-indiePITCH BLACK put Vin Diesel on the radar, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS put him above the title. But it was his work as an independent filmmaker that got him into Hollywood in the first place. His short film MULTI-FACIAL (1995) shows what must’ve been his frustrations with auditioning for acting gigs. Like HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE‘s Bobby Taylor his character is an actor who keeps running into a brick wall in auditions, and the bricks are molded from the limited imaginations of casting directors chained to racial stereotypes and cliches.

But the Diesel version is a little different because he’s coming at it specifically from a mixed-race perspective. His character in the movie tries to pitch people’s inability to distinguish his race as an advantage, leaving his options open for playing many different ethnicities. It’s a strong point that doubles as an acting reel and calling card, but sometimes it’s embarrassing. The Al Pacino imitation I can let slide, but the freestyle rap is not cutting it in my opinion. Stick to breakdancing, Vin.

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Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

tn_sexliesrookies-indieSEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE is a very divisive movie among copy editors who argue bitterly about its use of the Oxford comma in the title. The rest of us agree it’s a solid debut for writer-director Steve Soderbergh.

It’s a story with basically four characters. We’ve got Ann (GROUNDHOG DAY‘s Andie MacDowell), a somewhat troubled stay-at-home wife who opens the movie talking to her therapist (okay, I didn’t count him in the four) about her worries, about her husband not touching her, and about her belief that sex is overrated, not that big a deal.

Then we’ve got her husband John (STEP UP REVOLUTION‘s Peter Gallagher), a pure ’80s character because he’s a lawyer who wears suspenders and “just made junior partner” and he’s real proud of himself and a total douche.

And we’ve got Ann’s younger sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who is much wilder than Ann and sort of rebels against her and also is fucking John.

Lastly we have Graham (CRASH‘s James Spader), an old friend of John’s who he hasn’t seen in nine years but he’s back in town and John is letting him stay at the house briefly while he tries to find an apartment. Graham is the individualistic non-conformist cowboy drifter loner artistic beatnik rebel who sweeps through their square lives and changes everything forever. And he does it merely by being a pervert who can’t get a hard-on and owns a Hi-8 camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

She’s Gotta Have It

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

tn_shesgottahaveitrookies-indie“A nice lady doesn’t go humping from bed to bed.”

I think the last time I saw SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT might’ve been in a theater in 1989. I remember when DO THE RIGHT THING came out one of the theaters here did a double feature of this and SCHOOL DAZE. So I was just learning who Spike Lee was and what he was all about.

All this time later it’s kinda crazy to go back to his DIY jointational debut. It’s the work of a young man trying to prove himself, show his style and stretch his budget while also saying something about relationships between men and women. As much as you can anyway when you’re 28 years old.

It’s in black and white. He plays one of the main characters. His sister Joie is in it (which is her doing him a favor, because she gives the most natural performance in the movie). His dad Bill did the score. It’s not about race, and I don’t think there are even any white people in it. And though you could say it started the black film movement that ended up being mostly about gangs and crime (BOYZ N THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN) it has no guns or fights in it. (The end credits also boast that there were no drugs or jheri curls in the movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Jericho Mile

Monday, March 9th, 2015

tn_jerichomilerookiesIf you count TV movies – and I do – JERICHO MILE is Michael Mann’s directivational debut. It’s not as cinematic as his later big, wide movies, but it’s from the days when TV movies were legit enough to play theatrically overseas. It also stood out from other TV at the time, winning Emmies for writing, lead actor (over Kurt Russell in ELVIS!) and film editing for a limited series or special, and a Director’s Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Special/Movies for TV/Actuality.” (?)

It’s a prison movie, and you know Mann isn’t gonna want to soften that up. I mean, it’s TV so we don’t get any profanity, racial slurs or rape, but it’s still got a gritty feel because it was filmed in Folsom with the real inmates all around, and plenty of establishing montages that are clearly just documentary footage. You can definitely tell that some of the supporting players are real cons. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Mann had to negotiate for each of the race gangs (white, black and Latin) to have representatives on screen and vow to prevent any race wars or riots during filming so the production wouldn’t be kicked out. I mean obviously it’s an unwritten rule on pretty much all movie sets that the actors should not be involved in any race wars. But I still give them credit for not having one. Apparently there were a bunch of stabbings, one fatal, but those were allowed. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ahlaam

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

tn_ahlaamI’ve spent a good portion of the last two weeks thinking, reading, writing and debating about Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER. It’s an interesting movie that has spurred alot of debate from different points-of-view. But the important perspective that isn’t in the movie or in the conversation as far as I’ve been able to see is that of the Iraqi people. Clint followed his WWII movie FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS with the way better companion piece LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, from the perspective of doomed Japanese soldiers. I wish he could do that for the Iraq War too.

It’s too bad, I thought, that there’s not much of a film industry in Iraq, because that would be a great way for us to see the war and its effects through their eyes. Well, it turns out that a couple such movies do exist. One of them is AHLAAM (2004), based on a true story about the people in a psychiatric hospital in Baghdad during the 2003 “shock and awe” bombing a few days before the fall of Saddam Hussein.
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American Sniper

Monday, January 26th, 2015

tn_americansniperAMERICAN SNIPER is a pretty good movie. I wouldn’t rank it too high in the pantheon of Clint Eastwood directorial works, and it’s definitely not one of the all time great war movies, or even the best movie about the Iraq war. It has some overlap with THE HURT LOCKER without being as effective, in my opinion, either as a thriller or as a character study. And obviously we gotta deduct points for it not being a story about a very old sniper played by Clint. But it’s a very good performance by Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), it looks into an interesting world (that of the Navy SEAL sniper), it has several tense battle sequences, and it speaks about the experiences of soldiers with some of the quiet simplicity and understatedness I appreciate in an Eastwood picture. That last part is causing a problem.

In many ways it feels different from the rest of Clint’s filmography, but it returns him to one of his favorite themes: the man who has lived a life of violence having a hard time doing something else. Instead of an old outlaw it’s “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” Chris Kyle (played by Cooper with some extra muscle, facial scruff and Texan drawl), who goes through four tours of duty in Iraq, more than his share, but every time he tries to live a peaceful life with his family he starts itching to be back in combat. It also reminds me a little bit of Clint’s movie J. EDGAR, another biopic of an extreme character that refuses to condemn him. It just presents him, tries to give him a fair shake, shows him as a human, for better or worse.

With most of Clint’s directing-not-acting movies these days (JERSEY BOYS, HEREAFTER, CHANGELING, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, etc.) it’s the same routine: a bunch of people say they suck, I see them and like them, but don’t really know many people who bothered to see them, and the world moves on. Even when he does what seems like a crowd-pleasing awards-bait type movie, like INVICTUS, the academies and what not don’t give much of a shit, and Clint doesn’t care that they don’t. Why would he? Who needs another trophy when you wake up every morning and you’re still Clint fucking Eastwood?

But AMERICAN SNIPER is different. It was nominated for 6 Oscars including best picture, and when it went into wide release last weekend it immediately became a smash hit, the biggest opening of Clint’s career. Also, it’s one of those movies that not only sells tickets, but that people apparently like. It has an A+ Cinemascore and an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (His previous three movies as director rated 65%, 45% and 38%). (read the rest of this shit…)

Panther

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

tn_pantherPANTHER, directed by Mario Van Peebles, written by his dad Melvin Van Peebles based on his own novel, shows the formation and rise and dissolution of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. That last part of the name is usually left off, which makes sense because it sounds a little awkward. But if they left it on it would make it a little harder to pretend they’re the Kill Whitey Committee.

This is a ’60s period piece made 20 years ago and never even released on DVD in the U.S. as far as I can tell, but it’s timely and provocative because it’s about a community that gets fed up with the shit end of the stick and tries to figure out a better way to deal with it. It opens with a boy riding his bike, taking in the sights of his Oakland neighborhood. He and an older man both watch in delight as a bus blasts by a dressed up lady at a bus stop, blowing her skirt up like Marilyn Monroe. They love that they get to see her garters, and don’t seem to notice that some racist bus driver didn’t stop to pick her up. The innocence of childhood. Nostalgic first person narration is telling us this is where it all started, so it’s a bit of a shock when that kids gets nailed by a car.

He’s not the narrator as a child, it turns out. He’s the dead kid who convinced everybody that they could no longer take “No, you don’t need a stop light at that intersection” for an answer. (read the rest of this shit…)

Selma

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

tn_selmaSELMA is a story about the influential social justice warrior Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not a biopic, but a movie focused on one specific campaign, a march through Alabama to demand a law to protect voting rights. The importance of this legislation is illustrated by an old black woman who, though clearly exhausted from her shift at a nursing home, and intimidated by the experience of her previous attempts, tries to register to vote. The white clerk says she’s “stirring up trouble,” threatens to tell her boss about it, and gives her an impossible local government pop quiz before gleefully rejecting her. That the lady is played by Oprah Winfrey, who more than a few people wish would run for president, adds a little meta-weight.

At one point SELMA was gonna be directed by Oprah’s friend Lee Daniels, whose combination of talent and insane tastelessness could’ve been a problem for this story. But I think he was responsible for the brilliant stroke of casting David Oyelowo (the snobby reporter Yardley in THE PAPERBOY, the militant son in LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER) as King. Daniels was also gonna have Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman, Cedric the Entertainer, Lenny Kravitz and Liam Neeson in the cast. I imagine Neeson would’ve been the voice on the phone harassing Coretta Scott King (played in the actual movie by Carmen Ejogo, who also played King in BOYCOTT, and other characters in ALEX CROSS and THE PURGE: ANARCHY).

Oyelowo (who had also worked with director Ava DuVernay in MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) somehow fattened his face to create a surprisingly good likeness. I’m told he just gained weight, it’s not makeup, but how the fuck do they do that? It’s not like his body is real fat, how did they know he’d gain the weight there? Do they have physical trainers that can focus your diet and workout that specifically? Do they use computers? (read the rest of this shit…)

Get On Up

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

tn_getonupFor several years Spike Lee talked about doing a James Brown biopic starring Wesley Snipes. This was fairly recently, like while Wesley was locked up. Man, I couldn’t quite picture what that would be like, and I really wanted to find out. But I figured even if Wesley could pull off the role I wasn’t sure a movie about James Brown could ever work. Would a movie really be able to show his incredible genius without toning down what a horrible person he was?

When I heard somebody besides Lee was doing the James Brown biopic, and that it was the guy that did the fucking HELP, I was not happy. And who do they have playing The Godfather? Chadwick Boseman, same guy who already played Jackie Robinson in that other movie that that other white director did before Spike Lee could. I bet this Boseman guy has nightmares about getting stomped by Air Jordans.

And the trailers didn’t help. With quick clips of Boseman in a wig lip synching James Brown, you couldn’t really tell if he looked that much like him, same with the dialogue. And there was a version with interviews of rappers and Mick Jagger and stuff talking about how important James Brown is. What the fuck is this approach? Who is this demographic of fucking weirdos who have no idea who James Brown is but will see a movie about him if Mick Jagger recommends it? What, did they already see a video of Taylor Swift or Macklemore or somebody explaining how important Mick Jagger is? (read the rest of this shit…)

Foxcatcher

Monday, December 29th, 2014

tn_foxcatcherFOXCATCHER is an eerie examination of a true story about two brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, who won gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics and a couple years later went to live on the Pennsylvania estate of a rich guy named John E. du Pont. The guy said he was a patriot and wrestling fan and wanted to help America win again. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but you immediately get the sense – in part from the foreboding grey skies and long, dry stretches with little dialogue and no music – that it’s gonna be something bad. I felt pretty confident this would end in some sort of fucked up tragedy and not with a Survivor song playing over a freeze frame on a joyful Channing Tatum (who plays Mark) being lifted by a congratulatory crowd of sports enthusiasts.

Steve Carrell plays du Pont and he makes him very odd. He leans his head back and leaves his mouth slightly open, like he’s watching you and is perpetually about to offer an observation. He wears a comically large fake nose and a nerdily tight Team Foxcatcher sweatshirt or windbreaker. Occasionally he has lines absurd enough to be in a Will Ferrell movie: “Don’t call me Mr. du Pont. My friends call me Golden Eagle, or just Eagle.” But whatever comedy may be inherent in the role, he’s intentionally un-milking it. This is his Serious Role, his Playing Against Type, his Robin Williams in ONE HOUR PHOTO. I mean, I’m sure it’s funnier than that magician movie he did, but it’s his most dramatic, not-going-for-laughs movie, and he’s successful at being creepy in it.
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