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Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Questions I Have After Watching the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Trailer


As I've written previously on this blog, erotica tales are not my cup of tea. While watching pretty people doing sexy things on screen may hold my attention for, like, 15 minutes, a full length film just seems indulgent. Especially one that doesn't appear to have a premise, like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (at least Addicted pretends to have one). But my curiosity got the best of me when I decided to check out the trailer for this film adaptation of E.L. James' popular first novel of the same name which has managed to titillate soccer moms everywhere. And, my, could it be more ridiculous than I even thought? Is that even possible?

Rather than offering my thoughts on the trailer, I'm just going to list the first questions that popped into my head while watching it.
  1. Who are these actors again? Should we care? Isn't watching two no-name actors copulating on screen kinda the same thing as watching a well choreographed home video sex tape gone viral? And if so, didn't the recent box office numbers for Sex Tape suggest that maybe said audiences weren't into that kind of thing (and at least we knew who those actors were)? 
  2. What's with the Devil Wears Prada rip-off? The actress here (I'll just call her Actress A to save time, because I know you don't really care who she is anyway) heads into a job( ?) interview with the dapper Christian Grey (played by Actor B) wearing similarly frumpy clothes a layer of low self-esteem and obviously clueless about who this guy is (I don't know who he is either, but he seems self-important, which means we should know him too?). At least Andy Sachs from Devil eventually transforms into a woman with great fashion and stands up for herself. Actress A's character seems to transform into a sex puppet. Awesome.
  3. Mr. Grey randomly states in the clip that "I don't do romance," yet we see him take Actress A on a fancy airplane ride and play songs for her on his piano. Yes, they have wild, kinky sex, but they also go out. Which...kinda reminds me of a relationship. A romantic one at that. So...?
  4. Wait, is Actress A supposed to be in love with Mr. Grey or whatever? Because why else would a creepy sounding remix of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" (sans Jay Z, sadly) play throughout this clip? Is this a way to cater to the "urban" audience? Sorry, but I think Addicted already has that covered. Besides, this reminds me of Beyonce's equally strange contribution to the soundtrack of the hilariously bad Great Gatsby (shudders).  People, let's not do this again. Whatever you're trying to do, it ain't working. 
  5. What do fans of the books think of this trailer? I'm leaning heavily on the unfavorable side, but I haven't read the series. Is it as bad as this trailer? Is its mediocrity intentional? I'm clearly missing something here. 
Regardless of what people think of this trailer, I bet you anything this will likely be the number one movie when it opens just in time for Valentine's Day on February 13th next year. If you see a tall woman there in an oversized hat and sunglasses, that's just me incognito. I can't possibly show my face in the theater but I may need to know how they will fill up two hours with this nonsense

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So, NIGHTCRAWLER Looks Like The Purge: Journalism

The trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal's latest film, NIGHTCRAWLER, is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, the music is so foreboding that you're expecting something, anything, bad to happen to him (nothing does though). But on the other hand, Gyllenhaal's surprisingly gaunt body and sunken eyes make you almost want to weep for him. Which is, I suppose, what first-time director Dan Gilroy (who wrote Real Steel) was going for when he decided to tackle the story of a Lou Bloom, a driven young journalist who sinks into the world of covering dangerous Los Angeles night crimes.

Though the premise isn't particularly fresh, it's how the story is told--at least in the trailer--that will intrigue you. Gyllenhaal's bleak yet intense expression throughout the clip further outlines the journey the character takes as someone who will do anything for a story--including filming crimes as they occur, which fits in well with the voyeuristic society we live in today. In addition, Gilroy's jerky camera movements and the film's dark setting turn a familiar scene into an unsettling one. More in the synopsis:

NIGHTCRAWLER is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling -- where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story.

The last time I saw Gyllenhaal as a relentless reporter he was trying to solve the case of the zodiac killer in 2007's Zodiac, so it will be interesting to see how he approached this role (and Rene Russo!). Plus, Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) is in the movie, which is an automatic win for me.

Check out the trailer:

NIGHTCRAWLER hits theaters October 17th.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Woody Allen's MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT Unfortunately Doesn't Cast a Spell on Its Audience

I've never really liked the saying, "You're only as good as your last film." The fact that it disqualifies past great performances and films to solely determine all talent from one movie is, well, unfair. And, might I add, super lame. But it sprang to mine after I watched Woody Allen's latest, MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. The prolific filmmaker follows up last year's fantastic Blue Jasmine with a lackluster movie that's unfortunately not as enchanting as it sounds.

After taking us on a whimsical trip through the City of Light three years ago in Midnight in Paris, Allen brings us back to France on a more pertinent mission--to determine whether the sixth sense is actually real and, if not, dismantle the notion once and for all. Well, we watch Colin Firth do it anyway. The actor plays Stanley, a renowned 1920s English magician who is brought to France by an old friend and colleague, Howard (Simon McBurney), to disprove a popular psychic (Emma Stone). Why? Because Houdini-like Stanley is ironically not a believer in actual magic or telekinesis, and if anyone could prove Sophie (Stone) to be a hack, it's him.

Already not a very interesting premise right from its start. But, like many Allen films, it's not so much the premise that draws you to the film but how engaging its character is written--down to each quirk. That's what's missing here in this film: there's just nothing very special about any of these characters. In fact, there's nothing throughout most the film to keep you invested it. It's pedestrian to the point of being bland (and I hate that I've become one of those writers that use the word "pedestrian," but it's the best way to describe it). Almost as if he realizes that the film has to be more than about a magician trying to out-trick a trickster, Allen folds MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT into a predictable, cringe-worthy romance that develops between Stanley and Sophie. What makes it uncomfortable to watch is the fact that Firth and Stone have zero chemistry together, especially for a romance. Their age differences (28 years, to be exact) aside, Firth and Stone are two very different styles of actors, neither of whom are particularly suitable for the roles they're playing here. (Casting directors continue to place Stone in roles that fall way outside her range, only utilizing her "It" girl appeal and not her actual strengths; Firth is just such a deliberate actor that to play a character that's so frivolous is an odd fit for him).

What may most attract moviegoers is MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT's portrait, albeit a sloppy one, of a man so consumed by his own desire to be clever that it is love that plays the ultimate trick on him: making him see that not everything comes down to what does and doesn't make sense to him. But does he believe in magic? Is Allen suggesting that love is magic? Perhaps, but this is not a particularly refreshing story for fans of Allen's work or even film fans at all. Frankly, it goes stale after the first twenty minutes, after you've realized exactly where it's going and how it will get there. Which makes it a chore to watch. It's far too amateur, especially from someone like Allen who's been making films for almost fifty years.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT just seems more like notes on a scribble pad, not an actual film. Despite its decent cast (Marcia Gay Harden is in it for a moment, playing Sophie's stern mother, along with Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins, who's the film's true delight), charming score and cinematography, it just left me really hollow, scratching my head. Allen is better than this.

Rating: D+ (* out of *****)

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is in select theaters July 25th. Watch the trailer:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blog Tour: "My Writing Process"

I'm always saying how much I wish the blogging community was more tight-knit, so I am thrilled to join forces with several fellow bloggers for a more intimate blog tour that allows us to share with our readers what inspires us to write. So thank you, Toni at Splash of Tonic for throwing the baton over to me!

Here's how it works: "My Writing Process" asks us four simple questions that encourages us to think about why we write and elaborate more on our writing style. Check it out:

1) What are you working on?

I'm attending screenings, applying for festival press credentials as I prepare an informal content strategy for the fall and winter seasons. I'm always thinking of new commentary to write, as well as reviews. I'm pretty flexible in terms of content. My only ask of myself is that it's something I'm actually passionate about, or can at least put my own spin on. Additionally, I contribute blog posts for Black Girl Nerds and brainstorm topic discussions for my weekly podcast, "Cinema in Noir" (which also inspires many posts on my blog).

2) How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

My writing has my voice. I try not to write obligatory posts just to get traffic or just because it's what everyone else is talking about. I add my own opinion and try to approach it in a way that is uniquely my own, so that readers aren't just coming to receive the same information they can get on any other site. I want them to come here because they want to know what I think about this information. I try to be engaging, fun, snarky, but also reflective and thought-provoking. As an avid reader of other blogs, it's important to me that I write in a way that would be interesting to me. I have to enjoy the process, and I can't do that if it feels mandated. I also try to keep the content diverse, and offer opinion pieces that aren't found on other sites (including sociopolitical themes in film and film criticism, TV analysis and foreign cinema).

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because I feel I can't not write about films. About five years ago, I had lost my job as a magazine editor and felt kind of lost. In order to take my mind off things, I went to see a movie that I couldn't stop discussing weeks after I had seen it. I bothered my friends--and everyone else who'd listen--with my theories and perspective on the film. Maybe it was the timing (divine intervention perhaps?), but at that point I realized how much of a film nerd I was (and still am). Then I thought, hey I should write about this--like on a blog or something. I was only going to write the one post and that was it. When I saw the response, and realized how liberated I felt to be able to share what was inside my head I had an a-ha! moment. I realized that I have something to say here, and (bonus points!) people want to actually read about it. I felt the need to get some of the thoughts that have been percolating in my head and expand on them, turn them into discussions with the readers. Writing is not only therapeutic for me, but it's also a way for me to reach people who may also be film nerds, bloggers/critics or casual movie lovers. I don't just write for one type of person, especially since I like a variety of films across many different genres, so I try to cast a wide net and see who identifies with it. Some things I write may resonate with certain people and not others, which I'm okay with. I rather write something and it not get as many hits than to keep it entangled in my brain in silence.This blog is a way for me to ensure that my voice and opinions are not stifled. I write because neither I nor my thoughts exist anywhere else. I have to create them here myself.

4) How does your writing process work?

Often it's as informal as conversations I have with people (either online or in person), or in response to trend pieces I read online. I could have a really great conversation with someone about a movie or a them in Hollywood that will inspire me to expand on the topic or counter the opinion here. Sometimes I react to a particular twitter conversation by bringing it over to the blog and expanding on it (I can better express my thoughts here than with a slim 140 characters. I like to stir conversation, not simply comply with it, and maybe start a new conversation here. Other times, I'll write a film review that is inspired by how the film made me feel, not solely how it is technically (that way it has my stamp on it). Some films make me think of larger stories on which I focus the review, and other films make me feel absolutely nothing--which also compels my opinion. I also receive a number of press releases and other publicity information that may help inspire trend pieces, or even simple matter-of-fact pieces about new releases, press images, etc. If something looks interesting to me, or if I  have something to say about it that I haven't seen anyone else say, or I think my readers might be interested in, I share it. It's very fluid.

That's it; short and sweet! I'm passing the baton over to Shala Thomas at Life Between Films and Angelica Jade Bastién at Madwomen and Muses. Shala is a huge supporter of independent film and film festivals, while Angelica is a screenwriter who's passionate about Old Hollywood. I can't wait to learn more about their writing process!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Few Thoughts on GET ON UP (Plus 9 New Images from the Film)

I have to say, when I first saw the trailer for GET ON UP, the new biopic on late singer James Brown, I was unimpressed. It just seemed...predictable, and strikingly similar to a certain other movie about another icon, Ray. But, man, the cast is excellent. Of course director Tate Taylor, who I still have on probation for the abominable The Help, has always had a knack for securing some of the best talent in the industry (go figure). However, I am still concerned about the story Taylor, with screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (recently praised for their Edge of Tomorrow screenplay), has chosen to tell.

While according to the production notes, the film isn't your typical Wikipedia-like format as it "unfolds in a nonlinear style that allows James Brown to speak directly to us," I wonder why they chose to go with a title for the film that refers to one of Brown's popular songs in which he proclaims "I feel like being a sex machine." Doing this suggests that the story could end up focusing more on the music and less on the man (I mean, even something as simple as The Godfather of Soul would have made it seem more personal). The trailer, which you can watch here, doesn't do much else for it either--it just looks like a 2-minute music video fan montage sprinkled with obligatory James Brown affectations that give us a little detail about his background. But, hey, that's just a trailer, maybe the movie is much more.

The cast, which I mentioned above, is pretty spectacular--Chadwick Boseman, most known for playing another legend in 42, plays Brown, Viola Davis (Doubt, The Help) portrays Susie, Brown's mother, Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) is Bobby Byrd, then there's Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help), Dan Akroyd, Jill Scott (Baggage ClaimThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), Tika Sumpter (Sparkle) and Craig Robinson (The Office, This Is The End). That's a mouthful.

GET ON UP will hit theaters August 1st. Check out a few more images from the film:



Thursday, July 17, 2014

THE PURGE: ANARCHY Doesn't Quite Live Up To Its Name

In the first few minutes of THE PURGE: ANARCHY, the sequel to last year's equally contumacious horror, The Purge, a message materializes on the screen that describes the dystopian events we are about to see: the nation's annual night of mayhem is about to commence, in which there will be no lawful interference. People are encouraged to exercise their legal right given to them by "The Founding Fathers" and "purge" the undesirables--specifically "the poor." Right away this incites an unsettling feeling that begs the following questions: Who decides who's poor? What level of destitution marks someone who should be eliminated? How do you locate the targets?

It's these nagging questions that pester this second installment which at its best is a hauntingly plausible look at an apocalyptic future, but at its worst never quite embraces the issues it promises to explore. Instead, the film swings between both pendulums without ever landing on a secure foot. We learn early on in the film that a rebel group, strikingly consisting mostly of African-American men, has formed to reclaim their place in society, and retaliate against the so-called elitist group of individuals who most benefit from the purge. Which is interesting since, while the first film touched on these sociopolitical issues, it never explored them. There was no armed party to stand up against the gang purgers, so everyone was at the mercy of those who purged (a more controlled concept). Now we have this opportunity to show an actual war, where everyone has taken the law into their own hands, and in which two distinct sides actively fight to survive. Even better, the action takes place outside in the streets where there is limited refuge and the stakes are higher. But all that potential goes to waste because writer/director Jason DeMonaco again chooses to focus on the helpless victims of the night, to the disadvantage of far more interesting characters and a more advanced story that could have built off the last film and personified its title.

So THE PURGE: ANARCHY isn't actually any more anarchic than the last film. By centering on these tedious individuals that get caught out in the night, we get a very similar story from the first except that the action takes place outside which makes the story more erratic (though the new setting effectively enhances the suspense, creating an overwhelming sense of vulnerability). Additionally, some of these target victims are mind-numbingly annoying. While Frank Grillo's insurgent hero is an intriguing character to watch (and Grillo does a good job with it), the film's two main female characters are unforgivably weak. Carmen Ejogo's Eva is a the epitome of a damsel in distress: she cowers at every rap on her apartment door, and for some inexplicable reason she never asserts any authority around her annoyingly loquacious daughter, Cali (Zoë Soul). So much so that I didn't even realize she was her daughter at first. Eva is always jittery, has fright in her eyes, and barely speaks above a whisper. So you can just imagine how she reacted when she and her daughter were pulled out of their homes after their (you guessed it) security system falls apart within minutes. Eva whimpers the entire time, while Cali tries to talk everyone to death (apparently that is her purge power).

It's a strange dynamic, especially when it's lined up against Grillo's more self-aware character, and that of Liz and Shane (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) who play a couple on the brink of separation. But actually, all of these characters could have used more development. Grillo's Sergeant has a back story we never learn until the end of the film, in a series of hyper chaotic events. We learn that Eva and Cali are specifically targeted, but that fact is not ever revisited again. But the biggest display of randomness is when the group of protagonists seek refuge in a friend's home, which becomes an incestuous war zone. Why? Because the film told us at its very beginning that the purge is about the rich getting rid of the poor, the elite human race getting rid of the weaker one. So how does a domestic squabble enforce these objectives? Why when one of the gang purgers captures the group, he sends them to a more disastrous situation where they have to fend for themselves (and therefore does not act on his "God-given" right)? There are several times throughout the film where we are led to believe that the main group of characters are specifically targeted, but we never learn why. Eva and Cali live in a rundown apartment building, so we can assume it's their economical status that makes them vulnerable. But what about Liz and Shane--why are they targeted?

These questions all lead back to my main point that the film should have focused on the rebel uprising instead. To push this group into the background is a major flaw that is emphasized in the film's penultimate act that features a pivotal and terrifically executed scene with the rebels, reminding the audience that it is they who should have been the main characters all along. DeMonaco's knack for creating anxiety and tension is excellent and provides genuine horror (the idea of actual anarchy with no legal repercussions is still terrifying), but he could have used some help in the writing. I'm completely on board with the horror action, but this sequel really points out the glaring thematic flaws. Hopefully that is tightened up in the inevitable third installment (approximately 364 days away).

Rating: C (**1/2 out of *****)

THE PURGE: ANARCHY is in theaters Friday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Filmmaker Ernest Dickerson: "Television Right Now is Doing What Film Wishes It Can Do"

Ernest Dickerson
I really love when filmmakers are so candid in interviews. On Sunday's episode of Cinema in Noir we got a chance to chat with Ernest Dickerson, notable cinematographer and director of some of your favorite movies and TV shows (including The Walking Dead, Treme, Dexter, The Wire, Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing to name a few). He discussed his transition to the small screen, the new Golden Age of TV and reveals that he's now directed eleven episodes of The Walking Dead (but can't give away any details about the new season *insert sad face here*).

Dickerson was nice also enough to dish some advice for filmmakers just starting out, what it's like to work with Spike Lee (they've known each other since film school students) and how "television right now is doing what film wishes it can do." The latter is a particularly intriguing comment as the debate about TV versus film Tyrant, Extant, I'm looking at you. Pick it up).
continues to roar on. He explains that character development in films is too often the first thing to be edited out for length; on the other hand, TV has broader space to develop both characters and plotlines, which yields a more fleshed out story. As a filmmaker who's worked in both mediums, he says, "Every show I do I try to approach like a mini movie." I wish more filmmakers understood this. Although, while they have more space to tell the story, as a viewer I think it's important that small screen filmmakers grab the audience right at the first episode of a series and not wait to until a few episodes in to get into the story. That's how you lose an audience, and also how you get canceled. (

Also on the show we shared our reactions to the 2014 Emmy nominees (Spoiler: We're psyched about Orange is the New Black!), and our reviews of Boyhood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Life Itself. Missed the show? Listen to a recap here.

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