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Friday, February 28, 2014

If You Like the 'Before' Films, You Might Also Like 'Medicine for Melancholy'

I remember when I first watched Before Sunrise, years after it became the go-to whimsical romance film of the 90s, and I remember thinking, well, that was a pleasant surprise. To see two strangers fall for each other in a way that was less sexual and more intellectual was refreshing and far more mature than what we're used to seeing on the big screen these days. The follow-up film, Before Sunset, continued that adult conversation about life, love and happenstance, even as the two main characters--Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy)--progressed in their lives and travels. But as Before Midnight brings us to a rather abrupt yet delicate core in Jesse and Celine's relationship, it made me think back to what made this couple so interesting to watch in the two previous films. Which in turn reminded me of the long forgotten gem, Medicine for Melancholy of 2008.

If you're unfamiliar with Medicine for Melancholy, I implore you to watch it immediately, especially if you're a fan of this sort of flurried approach to dialogue that is so prevalent in the Before films (especially the first two). Medicine, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, follows a chance meeting between two individuals--Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo' (Tracey Heggins)--over the span of 24 hours in the Bay Area of California. Like the Before films, the two share an existential discussion that is challenged by race and class relations in respect to their neighborhood becoming gentrified in a rapidly evolving era. While much of the conversation flirts with Micah and Jo's potential for one another--and the undeniable chemistry they share--it is marked by their underlying feelings of what it means to be minorities in their own neighborhood, and sometimes feeling like a rebel among their own group of friends. While it might not be the best time for them, Jo' and Micah find each other as they still struggle to find themselves amid social confusion.

Like Celine and Jesse, Jo' and Micah are both opinionated and accessible, with a million thoughts between them that aren't often agreed upon but are always acknowledged and challenged. It's ping pong dialogue that at its best stimulates the audience and makes you care not only about these characters but of their ideals and surroundings. We only see their relationship throughout the course of a day, but there is ample opportunity for a follow-up feature, even if it's just to see how gentrification has impacted their older selves and views on life now. This could especially be timely in light of how social media has redefined conversations of race and relationship issues in and out of minority communities. There are plenty of avenues a Medicine for Melancholy sequel can take, but I feel it has all but been overshadowed by the far more popular Before journey. Watch it and see for yourself.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MOTIFS IN CINEMA: Surrogate Families in 2013 Films

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2013 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea –Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.

There's a moment in Saving Mr. Banks when P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), famed author of the Mary Poppins book series, reveals just how much the time-honored children's story and characters mean to her. "They are like family," she reluctantly admits. It's a rare moment of vulnerability from the cantankerous writer,  positively beside herself over Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) plans for a film adaptation. Once she  relinquishes her anger, we can see how she had been completely overwhelmed by the burden of autonomy she had been carrying all these years. But what is most interesting about this admission is how it highlighted a theme in last year's film; the power that can come from having a familial love for something or someone who is not your actual family.

We've seen how this motif influenced other 2013 films, including The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. Michael Starrbury's Independent Spirit Award-nominated screenplay shows how two young boys discover an unlikely friendship through shared loss and utter tragedy. When 13-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks) is abandoned by his addict mother (Jennifer Hudson) and left to fend for himself, it is only his once reluctant solidarity with Pete (Ethan Dizon), a similarly lost child in the neighborhood, that maintains his determined spirits and keeps him from tumbling into an irrevocable despair. Though the two are united under dire circumstances, it ultimately leads them to a better place emotionally as they come out stronger on the other side. They lean on each other when their parental figures--and the system--fail them and they become the family they never got to have before. In the process, Mister comes to terms with his own mortality and stunted adolescence.

On the other hand, we saw films that used this concept as a crutch for antagonists to further propel their motives. For instance, Blue Caprice, which tells the real-life story of notorious Washington D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad (played by Isaiah Washington), shows how he lured Lee (Tequan Richmond), a neglected 17-year-old into his revenge-fueled massacre. Under the guise that he is the father figure Lee doesn't have, John manipulates Lee into thinking he needs him, that the teen's maturity and emotional stability depends on it. It is an intentional and horrifying play that eventually serves as the demise of both man and teen.

Similarly, in Blancanieves a young girl is forced to live with her malevolent stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú), after her father is bound to a wheelchair and unable to care for her. Locked in a dark castle and doomed to spend the rest of her days as a servant for her acquired guardian, the Snow White-inspired Carmen (Macarena García) spins out of Encarna's twisted web using her own brand of shrewdness and allure, becoming her own heroine in the process. Despite Encarna's caustic hold on Carmen, which allows her to be both sole provider and number one nemesis, the adolescent eventually takes charge of her own destiny and finds a new kind of family that cares for her in a way she hadn't experienced in too long.

These stories are true testaments on how even the hope, fear or comfort of a familial figure can impact our outlook, or send us sprawling backward down a path we least expect it.

Motifs in Cinema is an annual blogathon led by Encore's World of Film that explores common themes presented in a year's worth of film. For more information on the list of themes and participating blogs, click here

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Where Are All The Great Female Antiheroes of Color?

I know there's been a lot of talk about female antiheroes and the lack of complex roles for women, but it seems to be even more of a challenge for actresses of color. On top of how difficult it is for them to make waves in Hollywood, especially in roles that aren't stereotypical, they must also contend with the backlash they receive from audiences who are uneasy with the idea of an actress of color portraying a character of moral ambiguity. It's a thin line to cross that usually results in seeing actresses of color marginalized in a smaller variety of roles.

So I posed the following question to my fellow Cinema in Noir co-hosts today: where are all the great female antiheroes of color? Needless to say, we were hard pressed to come up with many. But we did come up with a few notable ones, including Coffy, Gail and Miho from Sin City, and the lovely ladies on Orange is the New Black. It sounds like Jada Pinkett Smith's upcoming role as a kickass mob boss on a new Batman-inspired series, Gotham, may be in the running soon as well. Who are some of your favorite female antiheroes of color?

We also discussed race-bending and Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four. We mentioned this on the show a few months ago when Jordan was still "in talks" for the role, but go deeper into the topic on today's podcast. I'm still concerned about the fact that they are attempting this movie again when the last two were so, so bad (and also featured Latina actress Jessica Alba as a Caucasian Sue Storm, but nobody cared about that). But anyway, while fanboys debate among themselves, Michael B. Jordan is counting his dollars.

Missed the show? Listen to the full episode here.

The Latest In Lupita Fashion And The 2014 NAACP Image Award Winners

12 Years a Slave continues to pummel competition as it earned several new statuettes at Saturday night's NAACP Image Awards, which honors talent of color across art forms. While it was certainly an illustrious ceremony to watch (though many of the awards were handed out before the broadcast), we might as well get the most important question out of the way: what new amazing dress did Lupita Nyong'o wear? Look to the left and ogle at its loveliness as I did when I first laid my eyes on it. The ankle-length dress is by Givenchy, and the actress is also wearing gold H. Stern cuff and earrings. Nyong'o also took home the best supporting actress award for her work in 12 Years.

But, of course the night wasn't all about the fashion. People actually won awards too. Many were expected, though I was pleasantly surprised to see David Oyelowo take home an award for his terrific performance in Lee Daniels' The Butler. He's been virtually ignored this season, so i am glad he finally got some love here. We also were reminded that we are living in the era of Forest Whitaker, as the icon accepted both a lifetime achievement award as well as the lead actor award for Butler. And his acceptance speech was beyond perfect.

Over on the television side, my new favorite comedy series, The Real Husbands of Hollywood, took home the best comedy award as Kevin Hart earned both lead actor in a comedy series and entertainer of the year awards (well deserved, especially his hustle is so serious right now). Scandal also had a reason to celebrate as the show won outstanding drama series as Kerry Washington and Joe Morton earned best lead actress and supporting actor in a drama series. Washington, whose fashion game is usually hit or miss with me, donned a pretty royal blue dress with pink trim that flattered her baby bump:

Other winning looks from the red carpet (courtesy of

Naomie Harris
Archie Panjabi

Here is the list of winners from the TV and film categories:


Outstanding Comedy Series
“Real Husbands of Hollywood”

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
Kevin Hart – “Real Husbands of Hollywood”

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
Wendy Raquel Robinson – “The Game”

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Morris Chestnut – “Nurse Jackie”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Brandy Norwood – “The Game”

Outstanding Drama Series

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
LL Cool J – “NCIS: Los Angeles”

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Kerry Washington – “Scandal”

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Joe Morton – “Scandal”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Taraji P. Henson – “Person of Interest”

Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
“Being Mary Jane”

Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Idris Elba – “Luther”

Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Gabrielle Union – “Being Mary Jane”

Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series
Kristoff St. John – “The Young and the Restless”

Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series
Tatyana Ali – “The Young and the Restless”

Outstanding News/ Information – (Series or Special)
“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”

Outstanding Talk Series
“Steve Harvey”

Outstanding Reality Series
“Iyanla: Fix My Life”

Outstanding Variety Series or Special
“Black Girls Rock!”

Outstanding Children’s Program
“Wynton Marsalis: A YoungArts MasterClass”

Outstanding Performance in a Youth/ Children’s Program – (Series or Special)
China Anne McClain – “A.N.T. Farm”


Outstanding Motion Picture
“12 Years A Slave”

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Forest Whitaker – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Angela Bassett – “Black Nativity”

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
David Oyelowo – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Lupita Nyong’o – “12 Years A Slave”

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
“Fruitvale Station”

Outstanding International Motion Picture
“War Witch”

Outstanding Documentary – (Theatrical)
“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners”

Outstanding Documentary – (Television)
“Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic” 


Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series
Vincent Brown – “A.N.T. Farm” – influANTces

Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series
Janine Sherman Barrois – “Criminal Minds” – Strange Fruit

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture – (Theatrical or Television)
John Ridley – “12 Years A Slave”


Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series
Millicent Shelton – “The Hustle” – Rule 4080

Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series
Regina King – “SouthLAnd” – Off Duty

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Theatrical or Television)
Steve McQueen – “12 Years A Slave”

Saturday, February 22, 2014

THE WIND RISES And The Problem With How We Weigh the Responsibility of Historical Fiction Films

Is it me or does it seem like every time Hollywood attempts a historical fiction piece, it comes under intense scrutiny by those who feel it doesn't accurately portray the factual story? Which I find fascinating, especially since some of these films open with a disclaimer that reads something along the lines of "based on a true story" or "inspire by real events." It's a particularly squeamish matter when it comes to stories that have racial or political themes (remember The Help and Django Unchained?).

What's perhaps most detrimental is when this consideration impedes our judgment of the film's quality (or, in some cases, lack thereof) and even its message. Which brings me to The Wind Rises, the Oscar-nominated animated film that's facing off against the Disney darling, Frozen. Most seem to be in favor of the latter winning, with much of the criticism towards Hayao Miyazaki's latest film lending to its somewhat contentious endeavor to avoid political agendas in order to focus on its key storyline. If you're unfamiliar with the movie, which opens nationwide next Friday (it's currently in limited release), you can refer to my review here.

While Miyazaki is quick to affirm that The Wind Rises dramatizes the story of Japanese WWII fighter plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi as it also incorporates elements of author Hori Tatsuo in the characterization, the film has still come under fire for its lack of confronting the complex politics and racial relations during the war. Which seems a bit unfair because a) the movie is mostly told in dream sequences, which should imply its more fantastical motives, b) it's told from the point of view of a young boy who's also struggling to interpret the complexities of war (his naivete and determined optimism evolves as he grows older), and c) it takes away from the movie's more profound themes of love, ambition and the power to overcome your own odds.

It's surely a complicated and expansive effort that Miyazaki takes on gracefully, even when he tilts the film's focus in its latter half. The politics of war, while minimized, are still present in the movie, providing the sufficient backdrop needed to elevate the objective of the film. In doing so, it offers a different image of the time that is rarely seen in film, from a fresh perspective. Which seems to be the problem we often run into when it comes to historical fiction pieces. While films like 12 Years a Slave are lauded for their valiant efforts to approach the era in its most authentic light, films like The Monuments Men that use a particular period as the scenery to tell a variation story are often received as weaker, more careless efforts.

But on that same token, these "truer" films are also a part of a growing complaint concerning what is seen as their repetitious nature in the Hollywood cycle. Questions concerning the amount of slavery or Holocaust dramas are then the next complaint. It's important to remember these eras in our history as they were with a new lens just as it's important to tell new stories about that time period--even if it means creating a compelling work of fiction that captures the era as it lifts a separate point of view (whether it be a romance, a comedy, or another genre). The idea shouldn't be to discard either of these artistic endeavors but to see them for the stories they aim to tell.

I'm sure the debate surrounding The Wind Rises will continue to go on--and perhaps even intensify--as we lead up to the Oscars next month, but it will be interesting to see what response the next historical fiction piece will draw from audiences. What makes certain historical fiction pieces significant or less so? What would you like to see from the genre moving forward? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

TIME IS ILLMATIC, The Documentary Based on Rapper Nas' Iconic Album, Will Open the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

I don't think I've mentioned it on this site yet, but I will be attending the Tribeca Film Festival this year that's scheduled for April 16-27 in New York City. *insert happy face here* I haven't been able to attend the last few years so I'm stoked to be returning. But get ready for a bunch of news and information coming your way for the next few weeks. First up? Rapper Nas will be kick off the international event with not only the premiere of his new documentary, TIME IS ILLMATIC, but he'll also give a performance right after the screening. THIS. IS. AMAZING.

Tribeca has certainly hosted its share of musicians and live performances in the past, but this is extra special because 1) Nas is one of the best hip-hop artists I've ever come across and 2) he's opening the event. So, major kudos to him. The doc reportedly details the road to his iconic 1994 debut album, which catapulted him to legend status. More on TIME IS ILLMATIC below:

Time Is Illmatic traces Nas’s influences and the insurmountable odds he faced in creating the greatest work of music from hip-hop’s second golden era. The film tracks the musical legacy of the Jones family -- handed down to Nas from his jazz musician father, Olu Dara, the support of his Queensbridge neighborhood crew, and the loyalty of his younger brother Jabari “Jungle” Fret. Twenty years after its release, Illmatic is widely recognized as a hip-hop benchmark that encapsulates the sociopolitical outlook, enduring spirit, and collective angst of a generation of young men searching for their voice in America. Time Is Illmatic is supported by The Ford Foundation’s Just Films and Tribeca Film Institute’s Tribeca All Access program.

“I want to thank the Tribeca Film Festival for supporting the film with the incredible platform they've built over the years,” said Nas. “It's an honor to premiere this film in my hometown. I also want to thank One9 and Erik Parker for their persistence and hard work. Those guys and I come from the same place and era, which gives the doc an authenticity that is important to me. We wanted this film to represent the real, from the storyline all the way down to the directors and producers.”

Fans can now pre-order the 2CD set on iTunes and both the 2CD set and 1LP vinyl via I'll have more information on the festival's feature film slate in early March.

Remember When Halle Berry Was Nominated for a Golden Globe in 2011 for Her Performance as a Woman with Multiple Personality Disorder? That Film Now Has a New Trailer and Release Date

So...this is a little awkward. The movie for which Halle Berry earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2011 (and won a NAACP Image Award) has finally released a trailer, and has a new release date of April 4th. Obviously it's a bit confusing because usually when you're nominated for a movie, the audience expects to see it in theaters at least that year. But not this one. Let's call FRANKIE & ALICE the little engine that could and leave it at that.

I actually saw the film a long while back on a screener DVD (and could have sworn it had a limited release in theaters at one point--but I may be wrong about that). As you can probably tell, I thought the movie was so forgettable that I, well, forgot about it. But I have to hand it to Halle Berry; she continues to work steadily if it's in some questionable movies (though I still appreciate the ambitious Cloud Atlas). Like this one, for instance, in which she plays a woman who suffers from multiple personalities--one being that of a racist. So you can only imagine how that will play out.

It's a bit Lifetime movie of the week, but I'd be curious to hear what others think about it. Here's a little more about it:

From Codeblack Films and the executive producers of INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE and LACKAWANNA BLUES comes a mind-bending drama starring Academy Award® Winner and Golden Globe® Nominee Halle Berry (THE CALL, MONSTER'S BALL). FRANKIE & ALICE is inspired by the remarkable true story of an African American go-go dancer "Frankie" with multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder or “DID”) who struggles to remain her true self while fighting against two very unique alter egos: a seven-year-old child named Genius and a Southern white racist woman named Alice. In order to stop the multiple voices in her head, Frankie (Halle Berry) works together with a psychotherapist (Stellan Skarsgard) to uncover and overcome the mystery of the inner ghosts that haunt her. Always at the forefront of women’s issues, from Halle Berry, Academy Award® winner turned film producer, comes a must-see, award-worthy film FRANKIE & ALICE - a moving psychological drama inspired by a woman suffering with multiple personality disorder in early 1970s Los Angeles.

In addition to Skarsgard, Chandra Wilson and Phylicia Rashad are also part of the cast, so that's also something...Thoughts? Personally, I am more interested in seeing what Berry will bring to the small screen in the upcoming sci-fi series, Extant.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Isn't Naomie Harris In All the Movies?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Naomie Harris is an international treasure. But why do I feel like I'm the only one who knows this? Though she's been acting for nearly two decades, delivering one great performance after another, she continues to fly under the radar. Even after her riveting portrayal of Winnie Madikizela in last year's otherwise derivative Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, she's still seriously slept on as one of our finest talents. I mean, the fact that she was shut out of every major award (not even as much as a nomination) for Mandela is a tragedy in and of itself.

But yet her IMDB page is shockingly bare in regards to future projects. Other than an as yet "rumored" role as Moneypenny in the 2015 Skyfall follow-up Bond 24, there's nothing listed. Let's hope this changes soon because Harris is the type of actress that deserves her own franchise. She is a talented force to be reckoned with and she she deserves far more attention than she gets.

I thought of this the other day while I was watching The First Grader (2010) over the weekend. In Harris's previous performance under the direction of Justin Chadwick (Mandela), she plays Jane Obinchu, a Kenyan schoolteacher whose professional and personal lives come under conflict once she admits an 84-year-old first-time student and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter (Oliver Litondo) after the Kenyan government announced universal and free elementary education in 2003. To say that Harris is a revelation in this film may be an understatement. It not only prepared her to tackle the complex layers of Winnie Madikizela a few years later, but it also proved yet again that she is able to take on a variety of different roles--from heroic to villainous. She solidified a sci-fi fanbase with her totally badass performance in 28 Days Later..., showed that she can steals scenes from 007 himself, and continues to surprise audiences in roles across all genres.

And on top of all that, she manages to somehow also be a red carpet fashion titan. Here's some of her best looks:

Need I say more? 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Claire Underwood on "House of Cards": Antihero, Villain or...Role Model?

Before you begin reading, know that I am not going to interrupt your House of Cards season 2 Netflix binge watch by spoiling any plot details in this post. So you can put your pitchforks down and throw up the peace sign. But I do want to talk about some some of the characterization on the show, specifically regarding the show's lead female Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Earlier today I was having a passionate debate on Twitter about a recent Jezebel piece which suggested that she is "a Feminist Warrior Antihero." As it turns out, many feel like Claire is actually a villain, not an antihero. 

This is actually a discussion I've been meaning to write about on this blog for a while--antiheroes versus villains. I knew it would be a fascinating conversation since we all have their own interpretations on both terms. For those of you unfamiliar with House of Cards, Claire is the wife of politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey). While last season we saw a more subdued portrayal, a woman who was willing to do whatever it takes to get where she wanted to be, I think this season we see her work more aggressively so both she and Frank can get where they need to be. Her storyline was marginalized last season (it was good but didn't seem to flow as perfectly into the main theme), where I think this time around she is far more essential to not only the show but also Frank. I'd even go as far to say that this season without Claire, Frank is nothing.

That said, Claire must match Frank's ruthlessness and ambition toe to toe. Which means she comes off as a bitch, mostly because she's a woman and that's usually the default term to use for such "ruthless and ambitious" women. But to me she just seems, well, determined and...kind of my spirit animal (in my head, like when I'm dreaming)? She is more identifiable than not, and I think that while she is brash and doesn't wasn't time sugarcoating the inevitable she's also a bit of a hero. Some may even call her a role model (this part may be pushing it, but I'm sure I could find someone who's dying to create a line of Claire barbie dolls for little girls). 

My point is, Claire seems more like an antihero than a villain to me. While she is unethical at times, without a doubt an homage to the realities of inside political culture, she is within bounds and has compassion for others and honor for herself. Even those she is competing with (which is pretty much everyone), she demands they bring their A game to the table and give her a real challenge. There is no half-stepping or second guessing when it comes to Claire. She goes hard or not at all. 

She's not a likable character, which is to say she's not someone I would probably invite to my next movie night at home. But she's definitely someone I would want in my rolodex, someone who could give me free life coach sessions. Because whether you think of her as a hero, villain or antihero Claire is winning

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chiwetel Ejiofor Finally Gets Some Love from the BAFTAs (Cate Blanchett and 12 YEARS A SLAVE are Other Major Winners)

I actually completely forgot the BAFTAs winners were being announced today, but I got a hard reminder once I noticed how my twitter feed was once again dominated by the collective fury of 12 Years a Slave fans who believe it was "robbed" of (bread? water?) another award. But, to be clear, the epic drama did end up taking home two major awards--one for lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and another for best picture (for which said fans recanted their aforementioned acrimony). However, Lupita Nyong'o lost out to Jennifer Lawrence (again)--for her performance as a pointless caricature in American Hustle, which is the real tragedy. Not even Brit Sally Hawkins could win a British film award over JLaw? *insert manic Amy Adams in American Hustle laugh here*
Don't get my wrong. As I've written several times on this blog, I think there are many thing to appreciate about 12 Years a Slave--the most important, of course, being that we all now know who fashion icon Oscar nominee Nyongo'o is. I am just not as passionate about the film as everyone else seems to be. But I can certainly join in the outrage that it is at all, on any level, inferior to American Hustle (which, despite having an utterly vacant screenplay, keeps winning these dang best screenplay awards--go figure). 
Anyway, not like anyone seems to care about the other winners (though I'm thrilled for Cate Blanchett, Barkhad Abdi and Gravity), but check out the full list below: 



Alfonso Cuarón - GRAVITY


Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 YEARS A SLAVE


Cate Blanchett - BLUE JASMINE




Jennifer Lawrence - AMERICAN HUSTLE




Kieran Evans (Director/Writer) KELLY + VICTOR


THE GREAT BEAUTY - Paolo Sorrentino, Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima


THE ACT OF KILLING - Joshua Oppenheimer


FROZEN - Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee


AMERICAN HUSTLE - Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell


PHILOMENA - Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope


GRAVITY - Steven Price


GRAVITY - Emmanuel Lubezki


RUSH - Dan Hanley, Mike Hill


THE GREAT GATSBY - Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn


THE GREAT GATSBY - Catherine Martin


AMERICAN HUSTLE - Evelyne Noraz, Lori McCoy-Bell


GRAVITY - Glenn Freemantle, Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Chris Munro


GRAVITY - Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Nikki Penny






Will Poulter


Awarded to Peter Greenaway

BAFTA Fellowship

Helen Mirren

Tiffany Boone is the Perfect Mix of Innocence and Immorality on "The Following"

A few weeks ago I was watching the absolutely INSANE TV series, The Following (if you don't know, it's a show about a cult of serial killers and the unfortunate souls they happily exterminate), when the sweet-faced Tiffany Boone popped up on the screen looking as bewildered as ever, until she bludgeoned True Blood star Carrie Preston to death. It's the kind of thing you've come to expect from the show that seems to get off on random acts of crazy at any given moment. Sure, it's ridiculous at times. But it's ridiculously irresistible.

Boone, who before last month was a completely fresh face to me (apparently she was on two episodes of Southland that I've seen, but don't remember her in), plays Mandy Lang, one of the newer members of Joe Carroll's (James Purefoy) vicious cult. Her naturally cherubic expression lends to the show's eerie tone that perpetuates the idea of duplicity in a person, the propensity to know what is right and to deliberately do the opposite. Mandy is young, obedient, deceptively sweet but, like Joe's other followers, completely under his spell. But what I like most about Boone's casting is that as an actress of color she gets to play a complex character that is no one's sidekick, best friend or moral compass. She commands the screen as a character whose storyline is not governed by any specific race or look (something that is fortunately becoming more of a standard on the small screen). Mandy is strictly governed by her devotion to Joe's method: organized murder, often in broad daylight, that constantly makes law enforcement look like its run by Quick Draw McGraw and Yosemite Sam (one of which is played by the show's star, Kevin Bacon).

In fact, Joe is like Mandy's god and she is his number one believer, eager to make him proud by borrowing his powers of manipulation on her own prey. It's a creepy relationship, deepened by its elements of faith and fatherhood, that allows Boone to explore the levels of human control and moral decay. It's the type of role actresses kill for. Here are a few gifs to get you more acquainted with TV's breakthrough villain:

The Following airs Monday nights at 9pm on FOX. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Flirting with Rebellion in the Fearless Coming of Age Drama, WADJDA

An 11-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia, wearing sneakers and a T-shirt with the words "I'm a Catch!" printed on it in large font, is helping her mother in the kitchen when she plainly declares that she wants a bike. It is this scene that beautifully encapsulates what is so refreshingly defiant about the Independent Spirit and BAFTA award-nominated drama, WADJDA.

Writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour (the first ever Saudi Arabian female filmmaker) tells the oft-untold story of what it means to be a woman in the conservative Saudi capital of Riyadh, through the eyes of a young girl (Waad Mohammed) who's determined to challenge it at every turn. While her mother (Reem Abdullah) spends her days doing household chores and desperate to convince her husband not to take on a second wife, Wadjda has her heart set on a shiny new bicycle that will finally allow her the freedom to race her best friend, a boy named Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). It is that fearless rebellion that sets Wadjda apart from her peers, those who can impressively recite the Qur'an with no hesitation and never neglect to wear their veils like she often does. Wadjda is the ultimate revolutionary, even if she's not really trying to be.

In fact, much of WADJDA is told in a poignant series of contrasting elements. As it unfolds a rich coming of age story of a young girl, it parallels the point of view of her mother--a woman grappling with her own fidelity to both her religion and her marriage. While she struggles to hold on to her nuptials and be the perfect wife, she realizes with reluctance that this is all for not. So she attempts to apply for a job in town, but later decides against betraying her culture and womanhood. Meanwhile, all Wadjda wants is a bike, even if it means participating in a contest in which she's not invested--a Qur'an recital competition--and winning the money on her own. These deliberate yet frustratingly halfhearted endeavors further capture the complexities within the society--and the dual nature of balancing inclination and obligation among women.

By highlighting these sociopolitical trials through the point of view of a young girl who chooses to contend with them in her own search for identity, Al-Mansour romanticizes the idea of innovation in that it is sparked by an innocent. It is symbolic revolution at its best (a singular request for a bike) that caters to the notion that anyone--big, small, man, woman or child--can make a difference, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Wadjda's tenacity not only compels her to blaze her own trail, but it also inspires her own mother to take the leap she'd been fighting against all these years--spiritual, emotional and social independence. That is the very thing that stirs each of us as individuals.

A moving film that is punctuated by two heartening debut performances WADJDA never stops to second guess itself in its intent or declaration. Al-Mansour's assured style and intrepid pursuit of personal truth catapults her to the top of the list of filmmakers to watch.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

Friday, February 14, 2014

12 YEARS A SLAVE is the Record-Breaking Winner of 8 Black Reel Awards

The accolades for 12 Years a Slave continue to pour in as we get closer to the final showdown at the Oscars next month. The latest praise comes from the 14th annual Black Reel Awards, which honors the best and brightest talent of color, for which the epic drama earned a staggering 8 awards--breaking the 2010 record previously set by Precious.

“The fact that in one of the strongest years for Black film in recent memory, one film was able to be so dominant is a testament to the vision of Steve McQueen, the screenplay by John Ridley and the fantastic performances of the trio of actors led by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o,” said Black Reel Awards creator and Executive Director, Tim Gordon. “This will be a year no one forgets.”
Other winners include Danai Gurira, for her beautiful performance in Mother of George, Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips and the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. Check out the full list below:

Outstanding Motion Picture
12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Actress
Danai Gurira | Mother of George

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi | Captain Phillips

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Director
Steve McQueen | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Screenplay
John Ridley | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Documentary
20 Feet From Stardom | Morgan Neville

Outstanding Ensemble
12 Years a Slave | Francine Maiser

Outstanding Foreign Film
War Witch | Canada

Outstanding Score
Hans Zimmer | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Original Song
“Desperation” by Judith Hill | 20 Feet From Stardom

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Barkhad Abdi | Captain Phillips

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Lupita Nyong’o | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Voice Performance
Samuel L. Jackson | Turbo

Outstanding Independent Feature
Blue Caprice | Alexandre Moors

Outstanding Independent Documentary
The New Black | Yoruba Richen

Outstanding Independent Short
Black Girl in Paris | Kiandra Parks

Outstanding Television Documentary
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley | Whoopi Goldberg

Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Outstanding TV Movie Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor | Dancing on Edge

Outstanding TV Movie Actress
Anika Noni Rose | The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Outstanding Supporting Actor, TV Movie
Omari Hardwick | Being Mary Jane

Outstanding Supporting Actress, TV Movie
Octavia Spencer | Call Me Crazy: A Five Film

Outstanding Director, TV Movie
Spike Lee | Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Outstanding Screenplay, TV Movie
Mara Brock Akil | Being Mary Jane

Thursday, February 13, 2014

First Look at the Coming-of-Age Drama, BLACKBIRD, Starring Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington

Funnily enough, I was just having a conversation about Mo'Nique and her near disappearance from the spotlight, when I received an email about her latest film BLACKBIRD. Co-starring Isaiah Washington (who's on a role since his comeback performance in last year's Blue Caprice), the Oscar winner plays the churchgoing mother of 17-year old Randy (newcomer Julian Walker) who's coming to age grappling with his sexuality. Washington plays his estranged father in the film.

Here's a full synopsis on the film:

Based on the novel by Larry Duplechan, this film is a powerful coming-of-age story about 17-year-old Randy Rousseau. A devout high school choir boy, Randy is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in a small, religiously-conservative Mississippi town he calls home. Randy juggles his role as star of the church choir while facing the everyday trials of life as a high school misfit. Complicating matters, his little sister has gone missing and his parents have subsequently split up, leaving him to care for his heartbroken mother, Claire. When Claire discovers the shocking secret her son has been hiding, she blames him for the disappearance of his sister. Randy's father, Lance, who has been keeping a watchful eye on his broken family, steps in to give his son a hand as he struggles to make the difficult transition into manhood. The cast includes Oscar-winner Mo’Nique (“Precious”) and veteran actor Isaiah Washington, fresh off his critically-acclaimed and Gotham Award-nominated performance in “Blue Caprice.” “Blackbird” is Mo’Nique’s return to the screen since grabbing the Oscar for her supporting role for Precious in 2009.

The critical success of Pariah has hopefully blown open the doors on similar themes, including those from a male perspective. BLACKBIRD is directed and co-written by Patrik-Ian Polk, and is set to debut at the Pan African Film Festival this weekend.

Watch the new trailer:

Check Out the Haunting New Horror Film From the Producer of 'Paranormal Activity' and 'Insidious'

Ever since she stood up to Vin Diesel and Jordi Mollà in last year's Riddick (which was awful, but she was a badass), Katee Sackhoff has been on my radar as one to watch. Though the actress has been working steadily since 1998, and had memorable stints on both Nip/Tuck and 24, she has yet to really capture the attention of a wide audience. Which usually means, in the case of actresses, that the next route to take is to star in a horror film--one of the few genres that can draw a large crowd no matter how bad it is.

OCULUS, which is in theaters April 11th, doesn't seem to reinvent the wheel, but I am hoping that it at least approaches a familiar premise in a fresh way. More on the film below:

Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russell family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim and Kaylie forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents.  Now in his 20s, Tim is newly released from protective custody and only wants to move on with his life; but Kaylie, still haunted by that fateful night, is convinced her parents’ deaths were caused by something else altogether:  a malevolent supernatural force¬¬ unleashed through the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror in their childhood home.  Determined to prove Tim’s innocence, Kaylie tracks down the mirror, only to learn similar deaths have befallen previous owners over the past century.  With the mysterious entity now back in their hands, Tim and Kaylie soon find their hold on reality shattered by terrifying hallucinations, and realize, too late, that their childhood nightmare is beginning again...

I'm not sure which character Sackhoff plays (and she doesn't appear in the teaser clip below), but the two lead roles (Tim and Kaylie) are played by Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan. Aside from Sackhoff, the other draw for me is producer Jason Blum, who I think has really taken the genre by storm with Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, and several other breakouts). So I'm hoping he's got another hit on his hands with this one.

Check out the teaser trailer:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Watch Paul Walker, David Belle and RZA in the Explosive First Trailer for BRICK MANSIONS

A few days ago I posted a preview image of Paul Walker and RZA from the new film, BRICK MANSIONS. And today, as we finally get a full look at the trailer (featured above), we can see just how wild the action is. It opens with a drop kick and never slows down (there's actually quite a bit of martial arts influence shown here). But does anyone else get a Fast & Furious vibe from it? Seeing Walker, as an undercover cop, chasing down bad guys in a car certainly brings back fond memories. Regardless of whether or not the film is good, I'm sure folks will come out in droves to watch this swan song performance from Walker. 

Here's the synopsis again:

In a dystopian Detroit, abandoned brick mansions left from better times now house only the most dangerous criminals. Unable to control the crime, the police constructed a colossal containment wall around this area to protect the rest of the city. For undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker) every day is a battle against corruption. For Lino (David Belle), every day is a fight to live an honest life. Their paths never should have crossed, but when drug kingpin, Tremaine (RZA) kidnaps Lino’s girlfriend, Damien reluctantly accepts the help of the fearless ex-convict, and together they must stop a sinister plot to devastate the entire city. With stylized action featuring thrilling Parkour stunts (David Belle is the co-founder of this physical training discipline), Brick Mansions puts an entertaining twist on the action genre.

For those of you asking (because I was wondering the same thing) who David Belle is, I've learned he's a French actor mostly known for similar crime/action films abroad and last fall's The Family with Robert De Niro (which was co-written and directed by Luc Besson, who also co-wrote the French film District B13 off which BRICK MANSIONS is based).

Yesterday I previewed the first poster from the film on Twitter. In case you missed it, here it is:

BRICK MANSIONS opens in theaters nationwide on April 25th. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

10 New Images from NON-STOP, Starring Liam Neeson

If you're like me and have been trying to spot Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o in the countless commercials for the Liam Neeson actioner, NON-STOP, you can now rest assured. I've found her--in one of the images just released by Universal Pictures.

The movie, which is being described as a "nail-biter," reunites Neeson with his Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra. Neeson plays U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks, who receives a series of mysterious text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account. More in the official synopsis below:

Global action star Liam Neeson stars in Non-Stop, a suspense thriller played out at 40,000 feet in the air. During a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) receives a series of cryptic text messages demanding that he instruct the airline to transfer $150 million into an off-shore account. Until he secures the money, a passenger on his flight will be killed every 20 minutes. The film reunites Neeson with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver, and co-stars Golden Globe Award winner Julianne Moore.

Yeah, not totally original but it's got a great cast (which also includes Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Scott McNairy and Michelle Dockery) so it may at least be a gripping thriller. Here are a few other images from the film:

NON-STOP is in theaters February 28th.

Oscars: The Battle of Best Song Really Comes Down to Two Catchy Power Ballads (And I Choose "Happy")

Today I heard the news that Idina Menzel will be performing "Let it Go"(from Frozen) at next month's live Oscar ceremony, and all I could think of was a potential sing-off opportunity, diva-style between the Broadway badass and Grammy winner Pharrell Williams, whose song "Happy" from Despicable Me 2 is also nominated. I hope the Oscar gods are already working on this on stage collaboration between the two. Wishful thinking, I know. But how cool would it be if Menzel started belting out Let it go, let it go!/Can't hold it back any more and Williams cut in with Because I'm happy/Clap along if you know what happiness is to you? If you think about it, both songs really are almost like two halves of a whole--they're both emotionally-charged ballads that will inspire drunken karaoke nights for years to come. We as a strung out audience, subjected to more than 3 hours of self-congratulating at an awards ceremony, deserve this mash-up.

But let's be real, if I had a ballot, I'd without pause choose Williams's tune, simply because it does what it promises--makes me uncontrollably, giddily ecstatic. It makes me want to clap, and dance and, most of all, smile. And it's so catchy! When was the last time we've had a nominated song that was so popular that it even stood apart from the movie? People who haven't even seen Despicable Me 2, know and love "Happy." That's part of the charm of both Pharrell and the song itself. It's inclusive and hugely universal, catering to anyone no matter what mood they're in. While at the same time, it is extremely meaningful and passionate--despite its upbeat dance rhythm.

On the other hand, "Let It Go," which has become the odds-on favorite if you listen to the Internet thunder, is a bit more heavy in its delivery, an empowering anthem designed for a chorus (or a crowd of impressionable young girls). But I've really got to be in the mood to listen to it. Unlike seemingly the rest of the world, I wasn't in love with Frozen (you can revisit my review here), though I appreciated some parts of it (the incredible singing, for starters). But I think that overwhelming praise the film is getting is spilling over to this song. So folks seem to have tunnel vision when it comes to their favorites (which can also be said about why some choose Frozen over its more deserving fellow best animated film nominee, The Wind Rises). 

Anyway, I'm going to go chant the lyrics to "Happy" over and over in my head while I wait until a "Happy"/"Let It Go" mash-up magically appears on the web. Until then, you know where to find me. 

Scarlett Johansson Is An Alien Seductress in the Provocative First Trailer for UNDER THE SKIN

I really don't know what to make of this, but I am kinda in love with it. Yesterday I previewed Scarlett Johansson's latest starring role in director Jonathan Glazer's "mind-bending" new film UNDER THE SKIN. And today I've got the first trailer for you as promised. Check it out above. 

We get a bit more insight into the plot, which you can read here in my first post about it. It actually reminds me a bit like Species, in that the lead female character (of alien form) seduces the male species as she conforms to her new habitat. But UNDER THE SKIN looks a lot darker. I hope it's as great as I heard (it actually premiered at Telluride Film Festival last year to rave reviews).

Release dates: April 4 in NY & LA, everywhere April 11

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