Category Archives: 2007

American Gangster (2007)

 The man I worked for had one of the biggest companies in New York City. He didn’t own his own company. White man owned it, so they owned him. Nobody owns me, though.

– Frank Lucas

I have previously watched American Gangster when an aunt loaned me the DVD of the movie. I watched a third of the movie when I stopped, because it was too long for me to pay any attention to it. I knew that the movie was nominated for two Oscars including a Best Supporting Actress nom for Ruby Dee for her five-minute role and for Best Art Direction. Watching the movie against almost made root for the bad guy… almost.

Harlem 1968. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) mourns the death of Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III) who was a surrogate father to him. Bumpy was Frank’s teacher for dealing with the gangster life, especially for a black man in those times. Frank wants to take over in Bumpy’s place, but do things a little better. He wants to get the best product, which was cocaine to give to the people of Harlem. He wants to show his dominance with the other gangsters of the neighborhood like Tango (Idris Elba) who treats Frank like a servant and Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who is all talk and no bit.

At the same time, an undercover cop, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) tries to be on the straight and narrow in a sea of corruption in the police department. Richie’s partner, Javier Rivera (John Ortiz) discovered a car that had almost a million dollars in it. John wants to keep some of the money, but Richie wants to do the right thing and turn them all in. he Richie is not the most popular cop in the precinct. He is going to night school to get his law degree and having to pay child support to his ex-wife, Laurie (Carla Cugino).

There is a crooked cop, Detective Trupo (Josh Brolin) who confiscated drugs from busts, water them down and sell them back to the bad guys for a profit. He wants to get some hush-hush money from Frank, but Frank doesn’t want to be another police lackey.

Opium and heroin are on the rise during this time and about goes to Bangkok to get the purest heroin that he could find. He finds it and sells it on the street as “Blue Magic” for dirt cheap. With the money from selling the 100 kilos of heroin, he buys a home for his Mama (Ruby Dee) and the rest of his family. Frank decides to expand his business and include his brothers in the process.

Meanwhile, Richie is hand selected to lead a special group of DEA agents to help bring down the drug trafficking ring. their first target is Frank Lucas.

The movie came with the theatrical version and the unrated version. I wanted to see the theatrical version, because it was short. The movie is 2:45 at least. That is a lot of movie about a bad guy selling drugs to his own people. The unrated version would make it three hours. No thanks. I was able to take the movie. there were some good moments in the movie that was bogged down by filler scene that I could do without.

Judgment: It’s interesting to see a movie about a black gangster, but I wish that it was a tighter story.

Rating: 7/10

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

After hearing of director Sidney Lumet’s passing, I wanted to see more of his movies. I saw Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead on the self and I picked it up. I knew very little about the movie except a couple of key plots points. I don’t know if I don’t get it or the movie was not very good.

Nanette (Rosemary Harris) is opening up Hanson Jewelry Store when a robber comes in pulls out a gun and demands her to put the jewels and cash into a pillow case. The robber orders Nanette to stand at one corner of the store where he is trying to get to the last display, but it’s locked. As he struggles to unlock it, Nanette pulls out a gun and shoots the robber. He retaliates. She shoots him again, killing him.

The getaway driver, Hank (Ethan Hawke) speeds away from the scene. What you need to realize is that Hank was a part of robbing his parents store. He does not do this alone. His older brother, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the mastermind behind it all.

The movie is a giant jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together to figure out why the circumstances happened the way that they did.

The genesis behind the plan to get quick money. Andy  is embezzling money from his real estate company. He has problems performing with his wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei) and he has a meeting with his coke dealer, Justin (Blaine Horton) at his apartment.

Hank is the dumb brother to Andy’s genius. Hank is having difficulty paying his rent, behind on child support to his daughter with his ex, Martha (Amy Ryan), because he has to pay for a private school education for his daughter. Hank is also having an affair with Gina under Andy’s nose.

Andy comes up with the idea to rob their parent’s store so it would be a way to get money without anyone getting hurt. They know the safe combinations, the keys to the displays, the code to the alarm system and everything.

But the initial plan begins to change when Andy says that he will not be a part of the robbery and that Hanks has to do it alone. Andy doesn’t want that to happen. He enlists the help of Bobby Lasorda (Brían F. O’Byrne) to pull off the robbery. That’s when the perfect victimless crime goes wrong.

The movie goes forward and backwards, jumping from different perspectives of the main characters. At times, I got really bored. Do I need to see this scene again for one brother’s POV and the other’s POV. It was draining. I could not follow what was happening. I had a lot of questions than answers by the end of the movie. Was Andy gay? What happened to Hank and Gina? How did Andy and his father, Charles (Albert Finney) know the same bookie?

Judgment: It was not a pleasant watch for me.

Rating: 5/10

Talk to Me (2007)

 I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold. I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old. I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’. This is Petey Greene’s Washington.

– Petey Greene

I did not mean for this to be a Kasi Lemmon’s double feature, but I was taken aback when I saw her name as the director of Talk to Me. I vaguely remember the movie when it was in theaters in 2007. It seemed like a nice enough movie, but I never got the nerve to watch until now. I’m glad I did.

An uptight radio program director, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his brother, Milo (Mike Epps) in prison. He comes out of obligation. They overhear an abrasive voice coming over the loudspeaker. It belongs to do Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, Jr. (Don Cheadle) who is broadcasting his show out of Warden Smithers (Peter MacNeill) office. Milo has been writing Dewey about Petey.

The station that Dewey works for, WOL is sagging listenership and is looking for a new deejay to replace Sunny Jim Kelsey (Vondie Curtis-Hall) in the morning shift. Dewey doesn’t like Petey’s delivery and tries to leave the prison. Dewey is cornered by Petey’s main squeeze, Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) to give him a chance when he gets out of the joint.

Dewey blindly agree to it. When Petey is released from prison and come barging through the doors asking for the job, Dewey acts stupid about it. After not getting the position, Petey decides to protest the station doors until he could get the position. Dewey asks the station owner, Mr. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) to give him an opportunity.

After a shaky start, Petey becomes a prominent voice of the black community during the civil rights movement in the late 60s. No other station was talking about black issues at the time. People needed to hear the stories that are happening in their community.

I was laughing my ass off with this movie. Don Cheadle has a delivery that make you believe that he is this character. I enjoyed the way that Petey told it like it is. He didn’t give a damn about who he offended. Some things needed to be said. I loved that. Chiwetel Ejiofor was great as Dewey. He even won the Indie Spirit Award for his performance. It was well-deserved.

Judgment: I love watching a story about a person that I never heard of and I would like to get the chance to know more.

Rating: 8/10

The Great Debaters (2007)

I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.

– Melvin B. Tolson

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters since it was in theaters at the end of 2007 when it nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Picture. I went to see it because it had the Oprah stamp of approval on it. It was there. I liked the movie, but then it waned when I heard if this movie was based on any semblance of truth.

Back in 1935, a small Marshall, Texas college named Wiley is home to one of the best debate teams in the state. They want to prove themselves that they could be the best debaters of the entire country. The outspoken Professor Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to ensemble the best team that he could find to carry out his goal.

Forty-five students auditioned for only four spots on the team. The lucky four are the core debaters; the troublemaker Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), the bookish Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) and the alternates, the fourteen year old prodigy, James Farmer Jr (Denzel Whitaker) and the first female on the team, transfer student, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett).

The chemistry between the team members is shaky at best when the shy James likes Samantha, but the alpha male, Henry swoops in to get her first. James, Sr. (Forest Whitaker) does not take to kindly of having a girl on the team to distract Junior from keeping his eyes on the prize.

There is something deeper with this story when James Jr follows Professor Tolson one night after a party to find him leading a sharecroppers meeting calling for a union. It is raided by the police and James swears to never speak a word to anyone about it.

The debate team first tries to challenge the top Negro colleges.  After a series of victories, it can open doors for debating the best White colleges going all the way to the grand daddy of them all, Harvard.

The reason that I have hesitation with this movie is because even though this movie is based on true events. Some of the people in the story were made up or an accumulation of several people. The only one that were real are the Farmers and Professor Tolson. The debate team did not challenge Harvard. They went against the University of Southern California and they could not be declared winners, because they were not considered in debate society at the time.

A movie about people debating is nice to see it snippets, but not a whole movie about it.

Judgment: I know that it’s supposed to be inspirational, but something was lost in translation for me.

Rating: 6/10

Black Book (2007)

Does it never end?

– Ellis de Vries

Cinebanter did a show on Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book back in 2007. I thought they were talking about the Brittany Murphy movie, Little Black Book. I didn’t know that much about the film except that it’s German, has Nazis in it. I thought it was that movie that set off the YouTube meme with Hitler reacting to dumb shit, but that was Downfall. I need to see it. Anyway, back to the movie, I really enjoyed the movie.

A young Jewish woman named Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten) is hiding out at a family barn in Nazi occupied Holland. A bomber blows up the home when she is swimming at a nearby lake. A young man, Rob (Michiel Huisman) helps her escape from the Germans to a hide out spot.

They think that they are safe when a dark figure tracks them down, Van Gein (Peter Blok) to warn them that the Gestapo will find them if they do not go into hiding. Rachel realizes that the man is part of the Dutch Resistance. They want to be a part of the resistance. Rachel needs money from her family’s attorney, W.B. Smaal (Dolf de Vries) to smuggle into liberated territory with her family.

When the family is reunited, there is an ambush by SS officers who kill every one aboard except Rachel would dives into the lake to safety. Bent on revenge, Rachel going by the name of Ellis de Vries joins the Dutch Resistance lead by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint) with his son, Tim (Ronald Armbrust), Hans (Thom Hoffman), Kees (Frank Lammers), Joop (Matthias Schoenaerts), Maarten (Xander Straat) and Theo (Johnny de Mol).

After months of working at the soup kitchen the Resistance is based in, she has the chance to infiltrate the Gestapo high command by posing as a former singer wanting to take a secretary job to Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). She has to seduce the secrets out of him. Soon, she realizes that the line between professional and personal blur as she has to make a choice of which side is she on.

This movie is based on true events. I don’t know how much of it actually happened, but it seems like the movie was trying to hard to be compelling with endless amounts of twists and turns. It was like the same way Crash did for me. It had to deal with people who you thought were good turn out to be bad and vice versa. The movie was over two and half hours long. It was too much for me.

I did enjoy the actors especially Carice van Houten as the heroine. She reminded of Christina Aguilera in her “Ain’t No Other Man” phase. It was nice to see Sebastian, Thom and Carice smolder on-screen.

Judgment: A woman scorned story that needed to trim the plot twist fat.

Rating: 7.5/10

Into the Wild (2007)

I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.

– Christopher McCandless

I was always wanted to see the #145 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Into the Wild where people in the movie blogger community was saying that this movie got shafted at the Oscars when it was only nominated in two categories for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Hal Holbrook. People were showering this movie with endless amounts of praise. When I saw the movie was on the shelf at my local library, I jumped at the chance to rent it. After watching the movie, I was thinking to myself what is the big deal.

Bad boy actor, Sean Penn wrote the screenplay and directed the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) based on the book by Jon Krakauer. McCandless came from a privileged life in the early 90s. He graduated from Emory University, but he feels that his parents, Billie and Walt (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) are living in a superficial world of wealth and affluence. Chris wanted to live in a world where money doesn’t matter.

He decides to sell his possessions, cut up his credit cards, cash out his life saving and abandon his car to hitchhike across the country to find his authentic self. He doesn’t tell his parents or his younger sister, Carine (Jena Malone) about his whereabouts.

The audience gets to see Chris having chance encounters with a hippie couple, Rainey and Jan (Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) in Arizona, working for a farmer, Wayne (Vince Vaughn) in Iowa, meeting  a  girly that crushes on him, Tracy (Kristin Stewart) and a broken war vet, Ron Franz (Holbrook).

I understand that this movie was supposed to talk about living an authentic life, finding yourself in the world and all that. The whole spiel about quoting Thoreau, having the holier-than-thou attitude about other people left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a sad story. If I don’t care about the lead character, why should I care about this movie?

Judgment: The movie was gorgeous to look at, but it felt empty to me.

Rating: 6/10

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.

– Jean-Dominique Bauby

I have wanted to watch Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for years, but I have not had the chance to watch until I saw it at the local library. The #220 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was so happy that I watched this film.

Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly recounts the harrowing story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was living the life when he is suddenly struck by a massive stroke. He wakes up after a three-week coma in a hospital in Bereck-sur-Mer. The audience could hear Jean-Do talking, but he does not realize that he cannot speak or move anything on his body, except his left eye.

Most of the movie is shown at Jean-Do’s perspective. Very first person. The audience could connect with the lead character this way and gets a taste of his new state of being. His personal doctor Lepage (Patrick Chesnais) discusses with him that he had a cerebrovascular episode that rendered him a vegetable except for blinking in his left eye, otherwise called “Locked-In Syndrome.”

The staff starts the rehabilitation program to help him regain some range of motion. You notice more and more that Jean-Do is always internally flirting with his female speech therapist, Henriette Roi (Marie-Josée Croze). He communicates with blinking once for “yes” and two for “no”, which progresses to Henriette teaching the alphabet in order of frequently used.

Jean-Do does not want to live with Locked-in Syndrome. He wants to die. He has momentary glimpses of his former life being the toast of the town, having a family with his companion, Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner) and being in love with his mistress, Inès (Agathe de La Fontaine). He recounts his many regrets and missed opportunities in his life. Jean-Do wants to tell his story. He decided to dictate his memoirs through Claude (Anne Consigny) one letter at a time.

I cannot imagine anybody except for an artist like Schnabel to make this movie happen. He paints a picture of sorrow, heartbreak, regret, but ultimately it is hopeful. No matters what life throws at you, you can overcome all obstacles. This speaks to the determination of Jean-Do, who did not want to exist, he wanted to leave his mark on life.

The cinematography transfixes the audience to the mindset of Jean-Do, to experience what he is experiencing. It was a great piece of cinema to gaze upon. You would think that hearing the alphabet being repeated a million times would annoy the hell out of you, but it didn’t.

Judgment: This is a perfect example of art imitating life.

Rating: 9/10

Boy A (2007)

Here is another film that popped up in my radar because of the hosts of Filmspotting enjoyed the lead performance in Boy A. I didn’t know that much about the movie from the start. I saw the trailer and a plot description; it had more intrigued to see the film. It was a television movie over in England before it was released theatrically here a year later.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell tells the story of a 24-year-old young man, Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield) is released from jail after a lengthy prison sentence. He wants to start his life over, because he doesn’t want to be that guy anymore. A rehabilitation worker, Terry (Peter Mullan) is assigned to Jack to help him integrate back into normal life in Manchester. Terry pretends to be Jack’s uncle to give Jack a place to live at a friends, Kelly’s (Siobhan Finneran) flat and helps him find work at DV Deliveries.

Jack has a police presence staked out in front of the house when he gets settled in. Alone in his room, Jack has flashbacks from when he was a kid (Alfie Owen) befriending a fellow troublemaker, Philip (Taylor Doherty) as they skip school, shoplift food and stand up to a couple of bullies. Philip confides in him about being raped by a family member. They become very couple when they make a grave mistake that affected their lives forever.

Jack is wondering about the circumstance of what happened to Philip when he was in jail. Did he commit suicide or was he killed by fellow inmates? He wants Terry to find out what exactly happen to him. Terry’s underachieving son, Zeb (James Young) appears on his doorstep because he has become homeless and has no place to go. He seems uninterested in having a life outside of the house.

Starting out on his new job, Jack becomes from friends with Chris Cowie (Shaun Evans) who is his delivery partner. Jack tries to become more accustomed to his new life that he is too shy to know that the company secretary, Michelle (Katie Lyons) is interested in him. On a night on the town with the boys from work, a different side of Jack comes out when Chris is getting hit from a group of guys and he steps in to save him.

Taking a drive back to the warehouse one day, Jack notices a broken stone wall. They go to investigate and find a car crashed against tree over an embankment. Jack saves a little girl. Afterwards, Jack and Chris are labeled heroes around Manchester. They feel pretty good about themselves, but Jack doesn’t want to have a picture taken. He tries to hide his face. When Jack’s face hits the newspapers his dark past he has been running from come back to haunt him and destroy everything that he ever worked for.

Granted that this movie was originality shown on broadcast television made me a little hesitant about the pacing, because it is a slow burn for most of it. It was like watching a rubber band being slowly stretched out. Nothing really happened until the last twenty minutes of the movie. I thought this was a fascinating exploration of redemption. Can you escape from your past? Will you ever forget what has been done?

Judgment: I would say, watch this movie, hang on to the end, and you will not regret it.

Rating: ****

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world… and then we fucked up the endgame.

– Charlie Wilson

When I was working out recently on the stationary bike, I heard on CNN that Charlie Wilson, the Congressman that almost single-handedly ended the conflict between Afghanistan and Russia died recently at the age of 77. I have never seen the big screen adaptation of this story, Charlie Wilson’s War until now. Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the FBI agent who was part of the trio that put an end to the Cold War. It is a fascinating bit of history trapped in an uninteresting narrative.

Based on the book by George Crile, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols transports us to the Cold War era circa 1980 where the Soviets invaded Afghanistan a year before. The unlikely hero of this story is a skirt-chasing, booze-swilling Texas Congressman Charles Wilson (Tom Hanks). He overhears the plight of the Afghani people during a wild house party seeing a news report by Dan Rather. The Afghanis feel that the Americans are not listening to their cries for the necessary weapons to defeat the Soviets.

Charlie wants to do something about the covert conflict without inciting World War III. He tries to raise funds for the conflict, but nobody could do anything. America has a wait-and-see approach to when the Soviets run out of supplies to finally do something.

By sheer happenstance, Charlie gets a call from a wealthy oil heiress who tries to do something thing with the conflict, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). She urges Charlie to go to Pakistan to see the Afghani refugee camps there after a roll in the hay for old time’s sake. Charlie books a trip to Pakistan with his trusty executive assistant, Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams) at his side.

Charlie meets the refugees that shared with him horror stories that the Soviets would do. Defectors would be run over by military tanks, children had limbs blown off from field bombs that looked like toys or the Soviets would slit the throats of children while the parents watched in horror.

Charlie wants to have the countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to supply enough weapons to stop the Soviet helicopters. He enlists the help of a CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to help put together a task force to get the necessary weapons for the Afghanis to combat the Soviets.

This was supposed to be a comedy of errors about the mostly unlikely of people that would be instrumental for the greatest covert operation in US History, but I was mostly uninterested with the path to end the Cold War. Having two hours of weapons jargon thrown at you would make you bored off your tits. What the fuck is going on? What the hell are you talking about? Why should I care about every minute detail?

Hoffman was very good as the nonsense CIA agent that is not afraid to tell somebody to fuck themselves. They were glorious moments. The rest of the movie I could have done without. This movie is tedious to watch. I didn’t care about this boozehound trying to be a hero or the Dallas reject with the “angular face”. The Sorkin dialogue was nice, but I thought it tried to be a comedy about dramatic events.

Judgment: I was largely disappointed with this film. I wish this movie was documentary instead.

Rating: **1/2

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

You know, you’re half smart, Ocean.

– Willy Bank

Soderbergh and company wanted to conclude the Ocean’s saga with Ocean’s Thirteen. This installment is a return of form with the gang returning to their roots in Las Vegas. I am glad that everyone returned to the slick caper story like the first movie.

During their absences between capers, the gang is reunited when Reuben suffers a cardiac infarction when a deal with an egomaniacal property owner, Willy Bank (Al Pacino) goes south. When one of the Twelve is wronged, a price needs to be paid. Danny pays Willy a visit when he was at the construction of his place, The Bank Casino.

The Bank Casino is an extravagant showplace with no expense spared with its marble floors and golden silverware. Willy wants to win another “Five Diamond” necklace for the best hotel in terms of customer service and overall cleanliness. Willy’s right-hand woman, Abigail (Ellen Barkin) is his eyes and ears to see if anybody would do anything during their soft opening.

Danny and Rusty seek the advice of Roman to find a way to seek revenge on Willy before the official opening of The Bank Casino on July 3rd. After some brainstorming, the team decides to destroy Willy from the inside out. First, they have to get inside of the building by bribing the lead concierge, Debbie (Olga Sosnovska), rig all of the games so the gamblers win, create a seismic event and distract a “Five Diamond” critic (David Paymer).

If they pull off this feat, they could get away with over $500 million dollars and at the same time bankrupt Willy Bank in the process. As their plan goes along, they realized that they bit off more than they can chew. Begrudgingly, they seek the help of Terry Benedict to help them carry out the mission.

First, what was up with Al Pacino’s skin? He was fluorescent orange. He was tanoxeric. It distracted me. I’m glad that they recaptured some of the magic from the first movie. I have a problem with some of the lighting. The shadowy scenes muddled everything. Nothing popped out of the screen. Soderbergh ended the series of a good note.

Judgment: If you want to see a return to form, watch this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: