Monthly Archives: April 2011

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

Easy A (2010)

The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.

— Olive Penderghast

Easy A is one of those that I wanted to see, but I was hesitant to watch. Maybe because that is could have sucked, just another chick flick or maybe the high praise for the movie would give me high expectations for it. A friend of mine wanted to watch the movie via Netflix Watch Instantly while I was over at her place. The movie was surprisingly good.

Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a typical high schooler. She doesn’t belong to a particular clique. She wants to find a date. She is interested in long-time friend, Todd (Penn Badgely) who is the school mascot, the Woodchuck, but she is too chicken to tell him how she feels.

Olives lies to her best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) about going on a “date” to get out of a dorky camping trip thrown by her parents, Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson) and Dill (Stanley Tucci)  to stay home alone. When Olive is grilled about the date until she lies to Rhiannon that lost her virginity to a college guy.

The news spread throughout the school like a virus when the ultra-conservative Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears what Olive said. The Christian group at school, which Marianne is the leader, want to help Olive and go to the English teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) to talk about the shame she should feel when they are discussing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

The kids at school suggest that she should wear an “A” on her chest, which she takes it as a challenge. Instead of being on the defensive about the rumor to stop it, Olive put more fuel on the fire. She changes her clothing and wears the A on her chest proudly.

A couple of the boys from school try to take advantages of Olive’s supposed reputation by paying her in gift cards to tell the school that they had slept with her. The fun and games are over when the accusations become out of Olive’s and could destroy other people’s lives.

The movie reminded me that I miss Dawson’s Creek. You have these kids that have this dialogue that no one would eve say, but it works in this movie. The dialogue is fucking hilarious. I wish that I could have been in that high school where everybody is cool and new age from the adults to the students to Olive’s adopted brother, Chip (Bryce Clyde Jenkins).

I really enjoyed this movie until the last act of the movie where it got into familiar territory that bugged me.

Judgment: This movie could be the next Clueless.

Rating: 8/10

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I have always wanted to see #31 Movie of All Time on IMDb, Sunset Blvd. The dialogue from the movie has been in the American lexicon ever since it premiered in 1950. It is the seminal movie that every gay man should see before they die. It has Gloria Swanson and fabulous Edith Head costumes. The movie won three Oscars including Best Original Screenplay. What more could you ever want? Apparently, this gay man needed a lot more from this movie.

 A screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is in dire straits when he cannot afford the lifestyle that he is accustomed to. He is three months behind in his rent and the repo men are knocking on his door to take his car away. desperate to find a way out of his situation, Joe goes to Paramount Studios to talk to Sheldrake (Fred Clark) about an idea that he wants greenlit.

A plucky upstart reader, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) takes that his idea “Bases Loaded” is not good. They want to change the idea to make it unique. Joe is in need of a job when he is dropped by his agent.

Driving down the boulevard in his car, Joe notices the repo men in the intersection. They give chase. During the pursuit, Joe blows out one of his back tires and he has to pull off the road. He finds the driveway to a delapdated mansion belonging to a has-been silent film star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). When Joe is ushered in by her butler, Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim), Norma thought that he was a funeral director to help her bury a pet chimp.

The eccentric Norma Desmond intrigues Joe. During their conversation, she catches wind that he is a screenwriter. She wants to hire him to transform her magnum opus into a screenplay. This is the opportunity that Joe needs to get away from his financial problems and possibly have a way to get back on his feet. He takes the job, but he realizes that Ms. Desmond is craving a lot more than limelight.

 I was fully expecting to love this movie from beginning to end, but I might have had high expectations for it. There is something about the movie that is uncomfortable to watch. It might be because it paints the dark side of Hollywood, the price of fame and any means to get it back. The obsession, the affluence, the sheer loneliness of being famous. Parts of movie had me bored out of my mind.

Looking at the extras on the DVD made me appreciate the film more when I got finished looking at the last frame. Gloria Swanson mirrored her life with the over-the-top, theatrical Norma Desmond. She was a forgotten silent film star that got her chance again. William Holden’s fame was all but extinguished when he was cast. He was washed up at that point. His last big hit was Golden Boy over a decade earlier. Erich von Stroheim directed Gloria is the maligned movie, Queen Kelly that ruined both of their careers. It was fascinating to watch art imitating life.

Judgment: Who knew that a movie about obsession, madness and fame would bore you.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right is one the of movies that I regretted not seeing last year. I was kicking myself because I wanted to see the movie from my Julianne Moore blog-a-thon for LAMB Acting School 101. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. After hearing the tremendous buzz around this film, I was a little disappointed with it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been in a committed relationship for over twenty years. Like with every relationship, they have hit a plateau. Nic is the sole breadwinner of the family working as a doctor, while Jules is starting up a landscape architect business.

Recently celebrating their daughter, Joni’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, their family dynamic changes when Joni and her half-brother, Laser (Josh) snoop around their moms personal belonging to find the identity of their birth father. The sperm bank calls sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) to ask him if her would like to see his kids. He agrees.

Paul initial meeting with the kids comes off awkward as Joni is more receptive to getting to know Paul and Laser is more guarded. Laser lets the secret meeting with his birth dad slip when his moms question his relationship with best friend, Clay (Eddie Hassell). Nic and Jules think that the kids should not meet Paul again until they have a chance to meet him.

When the family meets Paul, Nic is weary about him whiles Jules is open to getting to know him. When the conversation turns to Jules business, Paul wants to hire Jules as his landscape architect for his overgrown backyard. The relationships between everyone changes when an indiscretion threatens to tear the family apart.

I think that screenwriters Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg have created a fully realized family that you are not bothered that the family has two moms.  I did feel that some plot points were not explored enough with Laser’s friendship with Clay, Paul’s flirt-flirt with Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) or Joni with her friends, Jai (Kunal Sharma) and Sasha (Zosia Mamet).

A couple of things really bothered me with the movie was the grainy-ness of the film. I don’t know if that was Cholodenko’s intention for that to happen or it was the transfer to DVD. Also, the indiscretion felt familiar, because it was a plot point in Queer As Folk. It was like okay.

Judgment: It feels like an accessible movie that everyone could enjoy.

Rating: 7.5/10

Let Me In (2010)

 Do you think there’s such a thing as evil?

— Owen

I wanted to see Let Me In for a long time, because I gave high praise for the Swedish version, Let the Right One In. I h ave no idea what prevented me from seeing it, but my other sister-in-law rented the movie — she loves vampire movies — and I told her that I wanted to see the movie. After she was done with that, she lent it to me. This happened after midnight and a full moon rising before my SIL festival was supposed to start. That might be why I was disappointed with the movie.

 The setting transforms from the desolate of Sweden to the stark black, gold and white landscapes of Los Alamos, New Mexico 1983. We meet a lonely boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is constantly bullied by Kenny (Dylan Minnette) and his cronies, Mark (Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak) and Donald (Nicolai Dorian). Owen dreams of the day to get back on the assholes that torment him everyday.

One night while looks out of his bedroom window, Owen sees a little girl, Abby (Chloë Moretz) and her Father (Richard Jenkins) moving into the apartment next door. He notices that it is March and she doesn’t have any shoes on.

The audience sees that the new neighbors are not what they seem to be. The Father stalks in the night to kill virile young men and drain them of their blood. A Policeman (Elias Koteas) tries to figure out who is killing this men solely for their blood.

Owen and Abby meet each other on the jungle gym in the courtyard of their apartment building. They begin to build a friendship while Abby helps out Owen with his bully problem and Owen keeps Abby’s secret from others.

To those people who have seen the Swedish version — which I have subtitled and dubbed — I thought it was infinitely better this version. I did stay faithful to the original, but it lost the hidden mysteries that were in the original. The origin of Abby, the relationship between Abby and her Father, etc.

Some things were changed for better, but mostly for the worst. I know that the screenwriters wanted to get rid of the peripheral characters, but those characters made the world more dangerous. You did not delve into Owen’s broken home and his parents relationship. It was barely touched on. It could have been great with the Virginia (Sasha Barrese) character and her transformation.

I felt cheated with this movie. I have no qualms in saying that the movie was at times boring to watch. The leads were very morose and monotone that I prayed for the movie to be over.

Judgment: There were so many chances for the film to be as good as Let the Right One In, but it didn’t.

Rating: 6/10

Yesterday (2004)

Powerless to change the past . . . She lived to change the future.

To close out the SIL Festival, I wanted to watched the only movie in history to nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV Movie, Yesterday. I didn’t know that much about the movie. I heard a summary for the movie and I was intrigued to see it.

During blistering South African summer, a young Zulu woman named Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is walking two hours from her village of Roohiek to Kromdraai with her daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase) by her side.

She has had a serious cough for a while and she wanted it check out by the Doctor (Camilla Walker). Being the only doctor in miles, there is a long line to see the Doctor and she is eventually turned away. she had to wait a week to come back to the Doctor.

Yesterday waits toiling through farmland near her house until she nearly collapses. She goes back to the clinic a little earlier, but she is turned away again for being in the long line. Frustrated, she tries to satay strong for her daughter by fetching water from the communal water pump and wait for the day that her husband, John (Kenneth Khambula) to come back from a mining assignment in Johannesburg.

One day, Yesterday passes out in the doorway of her house and is take to a Sagoma to check out. A Sagoma is a kind of witch doctor. She tells Yesterday that she is holding on to some residual anger that is causing her systems. Yesterday doesn’t feel that she is angry at all.

A local Teacher (Harriet Lenabe) Yesterday has befriended gives her the money to take a taxi to the clinic so she would be the one of first in line. When she is finally examined by the Doctor, the Doctor wants to take her blood. On a follow-up visit, Yesterday receives the devastating news that she is HIV+. She has been faithful to her husband. How could she get the virus? It is now her mission to find her husband.

Being that this is the first Zulu full-length feature is  a pleasant surprise for me. I never thought that this woman who cannot read or write could be stricken with the virus that would eventually kill her. During the course of the movie, the movie becomes like The Scarlet Letter, but Yesterday wants to fight to survive. I applaud her for her courage.

Judgment: This is a great story that you wish that this disease would be gone from our lives.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)

The four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Of these, I call your attention to two: air and fire. Though it is your privilege to live in the air, you will die by fire.

— Major Sherman Joy

The Tuskegee Airmen was a made for television movie for HBO back in 1995. I never heard of the movie back then, but the film was nominated for many Emmy awards. I wanted to learn more about the historic 332nd fighter squadron when I traveled through Tuskegee, Alabama on the Greyhound.

In 1942, a young pilot trainee, Hannibal “Iowa” Lee Jr. (Laurence Fishburne) has been drafted into a special government program to let Negroes fly Army fighter planes for the US. He meets others on the train to Tuskegee, Alabama like the cocky Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and a licensed pilot Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne).

Upon arriving at the base, they are greeted by their commanding officer, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly), Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald) and their liaison officer (Courtney B. Vance).

They are in for a rude awakening when Major Joy thinks that Negroes are not capable enough to fly a fighter jet. He wants to make them fail by any means necessary. It seems to be what is going on as 1/3 of the cadets were gone when they were halfway through the training. One particular cadet’s death rattles the spirits of Leroy Cappy (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).

Not to be deterred from the ultimate goal of graduating, the cadets exceed all expectations to be the the very first Negro pilots to serve in World War II. Their time to celebrate may be short-lived as Senator Conyers (John Lithgow) wants tp dismantle the program, because of unfounded evidence to their ability ti fly the planes.

I am glad that I watched this movie. I learned a part of history that is not taught in schools. We hear the name “Tuskegee Airmen”, but we never get the chance to see what they have done, what they accomplish. I thought the performances were stupendous across the board. I have to give a special mention to Laurence Fishburne who was nominated for a Best Actor Emmy and Andre Braugher who was nominated for his convincing role of Benjamin O. Davis in the Supporting Actor Category.

Judgment: It takes you on the journey of these men without boring you with facts and figures.

Rating: 8/10

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009)

There is a strange back story with Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself. During a random blackout, my family wanted to intending to see this movie when we were waiting for the electricians to come. They came before we left. It was also the same day when Whitney Houston’s interview with Oprah was coming out and I missed it. I believe it was the universe’s way of telling me to avoid this movie.

If you are not familiar with a Madea movie, I’ll give you a crash course. Tyler Perry dresses up in drag to be the brash, pistol-packing grandma and he also plays her cantankerous brother, Joe. You’re caught up.

In the middle of the night, Madea wakes up to find somebody breaking into her home. She sees that it is three kids trying to take Joe’s first generation VCR. Upon getting caught, they drop the VCR and breaks it. Madea’s first instinct was not to brandish her gun, but to offer the kids something to eat.

Sixteen year old, Jennifer (Hop Olaide Wilson) is the girl with the smart mouth that rolls her eyes at everyone. She has to take care of her diabetic/asthmatic brother, Manny (Kwesi Boakye) and her mentally challenged brother, Byron (Fredrick Siglar) when their grandmother has gone missing for the past four days.

Their only family left is their alcoholic lounge singer aunt April (Taraji P. Henson) who is having an affair with a married man, Randy (Brian White), who doesn’t like kids even though he has four going on five on his own.

When Madea takes the kids over to her house, they figure out a way for the kids to pay for the broken window and VCR by doing chores at Madea’s house. April doesn’t want to take the kids in, because she doesn’t want the responsibility and her house is in shambles when her father left it to her.

She might have a leg up when a Colombian handyman, Sandino Ramirez (Adam Rodriguez) shows up at the doorstep to find a place to stay while fixing up the place. He was sent by Pastor Brian of  the Zion Liberty Baptist Church from down the street and Miss Wilma (Gladys Knight).

This hodgepodge of a household has to work together to get through one of the darkest moments of their lives.

Tyler Perry’s movies have always been criticized for being racist. I don’t think that they are racist. I think that they are terribly predictable. He always has the same type of character in different configurations. There is the heartless bastard (Randy), the scorned woman (April), the nice guy (Sandino), the smart-ass kid(s) (Jennifer) with the loud Madea bringing up the rear.

His movies always have that “Shug Avery” moment, that moment where the lead character figures out the wrongs in their life and be open to change. They try to sell you that church is the panacea. Go to church, all your problems will be solved. You will get the good man, house, kids and life. I don’t believe that.

I was very bored with this movie. I kept looking at the time. When is this movie going to be over? The only things good about this movie were seeing Gladys sing and a brief shot of Brian White’s ass. There were a couple of chuckles in it. That’s it.

Judgment: I’m done talking about this movie.

Rating: 4/10


The Boys of Baraka (2005)

I have never heard of The Boys of Baraka until I picked the DVD at my local library. I thought it was a film about the Mortal Kombat character. Nope. It’s something much different from that.

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady spent three years following the lives of at-risk youths from a Baltimore ghetto. The only options the young boys have are either jail, death or graduating from high school. In their neighborhood only 76% of boys drop out of school.

A recruiter from the Baraka School, Miss Jackson, tells the potential students about the school in Kenya, Africa that would change their attitudes about getting an education and change the course of their lives. Only twenty students will chosen to take part in the school program.

Out of the twenty students selected, the filmmakers follow four boys. There is Richard, the boy with the determination of not being like the drug dealers that hang around every corner in his neighborhood and his little brother, Romesh. There is Devon, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up. Last, there is the troublemaker, Montrey, who wants to a chemist when he grows up.

The trouble is that most of these boys are not the academic levels that they should be at twelve or thirteen. Miss Jackson conducts the summer orientation for the Baraka School before the boys leave for Africa in September.

When the boys arrive to the school, they are greeted by the headmaster, Ray Berttula who explains the rules of the school. They have to do their work and not be physically violent towards each other of they will sent back home.

The boys explore their new surroundings by taking hikes to local villages to see other kids, play in the streams and watch the native animals roam around. Their time there makes them homesick and some of the kids act out in frustration. Will the school actually changes these boys before it’s too late?

When I heard that the y filmmakers spent three years filming this movie, I had to ak myself, “Where is it?” It feels like a hollow documentary that barely scratched the surface of what these boys are going through.

Judgment: I felt that I was cheated out of 1 1/2 hours of my time.

Rating: 4.5/10

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

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