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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

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

Shadowboxer (2005)

Feeling protected is very seductive.

— Rose

After I saw the trailer for Helen Mirren’s upcoming flick, Red, I thought I was seeing the other movie that plays an assassin. Lee Daniel’s directorial début film, Shadowboxer has some controversy with a scene with Stephen Dorff going full frontal in the movie. Trust me, I saw the pictures and video. Excuse me for going off topic. I knew very little about this movie, except it was about assassins and that’s all I should have known about it.

Mirren plays an aging assassin, Rose that has terminal cancer. The type of cancer was not discussed.  Her companion, Mikey (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) tries to comfort her as she knows that her time is running out. She begins to talk about God, heaven and the afterlife when she receives her last mission from their wheelchair bound handler, Andrew (Tom Pasch). The mission is to take out the wife of a fellow hitman, Clayton (Stephen Dorff).

Clayton conveniently goes on a trip for the hit to happen. Rose and Mikey gain access to the house and take out the bodyguards that are protecting Clayton’s wife, Vicki (Vanessa Ferlito). In the back bedroom, Vicki is talking on the phone with her girlfriend, Neisha (Macy Gray) who tells her to be careful about the company she is keeping. She doesn’t like Clayton at all and not afraid to say it.

After getting off the phone, Vicki noticed that it is eerily quiet.  Rose stealthily comes into the room for the intention to kill her, but she realizes that Vicki is pregnant. She has a change of heart to not shoot this woman. The trauma of the ordeal causes Vicki to go into labor. Rose decides to deliver the baby with the reluctant help of Mikey who thinks that they should finish the job.

After delivering the baby, Rose decides to take the mother and child with them in hiding. Before they do so, she summons Dr. Don (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to come and look at the twosome. He brings along his crack addicted girlfriend, ironically named Precious, played by Mo’Nique, who is jealous of his strange relationship with Rose.

As Rose unofficially retires, she decides to take Vicki and the baby out of the city and into a suburban life, trying to be like a blended family. The strange turn of events does not sit too well with Mikey, being a father figure to a kid that they were hired to kill.

Being that this was Daniel’s first film, I could see that he tried too hard to make a good movie here. It tried to be grand with the musical choices of classical music going into rap music. There were scenes of saturated lights and falling leaves that came straight out of a feminine hygiene commercial. The tone seems off with an assassin story with a family drama and the “comic relief”, which was the lush Neisha. I did not like her in this role. Her voice drove me crazy. I have never been so happy to see a character die in all my life.

As I stated earlier, there is a lot of obvious symbolism here with the older woman, Rose is dying and she wanted to save a woman that is about to bring new life into the world, Vicki. It’s not very subtle. The abundance of crosses is not lost on me about life and death. How do we live our lives and how it all ends? Is there a Heaven or Hell? Will we be remembered after we are gone? Yeah, I get it.

It seems that the movie tried to be a different take on the typical assassin movie, but it ended up being horribly predictable at the end.

Judgment: Google the interesting scenes to save you from sitting through this movie.

Rating: **

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