Saturday, August 25, 2007

WAR starring Jet Li and Jason Statham

Logline: An FBI Agent seeks vengeance on a mysterious assassin known as "Rogue" who murdered his partner.

Basically, War is nothing more than an extended 100 minute visual assault, without the Kung Fu/Wire work mastery we know Jet Li is famous for (and can ACTUALLY DO without the aid of wires).

The plot is very paper thin: Special Agent Jack Crawford (an oddly attractive yet aging gracefully Jaston Statham, the British Vin Diesel, only smarter with his film choices, a little more talented and is AWARE of what his fans want. Sorry Vin, we're still waiting for greatness--that you can ACTUALLY prove and not boast about) becomes obsessed with "Rogue", a mythical assassin that kills his partner and his family because of revenge.

Crawford goes on a three year mission to find Rogue and kill him for what he did to his partner Crawford looses his marriage, his family (Andrea Roth, fantastic and amazing on F/X's Rescue Me has NOTHING to do here..NOTHING!), and, in theory, his soul.

The movie focuses on his journey to find "Rogue" and all of the double-crossing and shenanigans that go on when "Rogue" (played gamely and surprisingly, with a touch of understatement by Jet Li) starts taking out members of the Yakuzas (Shiro Clan, led by rising star Kira-san (Devon Aoki), daughter of Shiro (Ryo Ishibashi).

You would think that a film like this would be RIPE with the kinds of shrewd and complex plotting, action theatrics, and turns and twists ala John Woo's Face/Off, or any film by any of the current, past, and even future Asian film directors (Tsui Hark, Kar Wai Wong, Taashi Miike {exploitative or not, he turns it OUT with the theatrics}, Chan-wook Park {Oldboy}, etc.). And, the film DOES have that potential.

But, it just falls apart quickly, because the film wasn't written well at all. Why are we supposed to care about Crawford? He willingly gave up his life and home to avenge his partner's murder? Okay, fine. But, Jack Crawford was written so one-dimensionally that it was hard to care.

And, the last minute twist at the end? SHAAADE. You mean to tell me with all of the mediocre action set pieces, the LACK of bullets and ku fung (the film should have had nonstop didn't), this is how you end it? Wow, thanks for insulting the audience's intelligence, Lion's Gate. THANKS.

Both Li and Statham are credible action stars that are credible ACTORS who can handle a well written and paced complex action/drama. War was NOT that film.

I think this pairing, if given a well written script, could work in future films. It just didn't work in this one.

Grade: Performances: C-/Action: C-/Writing: NE/Audiences being duped into making this one of the top films of the weekend(WATCH): NE Overall Grade: C-/NE

The Rating System

So if many you have noticed, I give letter grades for my reviews: A, A-, etc.

Besides the fact that it's just easier, it's actually a throwback to my time as an undergrad at Oberlin College. We had letter grades, but there were degrees of them.

So, we have the A grade: A+/A/A- Essentially, if a review has this, then you know it was very good or was very strong on the writing, performances, etc. I'm very particular, so a film would have to BRING IT on so many levels to get one of these grades. I don't give them out, but you'll see them here on occasion :)

B+/B/B- These are good films, decent acting, good writing, and the overall film was fine.

C+/C/C-: The film wasn't great, plot holes, spotty acting, just poorly executed in general. Now, before you say that only Hollywood films will get this rating (If you notice, there tends to be a more "indie" mindset here), i will give this rating to ANY film that is horrible.

NE: No Entry...:) basically, in undergrad, grades BELOW a C- were NOT counted nor acknowledged on official transcripts. No Entry means that your overall performance was lacking, beyond spotty, and just downright a mess.
For films, if a movie is SO shitty, so horribly acted, written, etc., you WILL see a No Entry.

So, there you go...not that any of you care..:)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

DVD Corner: Something New (2006)

Something New isn’t new at all. In fact, it follows the same tried and true formula for most romantic comedies.

What’s different is the fact that the lead characters are a White landscaper, and a Black accountant.

Directed by video director Sanaa Hamri, and written by Kriss Turner (Co-Executive Producer and Writer for some episodes on Everybody Hates Chris), the film is about Kenya Denise McQueen (Sanaa Lathan), a hard working career woman who is up for partner in her accounting firm.

She has it all: a great job, friends and family who love her, top-notch education (Stanford and Wharton), etc However, Kenya lacks the one thing she craves and doesn’t have: An equally successful Black man on her arm. It’s been two years since her last relationship (A man named Rashid Muhammad, who is basically referenced in a conversation over drinks at a bar, and a phone message at Kenya’s house), and Kenya is quite guarded and wary of love.

She is single, lives in Los Angeles and bought her first house. Kenya is a woman who wants a social life, but never has time to have one. But, she does have an endless (!!!) mental checklist of what she’s looking for when she meets Mr. Right.

After spending Valentine’s Day with her girlfriends Cheryl (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Nedra (Taraji P. Henson), and Suzette (Golden Brooks), Kenya agrees that she needs to “let go, let flow” and be more open to getting out there and dating.

Reluctantly, Kenya goes on a blind date courtesy of her coworker Leah (Katherine Towne), a soon to be married Jewish woman whose well-meaning, but meddlesome ways irk Kenya. Leah sets her up with Brian, who is clearly everything Kenya wants: tall, handsome, perfect, and an architect. So, Kenya agrees to meet him at a Starbucks in Crenshaw (!!!!) one day.

And, Kenya does meet Brian (Simon Baker-Denny)...a White (!!!!), landscape architect who happens to work for Leah’s family. Shocked and flustered, Kenya is NOT feeling Brian and cuts him off. But, she runs into him at Leah’s pre-wedding party. Not deterred by Kenya’s rudeness, he offers to help landscape her backyard. Grudgingly, she agrees.

Kenya’s coldness and reservations are eventually worn down by Brian’s charm and free-spiritedness and a romance develops.

Something New is “new”, because the story is told from the perspective of an intelligent and hard working Black woman. Clearly, this rarely happens in Hollywood since you can count the number of Black actresses who can carry a film on one hand.

Of course, you would expect this point of view since it was written, directed, and produced by Black women.
Kriss Turner’s script does discuss the kinds of pressures facing Black women when considering a partner, be he Black or otherwise. It is a romantic comedy, and it is light on the heavy subject matter. But, it is well written and works most of the film.

Unfortunately, the film falls flat in a few areas. Questions that came up while viewing this film in theaters and on DVD: Why would Brian be attracted to Kenya? Why would Kenya be so willing and so quick to fall in love with his man? Who is Brian?

Clearly, this is a movie and these questions may never be answered. But, after viewing this film on DVD, I was expecting a little more discussion around the issue of interracial relationships. The last film to go there was Zebrahead, a classic 1991 romantic drama starring N’bushe Wright (Where is she?), and Michael Rappaport as high school students who fall in love at a Detroit high school.

Though not as profound and thought provoking as Zebrahead, Something New is a light, superficial romantic comedy that does bring up some interesting questions about race, class, and dating. It just doesn’t go further when exploring these intriguing questions.

The DVD offers a couple of featurettes. The soundtrack, done by Prince collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (producers who have worked with Me’shell Ndegeocello, have composed for TV Shows Crossing Jordan and the upcoming Heroes: Origins episodes, etc.) is a powerful mix of hip hop, slow jams, and light yet complex small piano/string arrangements that add to the light, yet slightly complex mood of the film.

GRADE: B+ (for the performances)/B+(the writing)/B+(for the musical soundtrack and score)
Rating: PG-13

The Nines--Limited Release August 31st

Not much has been said about this film, which is a complete shame. Since I haven't seen it yet, I just want you to take a trip over to the films website. :)

It's written and directed by John August ( Screenwriter of the films Go and Big Fish), and stars Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity, Smoking Aces), Hope Davis (American Splendor, Proof, and recently on the canceled ABC show Six Degrees and February 08 release of Charlie Bartlett), Melissa McCarthy (Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls {*sigh* RIP}), and Elle Fanning (most recently in Babel, younger sister of Dakota Fanning, and an in demand actress in her own right).

The synopsis: A troubled actor, a television show runner, and an acclaimed videogame designer find their lives intertwining in mysterious and unsettling ways.

Hmm...I think I'll be in line when the film comes out next Friday.


The Nines Film Website

John August
Note: John's site is QUITE informative and a very useful resource for any aspiring or working screenwriter, especially his post regarding the subject of Race and Screenwriting

Check it out. This could either be a classic, or a very experimental blunder. But, with the talent behind and in front of the camera, I'm thinking the former.

See you in line 31 August 2007.

The Nines will be playing at oh-so trendy Landmark Sunshine Cinemas in the even more trendy Lower East Side (insert bountiful moments of sarcasm here! :))

Monday, August 20, 2007

Not A Film Post/Veronica Mars done good!!!!

But a very good detour...

120 Minutes

*Some of the videos that MTV played--when they played music. Artists as diverse as Liz Phair, Moby, Tori Amos, Orbit, Violent Femmes, etc. it's over 25 pages of videos and not all work, but TRUST ME, those of you who were "striking a beat to a different drummer" or just liked different kinds of music, will reminisce when you see these videos. And, they have "How Soon Is Now?" by The Smiths--I piddled!!!! ;)
*Courtesy of Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy (Thanks Whit!)

And, this IS a film blog, but there will be discussions around tv shows. You may see blogs about some of the more buzzed about tv shows: Bionic Woman, Gossip Girl, Pushing Dasies, Women's Murder Club, etc.

One of the BETTER shows to be on television, Veronica Mars was cut ridiculously SHORT. But it's star, Kristen Bell, is ON DEMAND. Being courted by several studios for film and tv work, she will be in a multiepisode arc on NBC'S HEROES. The Variety blurb about her:
Kristen Bell on HEROES:

DVD Corner: THE DESCENT (2006/2007)

A Repost from an older blog I had online.

The Brits Rule Horror: A Review of The Descent

So, let's face it. Horror films today are pathetic. They aren't very scary, nor do they elicit the kinds of shock and awe that sci-fi/fantasy/horror films of the 70's and 80's did (anyone here remember or even watched: Alien, Aliens, The Exorcist, the original Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, Hellraiser, The Entity, Halloween, etc.)

Horror films today are extremely violent, to the point of being cartoonish. Save for a few films like 28 Days Later (which was more sci-fi/thriller), and the Russian indie horror-thriller Night Watch that came out earlier this year, horror movies today aren't scary at all. They're quite boring.

So, you know I was quite skeptical when I heard about and saw early trailers for the British import, The Descent. I was a little intrigued: most of what I saw took place in darkness...all you see are lights flashing and girls screaming. But, it didn't really give much away. But, I was curious so I put it on a list of summer films to see. The cast was mostly British, and the brits seem to have a lock on doing a good horror film with suspense.

The Descent came out August 4th, and damn it, I was stunned! The film was QUITE GOOD! No, SERIOUSLY!!!

The basic plot: A group of female friends led by Juno (Natalie Mendoza) encounter bloodthirsty creatures when they get trapped in a mountain cave due to rockfall. Worst of all they their friendships sour and they discover their real fear is from each other... (from

That's it. But, The Descent was more than that. Suprisingly, it touched upon some very interesting dynamics in regard to gender, morality and even faith.

So, wasn't it totally cool that the ENTIRE cast was female??? I felt that was one of the more original things about the film. Rarely, do you have a horror film in which the main "beacons" of masculinity are conceptualized as women. What I mean is that in horror films, the guys are usually the ones who save the day or protect everyone. In The Descent, the women are fending for themselves and they are KICKING ASS.

Natalie Mendoza is a particular standout as Juno, a no-nonsense caver who is one of the first characters to fight when she battles one of the creatures over Holly's body, the first (and honestly, the MOST annoying character in the film and i was glad she went first) character to get offed by the cave creatures. It's rare that you would have a woman take on a role that we would normally see a man play and be so natural at it. It's even rarer still that you would have a woman of color (Mendoza is Filipina) in this role also.

Shauna McDonald, as the "heroine" Sarah, was also effective as a grief ridden widow who became a bad ass in her own right fighting to survive in the caves. McDonald played her role very well.

Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), My-Anna Burning (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly) were also very good.

Did anyone get that Rebecca and Sam were sisters???? I didn't..I totally thought they were a couple. But, I checked the film's website, and the synopsis said they were sisters. I REALLY couldn't tell when they were hugged up on each other as one the creatures crawled past them in the tunnel (UNNN HUNNNHHH...HOW YOU DOIN? :))

Wasn't it fucked up how Beth did Juno towards the end? Juno was wrong for fucking Sarah's husband, but did Beth have to wimp out and bust her that way? Did she do it because of how she felt Juno left her to die (which I didn't see as a bad thing: in the circumstances they were in, Juno probably felt she did what she could for Beth. But, Juno also could have dragged her to safety or took her life like Beth asked Sarah to do later.) That dynamic was played out in an interesting, albeit, irritating way.

The ending: What Thee Fuck??? I saw the British alternative ending and felt that it was FAR superior to what you will see in the theater. I felt the ambiguous questions that ending posed (Did Sarah get out alive? Is Juno really dead? Has Sarah gone crazy or is she actually "seeing" her daughter?) were actually good ones and I wish American audiences don't have to wait until the DVD comes out here in the states (it's already out in the UK and Europe)

The plot holes: Why were those creatures there? Were they an offshoot of man, who were developed enough to live underground and in the darkness? How do they breed? I wish these questions were addressed during the film. I think that it might have been interesting to reconfigure the fates of some of the characters. Like, what if the creatures took some of the women to be breeders? We only see one female creature in the film. How to these beings procreate? Or, do they? Where do they procreate? The "Pool of Blood"? The film could have gone MANY places with these questions. But, I guess Neil Marshall (A superb filmmaker who directed the VASTLY underrated and rarely seen werewolf film Dog Soldiers (2002)) did not have the budget or time to go there.

Overall, I give The Descent a grade of A/A-

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Welcome to FilmGeekChronicles!!

Okay, so this should have been the FIRST post of this blog. But, it's damn near 3am in the morning. Sue me.

This blog will be about all things film: indie, Hollywood, foreign, etc. I love film and I finally get a chance to wax poetic about some of my favorite films, directors, and review current films and comment about films in production, etc.

Of course, I will definitely bring a nice little 'ol intellectually sound perspective to the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and identity and how they are/are not accurately portrayed in films....

Eventually, when I can sum up enough courage, I will even post parts of scripts in progress of my own.

Who am I? Just an Ivy league educated, Black man whose vivid memories are as a six year old, sitting with my Dad, watching ALIEN on HBO, a couple years after it coming out and telling him "I wanna do that". Now, here I am, after several years of starts and aborts, I'm determined to do this and see where it takes me.

I hope you come along for the ride and enjoy what you read and learn along the way.



Rape is about power. It is about the domination of the physical body, mental state and emotional psyche.

“Descent”-starring Rosario Dawson as Maya, an intellectually gifted undergraduate honors student at a nondescript, academically rigorous small liberal arts school in the Northeast (insert Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Amherst, Oberlin or Haverford for emphasis) who barely survives a brutal sexual assault-makes this vividly obvious and clear, dramatizing the act with level of stark vividness I have never seen in any film, American or otherwise.

Maya is attacked by someone she knows. It is Jared: an All-American, former pianist turned second-string football player (Chad Faust). He flirts with Maya at a party one spring, clearly in awe of and taken by her mixed-race beauty and, after a couple of tries, eventually convinces her to go on a date that ends in a candlelit, makeshift love shack in the basement of his apartment building.

The ordeal is over in minutes. Maya never reports it. But, during the Summer (the film is broken into sections that follow the changing of the seasons) her rage over what happens grows, and is acknowledged and transformed into an act of extreme sexual violence in which Maya sinks to Jared’s level.

But, “Descent” is not just about power. Directed by Talia Lugacy, a first time filmmaker who met Dawson when both were students at The Lee Strasberg Institute, seems very committed to exploring the psychic violence associated with rape and how Maya attempts to rebuild her life and move on from it. But, Lugacy also explores how this rape destroys Maya’s perspective on race and sexuality and her own freedom, all of which is violated by Jared when he calls her vile and racist names (“baboon”, “bitch”, etc.)

This is where “Descent” becomes more than a rape-revenge fantasy. What Lugacy (and writing partner Brian Faust) have done is to place this film in the academic, yet very real space of the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and identity. Up until now, one can assume that the issue of race was something Maya never addressed in her life. This rape awakened (in a very brutal and difficult way) Maya’s consciousness as a woman of color—a woman who is both objectified and reviled because of the very potent and real space she lives in and navigates as a woman of mixed-race (presumably, the viewer assumes that Maya is Black and Latina, but even then, this treads into an area of unfair and equally as damning and problematic labeling that many individuals who are mixed-race face by those who are not willing nor able to understand how “fluid” racial identity can be and is in this society).

This new racial consciousness is symbolized by Maya’s visits to a dance club in the city and her relationship to Adrian (British musician turned actor Marcus Patrick), an Afro-Latino DJ she meets after a night of hard partying. Even though it is implied, this consciousness is seen when Maya finally finds the courage to dance among the writhing bodies on the dance floor, and starts to experiment with drugs all in an effort to reclaim what Jared stole from her.

But, this attack makes it clear that Maya will never be able to go through life being judged on her intelligence and character. Maya (like all men and women of color) will be judged on her racial and sexual identity as well her beauty. She figures this out by hanging with Adrian, an extremely physical and sexually potent man who gives her bits of advice and “street wisdom” while slowly introducing her to cocaine and other drugs. Adrian is a bit of an anomaly himself: while clearly positioning himself as “straight”, it is obvious that Adrian is, more or less, omni/pansexual. He is a fan of the ladies and men, as evidenced by an “all-American” White boy whose racial and sexual desire of Adrian is played up for humiliation and laughs when he makes the boy smoke a cigarette from between his toes. It is here that power comes into play for those who are “oppressed”; Maya becomes more assertive when playing out and playing up her racial and sexual identities for White people who are obsessed by her looks: two particular scenes speak to this when Maya forces a White girl to wear makeup, and when Maya blindfolds (flirting with aspects of bondage) the very boy Adrian humiliated in an early scene, conceptions of power and how it can be interchanged become an additional space in this movie.

It is here that “Descent” transcends the rap-revenge fantasy motif (done for laughs and exploitation in such films like Irreversible (2002), The Last House On The Left (1972), and I Spit On Your Grave/Day Of The Woman (1978), and countless other Hollywood films in which women are subjected to various forms of objectification and rape—both physical and emotional) and becomes more about the ways in which is both a very sobering and ripe metaphor for racial, sexual and cultural domination, and how the consequences and retribution for this is always inhumane and extremely callous.

Rather than go into Jared’s “karmic undoing” and ultimately telling the truth of who he truly is, Maya’s retribution makes the nine-minute anal rape of Alex (Monica Bellucci) in Irreversible seem like a soft-core joke, and the graphic rape and murder of the girls in The Last House On The Left seem like a bad comedy. The scene is graphic, disturbing, extreme, and infinitely expected. But, it leaves the viewer with the question: Was it worth it? Did Maya really get her “vengeance” and “freedom” from what Jared did to her? This is left up to the viewer when the camera holds on Maya’s face during the final minutes of the film, and she is crying, silently, and in theory, back in the same place she was at the beginning of the film.

This film could not have worked without the powerful and ridiculously engaging performances by Dawson, Chad Faust, and Marcus Patrick. To say that this is a career-making performance for these actors is tame. All three DESERVE the right to be considered and INCLUDED in all nominations for the upcoming awards season.

Rosario, finally able to show the dramatic chops she rarely gets a chance to show in past films (with The 25th Hour, He Got Game, and Kids being exceptions), truly gives a bare, revealing, and very profound performance as Maya. In Maya, Dawson gives the viewer an insight into the perspective a woman who has been violated by rape, and the difficult attempts she makes to overcome it and heal. I think Maya also speaks to the small numbers of men who are also victims of sexual violence and don’t have the voice to “speak” about their assault because of cultural and societal mores. Maya also embodies the countless students of color who attend colleges just like Maya’s: lily-White, “All-American” environments where those who are “different” or “other” are rendered invisible, or reduced to being nothing more than racial and sexual objects for consumption by White men (and women) who are both unknowingly and actively objectifying their peers who are of color.

Extremely hard to watch and difficult to see and take in, “Descent” is a film that is needed to not only start and expand the current dialogue on rape and sexual violence, but to also have a very honest discussion about power and how it influences the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and identity in very negative and frightening ways. Both realistic and theoretical, “Descent” takes you to an uncomfortable place. But, a place that is honest and raw and one that we all need to be in order to fully address and combat sexual violence against men and women in society.

DESCENT is rated NC-17 and is currently playing in a limited-engagement run at CC Village East Cinemas (181 2nd Avenue on 12th Street).

GRADE: A- (for the performances)/B+ (for the writing)