Archive for "Alfre Woodard"

Movie Review: “12 Years a Slave”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm.

(Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/FOX Searchlight)

Summary: The true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped in 1841 and endured twelve years of slavery on plantations in New Orleans.

Review: 12 Years a Slave is the most difficult review I’ve written. I am still recovering from the two-hour and thirteen-minute epic — the brutality, gore and piercing screams are bouncing around in my mind a day later. The sobbing in the theater can only be compared to a funeral. 12 Years a Slave goes beyond film making — director Steve McQueen was a man possessed to tell the story of Solomon Northup. He held nothing back and every time you thought “It’s too much” you remember: This was a true story. No matter how extreme the violence, nothing could fully capture the ghastly horror of living as a slave. 12 Years is the closest we’ll get to slavery and I couldn’t handle being any closer. Welcome to American history…

The London-born director created a timeless film that will go down in history (or at least it should) as the seminal representation of the antebellum South. Based on the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave, the impeccable script was written by John Ridley, who wove together a complex tale of not only slavery, but the fearless fight for one’s soul. The film will sweep the Academy Awards and Golden Globes — and if the movie doesn’t due to those awkward Hollywood politics, it doesn’t matter. The Fox Searchlight film is more than potential awards and praise from the elite. 12 Years a Slave is a modern day masterpiece.

We begin with Solomon Northup as a free man in 1841 New York with his wife and two children. After being drugged and kidnapped, Northup is sold and “broken” into slavery — broken is an understatement.  Moved to several plantations, Northup never accepts the hopeless finality of being a slave. All he knew was freedom, he never knew slavery. McQueen drags viewers through the most gruesome and terrifying depiction of slavery Hollywood has ever seen. 12 Years makes Django and Amistad seem like Disney. Maybe it’s McQueen’s perspective… finally there is a Black director (with roots in the Caribbean) telling a story of the antebellum South — it’s about damn time.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup is the best performance by an actor that I have seen in my lifetime. Ejiofor went deeper than just acting; it was as if the spirit of Northup jumped into his bones. There was the deepest of sadness in his eyes as he breathed a unique life into slavery, which is too often deadpan, mocked or watered down on the big screen. Ejiofor brought the soul of slavery alive like no other actor before him. He gave a once in a lifetime performance that stands right next to Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field and Marlon Brando in The Godfather.

Another notable performance was from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who is originally from Kenya, as Patsey. She was terrorized with sexual and physical abuse by the master and head mistress, her character merging the grim reality of being not only Black — but a woman on a plantation. A 10-minute scene, shot with a single camera circling around her weak body tied to a whipping post is unbearable. Blood splashes from the whip with Nyong’o’s screaming in never-before-seen terror and pain. It was reported some audiences walked out of the film during this emotional moment, but this is the scene people need to see — the disgusting stain of barbaric racism is as American as apple pie.

Michael Fassbender as an insane plantation owner appeared to be in a manic trance. Viewers can expect nothing but excellence from the Golden Globe nominee, but the film is not the master’s story — thankfully, it is Solomon’s. Other notable appearances included Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Adepero Oduye and the always-flawless Alfre Woodard.

The visionary Steve McQueen clearly had a goal with 12 Years a Slave — to finally show the relentless, unforgiving reality of the antebellum South and immortalize the life of Solomon Northup. Equally grisly and beautiful, 12 Years a Slave is the reason why films are made. A movie you must-see, no matter how gory or violent — this is American history. Murder, rape, suicide, the auction block and the emptying of the human soul is how African-Americans lived for hundreds of years in the “land of the free.” McQueen strangles the psychosis of racism, forcing the viewer to witness ugliness with no filter nor escape. As brutal and heartbreaking as the film is to watch — can you imagine living it?

12 Years a Slave opens in select cities October 18.

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Top Five Black Holiday Movies

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:15 am.

Now that Halloween is gone, holiday movies are already on heavy rotation.  It’s easy to remember holiday classics like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol.  However, if you want to check out holiday movies with a lil’ color, this list is for you.

5. Last Holiday (2006)

There have been a string of Black holiday films (Perfect Holiday, This Christmas) in the past five years, but one could argue the success of Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday rejuvenated the trend.  The film is a remake from 1955 with Latifah playing a woman who finds out she only has weeks to live.  She spends her last holiday doing all the things she never had a chance to do.  Latifah’s presence carries the film and her co-star, LL Cool J, adds some flavor.

4.  A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)

A fun, light-hearted film — and any excuse to see Vanessa Williams on camera is a plus.  Before Williams was a diva on Desperate Wives she played Ebony Scrooge (Ebenezer Scrooge – get it?) in the 2000 VH1 production, A Diva’s Christmas Carol, a modern and divalicious remake of Charles DickensA Christmas CarolA Diva’s Christmas Carol is an amusing watch and includes appearances from Brian McKnight and Chilli of TLC.

3.  Holiday Heart (2000)

Ving Rhames in drag is more like a horror flick during Halloween; however,  for better or worse, Holiday Heart is a classic.  Rhames is a drag queen named Holiday who is a staunch Christian.  Wanda (Alfre Woodard) is trying to care for her daughter while battling drugs.  Rhames becomes a parental figure with the story’s climax hitting on Christmas Eve.

2. The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

The Preacher’s Wife would be Whitney Houston’s last big screen film appearance and probably her best acting to date.  The Preacher’s Wife starred Oscar winner Denzel Washington and was a story about a preacher who prays for help with his struggling church.  His prayers are answered with the help of an angel (Denzel Washington) who falls for the preacher’s wife — Whitney Houston’s character.  A great holiday film for the entire family.  Plus, Nippy belts out her hit “I Believe in You and Me.”

1.  The Kid Who Loved Christmas (1990)

A made-for-television movie that was produced by Eddie Murphy Productions and starred Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Della Resse, and marks Sammy Davis Jr.’s last film appearance.  The Kid Who Loved Christmas is a touching story about a child whose only wish is to be with his father for Christmas.  While not well known, one would think with all its star power that the movie would at some point make it to DVD.

Happy Holidays!

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Alfre Woodard Tells Video Vixens To Keep Their Legs Closed

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 12:00 am.

alfrewoodardThe amazing American Violet hits DVD today.  Based on a true story, a single mother of three, Dee Roberts, is randomly arrested on bogus drug charges. Forced with the choice to either give in or to fight, she challenges an archaic, corrupt and racist Texas legal system, risking the freedom of herself and her family.

During the press for American Violet, where I interviewed Nicole Beharie and Xzibit, I also had a chance to sit down with the legendary Oscar nominee and Emmy winner, Alfre Woodard.  One of the most interesting quotes she gave me was on advice for aspiring actors and telling video vixens with names like “Chocolata” to keep those legs closed.

You’ve been in this industry for a long time. Is there anything you had to work for that the young actresses of today take for granted?
“What I would say that exists now, with the 24-hour news cycle and just the rabid, insatiable appetite for being in people’s business — people are famous for total bullsh*t reasons now! But, those are the images that are flashed all the time. That person might get a role over a person who is actually gifted and trained like Nicole Beharie — she is being considered in the same breath as a video vixen is.  Some studio says, ‘Well, more people will watch it if ‘Chocolata’ plays Sojourner Truth!’ [Laughs] Most of us who are over 40, maybe even over 30 — people may know things about us, but they don’t know when we ovulate. We learned how to close our legs when we get out of limos — whether you had your panties on or not.

“I would say to young actors, you really have to find – not even backdoor ways – windows, which haven’t been closed tight to get yourself in the room. People head off looking for people to act as leads in their movies to places where people are singing and dancing, but yet you’ve spent all this time preparing yourself. I would tell them don’t come to this hedonistic ball unless you come with training. All that other stuff will die away, it will fall and you just persevere. You have to know that you define who you are, you declare yourself an actor. You don’t wait for a magazine, newspaper or awards; you know who you are. Sometimes they might turn to you and recognize you, but don’t wait on it and certainly don’t depend on it.”

Tell it like it is, Alfre!  Quick — email blast this to… well, you fill in the blank.

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Movie Review: ‘American Violet’

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:00 am.

american_violetSummary: Based on a true story during the 2000 Gore-Bush election, Dee Roberts and many people in her community are arrested on random drugs charges. Roberts must prove her innocence while putting the life of her and her family at risk.

Review: American Violet is one of those films that you just know is going to be a good movie from the previews. It’s a story with a purpose, thoughtfulness and stays with you regardless of your race or socioeconomic background. In addition, it’s a haunting story that could happen to anyone if you do not live in a privileged neighborhood. Written and directed by Bill Haney, the movie is delivered with a gritty but sharp independent feel. No big special effects, no $10 million paid actors, no elaborate sets—just a solid script and creators who care about the story. Read the rest of this entry »

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