Archive for "Samuel L. Jackson"

Movie Review: “Django Unchained”

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Summary: Bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees Django (Jaime Foxx) for him to point out three overseers he is ordered to kill. Quickly realizing Django has a knack for shooting, Schultz hires Django as his right-hand man. Django only agrees if Schultz will help him rescue his enslaved wife, Bromhilda (Kerry Washington).

Review: The antebellum was a heinous time in American history, yet, it is a sacred era. Anyone who touches slavery on screen will get a cynical side-eye (Beloved, Amistad, Queen). In this review, I will not argue the trite debate whether the film is or isn’t that hot-button word: racist. Racism is the Central Park Five, the execution of Troy Davis and wannabe cops who “stand their ground” to unarmed Black boys — not a Hollywood film, which is meant for entertainment and includes some of the most respected and intelligent Black actors of today. My perspective: Is Django Unchained a good or bad film?  Neither — Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film is phenomenal.

Surprisingly historically correct for Hollywood, the pre-Civil War western is a serious take on the cruelty of slavery, but not without Tarantino’s signature style: sensitive, bloody, witty, comedic and respectful in all of the right places.  The Oscar winner authentically breathes life into characters that have morphed into spectacles on the big screen over the years — from the slave master to the slave, Tarantino dug for depth.  He found a new way to tell a story that should never be dismissed. The Black characters aren’t the docile “Negros” we’ve seen in the past. These are fully realized roles and when they are unchained, the tables turn.

The casting of Django Unchained is perfect. Jaime Foxx gives the best performance of his career since Ray. Leonardo DiCarpio as Master Calvin Candie is like we have never seen him before. Kerry Washington is core-shaking, disturbingly letting out the roars of whippings and, again, not the stereotypical mammy, maid or temptress that Black women are relegated to in films about the antebellum South. Christopher Waltz as a smooth-talking bounty hunter provides much needed comic relief and the grace in which he handles King Schultz will certainly shower him with awards. But the king of the show (and the most controversial) is Samuel L. Jackson as a “house Negro” named Stephen. The fervor Jackson brought to the character is historically correct and wonderfully three-dimensional. Cry me a river to anyone complaining Jackson is playing a house Negro, see the film before judging — he is a inventive actor whose résumé speaks for itself.  Damn it — give Samuel L. Jackson his Oscar!

Over the years, Tarantino has been criticized for his use of the N-word. Well, Tarantino didn’t hold back this time around — the N-word is said approximately 108 times in the two hours and 45 minutes. Every main character spat the racial slur with the exception of Kerry Washington. While I could go without hearing the N-word ever again in movies (I love that Nicole Kidman refused to say the word in The Paperboy), as a writer, Tarantino wrote characters, not historical figures (although it is important to note the N-word was used more during Jim Crow, not the Antebellum South).

Django Unchained thunders across the big screen as a fireball of celluloid flawlessness. Part western, part Black exploitation but absolutely stunning film-making, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s greatest work since Pulp Fiction and, undoubtedly, the best film of 2012.

Django Unchained is in theaters December 25.

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This Day in Film: “Fresh”

Published by Michael Arceneaux on Friday, August 24, 2012 at 9:42 am.

(Photo: Miramax Films)

Though the themes of drug and violence had already been depicted in several different movies before its release, the 1994 drama Fresh was praised as a film that told the same story in much more interesting way.

The film, written and directed by Boaz Yakin, follows 12-year-old Fresh, an urban teen who works as a runner for a drug dealer in order to support himself and his troubled sister. Fresh lives in a crowded housing project with his cousins and aunts. His sister is junkie while his father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is an alcoholic who supports himself via chess game scams.

Fresh finds himself with the respect of local drug dealers because of his intelligence and honesty. Ultimately, the young child witnesses the murder of a classmate and ends up a target in his own right. He then has to use derive a way to protect his life.

The film was criticized for its depiction of urban life, but overall was widely praised. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote, “Here’s a movie filled with drama and excitement, unfolding a plot of brilliant complexity, in which the central character is solemn and silent, saying only what he has to say, revealing himself only strategically.”

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This Day in Film: “Mo’ Better Blues”

Published by Marcus Reeves on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:30 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

On this date, 22 years ago, Spike Lee released his fourth feature film, Mo’ Better Blues. The sultry, jazz-centered story was a drastic turn for the confrontational director who, just the year before, unleashed the racially-explosive film Do the Right Thing, which some critics predicted would start riots in the hot summer of 1989.

For Mo’ Better Blues, Lee used his penchant for creating cinematic tension to tell the tale of star jazz musician Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who, along with leading a star-studded band, juggles two girlfriends (played by Cynda Williams and Spike’s sister Joie Lee).  Moreover, within his band, he must temper the ambitions of his hotheaded virtuoso sax player Shadow Henderson, played by Wesley Snipes. The cast also included Dick Anthony Williams, John Turturro, Robin Harris and Samuel L. Jackson.

While the film wasn’t as big a hit as Lee’s first three projects, Mo’ Better can be credited for turning both Denzel and Wesley into Hollywood leading men and sex symbols.  Who could forget Shadow’s steamy balcony scene?

Yes, Mo’ Better Blues marked Lee departure from focusing on the provocative issue on race. But, in true Spike fashion, the film did manage to rub one group — Jews — the wrong way. Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, complained about the director’s depiction of two Jewish jazz club owners, saying they were stereotypical.

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Review: “The Mountaintop” on Broadway

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 10:00 am.

To tackle the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Broadway you need serious acting chops, a stellar script and a fresh angle to tell a tragic but inspiring story. Written by Katori Hall, The Mountaintop is a huge risk, but one that pays off during an exciting and diverse time on Broadway. The Great White Way has gotten some color in 2011.

The Mountaintop opens tonight on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Directed by Kenny Leon (Fences, Raisin in the Sun) and starring Oscar nominees Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, Mountaintop is a fictionalized account of the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Birmingham, Alabama. Taking place in a room at the Lorraine Motel, King is forced to face his epic past and inevitable destiny.

Any show that focuses on Dr. King is a challenge — one would think every angle has been squeezed dry out of the civil rights icon. Is there a new way any of us can see Dr. King? Well, Hall and Leon proved there is. Instead of witnessing Saint King, the audience gets to know King as the man: cussing, smoking, drinking and having a sense of humor. Edgy without being disrespectful and as if it was humanly possible, the production offers a deeper appreciation for Dr. King.

A 62-year-old Samuel L. Jackson has the lofty task of embodying a 39-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With smart theatrical choices, he gave Dr. King a vulnerable layer of humanity. In addition, gone is the loud and brassy Samuel L. Jackson that we’ve seen in films.  In The Mountaintop he is restrained, using subtlety as his strength.

The only other character is Angela Bassett as Camay, a maid at the Lorraine Motel. As we all know, this is a role Bassett took over after Halle Berry dropped out. Bassett attacked this role with fire. Gone is the poised, regal, upstanding roles we’ve all grown to love in her films. Here, she is sassy, country, hollering and with a shocking secret. In addition, Bassett’s final monologue is one to remember. She built the audience up to an emotional arc, garnering cheers from a clearly riveted crowd.

The second half takes a questionable turn and will leave many to debate hours after leaving the theater, which is what the live stage should do — spark dialogue. Moreover, the beauty of The Mountaintop is not limited to the stage.  It was an honor to be in the presence of two great figures in Hollywood who are uniquely continuing the legacy of the great Dr. King.

Undoubtedly, some will be offended by a ballsy portrayal of King and the writer’s use of religion. If you are deeply conservative and seeking an all-American apple pie show, Mountaintop is not the production for you.  However, if you are a lover of creativity and don’t mind having some buttons pushed, you might just reach the theatrical mountaintop.

The Mountaintop opens tonight at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City.

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Top Oscar Snubs: Denzel, Spike, Halle, and More

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm.

Last year’s Academy Awards was something to look forward to. However, 2011 is just another predictable awards show that is flavorless for a variety of reasons. From the New York Times to right here at BET.com, there have been rants on the lack of diversity at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Out of the 24 categories, not one African-American was nominated.

This year it is less about Black folks being overlooked and more about Black dramatic films not getting the green light in Hollywood. That said, below are some of the most disastrous Oscar snubs.

10. Denzel Washington in Philadelphia (1993)

Although Denzel Washington had already won a best supporting actor Oscar for Glory, the fact that he didn’t get a best supporting act nod for his portrayal of a homophobic lawyer in Philadelphia was unexplainable. The film received five Oscar nominations (won two), but none for Washington.

9. Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

Halle already won her Oscar in 2002 for Monster’s Ball, but 2007’s Things We Lost in the Fire was arguably the strongest performance of her career. She and her co-star Benicio Del Toro were completely ignored during the 2008 Academy Awards. Although the film was a box office failure, it was a critical success, which is usually the formula for most Oscar-winning movies.

8. Samuel L. Jackson in Jungle Fever (1991)

In the late ’80s to early ’90s, the unspoken rule in Hollywood was, if you were in a Spike Lee movie, no matter how brilliant you were, it was rare you would be recognized by the Academy Awards. Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Wesley Snipes’ crackhead brother was unforgettable, but he was snubbed. The hardest-working man in Hollywood has only received one Oscar nomination, for Pulp Fiction in 1995.

7. Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night (1967)

I guess after giving Sidney Poitier an Academy Award in 1964 (the first Black person to win for a leading role) for Lilies of the Field, they passed on even nominating him for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. His performance went down in history when he hollered ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs!” and smacked a racist white sheriff.

6. Angela Bassett in Malcolm X (1992)

Angela Bassett’s portrayal of the late Dr. Betty Shabazz was impassioned and poignant. Even though Denzel Washington received a best actor nod and there was a Best Costume Design nod, the passing of Bassett was the Academy Awards’ biggest error. Right next to ignoring Spike Lee for best director.

5. “Hopeless” by Dionne Farris for Love Jones (1997)

It’s not only actors and directors who get ignored for the Oscars—musicians do too. Dionne Farris‘ “Hopeless” was a big R&B hit and definitely deserved a nod for best original song from a movie, which was, of course, 1997’s Love Jones. Even though there was a buzz that the song was a contender, it got nothing.

4. City of God (2002)

The graphic film about the violent favelas in Brazil received three Oscar nods, but what left many people amazed was that it was ignored for Best Foreign Film. Roger Ebert, one of the most respected film critics in the world, said he was “mad” at the snub.

3. Set It Off (1996)

If Set It Off starred Demi Moore, Gena Davis, Hilary Swank, and Nicole Kidman, the movie would’ve received Oscar nominations across the board—think Thelma & Lousie. Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise all gave incredibly strong performances with a well-written script and good direction by F. Gary Gray. It was no shocker this movie wasn’t received well by the big wigs at the Academy.

2. Do the Right Thing (1989)

It was a national controversy when the Oscars blatantly ignored Spike Lee’s mega successful Do the Right Thing for Best Director and Best Film. The film received two nominations, one for Italian-American Danny Aiello in the Best Supporting Actor category and a nod for Best Screenplay. The legendary Kim Basinger, who was the Angelina Jolie of her time, famously said, “The best film of the year is not even nominated, and it’s Do the Right Thing.”

1. Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Ignoring Eve’s Bayou, which Roger Ebert said was the best film of 1997, was probably the biggest mistake the Oscars ever made when it comes to African-American film. The movie was flawless, with Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitefield, and Debbie Morgan. Ebert famously said, “If it is not nominated for Academy awards, then the Academy is not paying attention.” Well, they surely didn’t.

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FYI – Oscar snubs are not just a Black thing. Latino actors have been unacknowledged for years (not one nomination for John Leguizamo!), and poor Leonardo Dicaprio, Annette Benning (who will more than likely lose this Sunday to Natalie Portman for Black Swan), and Glenn Close have all suffered legendary Oscar snubs and losses.

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MTV Movie Awards – Cast Your Vote!

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 12:00 am.

notorious-movie-poster1

The MTV Movie Awards is doing their first round of voting over at MTV.com for potential nominees. Out of thirty potentials, you vote for your fave to be the actual nominees, which will be announced on May 4th.

Taraji P. Henson is up for best actress in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Will Smith for Hancock and Vin Diesel for Fast & Furious are potentials for best actor.  Notorious is still getting love, Anthony Mackie and Jamal Woolard are both possibilities in the breakthrough performance male category — along with Brandon T. Jackson in Tropic Thunder. Plus, you can’t forget about Samuel L. Jackson, who is a three time MTV Movie Award nominee, can be voted for twice in the category of best villain for either Lakeview Terrace or The Spirit.

Click here to cast your vote!

The MTV Movie Awards airs Sunday, May 31st live at 9pm.

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On DVD today: Spike, Bernie, Cuba

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 12:01 am.

miracleatstannaThe controversial Spike Lee war film Miracle at St. Anna is available on DVD today.  The films stars Laz Alonso, Derek Luke, Hill Harper and Kerry Washington.  The movie, which was overshadowed by Spike’s strife with Clint Eastwood, is the story of an all-black 92nd Infantry Division who are trapped near a small village in Italy.   The plot thickens as one of the soldiers risks his life to save an Italian boy.

Also, on DVD today:

Soul Men starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late-great Bernie Mac

soulmen

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Way of War starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.

wayofwar

In addition, Blindness starring Julianne Moore and Danny Glover and W. starring Josh Brolin and Thandie Newton are on DVD today. 

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Samuel L. Jackson Turned Away From Inauguration

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, January 23, 2009 at 8:22 am.

samjacksonYou might have wondered why you didn’t see more celebrities at President Barack Obama’s swearing in ceremony this past Tuesday. Tony Okungbowa, Ellen DeGeneres‘ resident DJ on her daily talk show, reported that big stars were turned away.

Samuel L. Jackson, Mariah Carey (Carey recently received rave reviews for her performance in Push, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this week), and even Reverend Jesse Jackson were told they could not attend the greatest historical moment in this generation due to crowding.

On Wednesday, Tony explained even with Ellen’s press credentials he was turned away because of overcapacity, “We saw Maroon 5 get turned away, Mariah Carey, Jesse Jackson — Samuel L. Jackson apparently didn’t even get in.  So we were in good company, but a lot of other people got turned away. But, I’ll tell you what was most important, even though they got turned away, everyone was still celebrating. It was such a great atmosphere.”

Well, that day in Washington D.C. everyone was equal, not even a little Hollywood glamour could help you.  I just hope Mrs. Cannon wasn’t wearing those extra short daisy dukes!  It was viciously cold in D.C. — sexy and frozen isn’t a good look for Mimi!

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