Archive for "Viola Davis"

Movie Review: Beautiful Creatures

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:00 am.

(Photo: Warner Bros Pictures)

Summary: A family of sort-of-kind-of witches settle in South Carolina so their teenage girl can transition into “light” or “dark” on her 16th birthday.  But a boy comes along and the two fall in love, which is a n0-no in witch land. Their fate is at risk because teenage love and witchcraft don’t mix.

Review: Teen love fantasy flicks are all the rage. From Twilight to Hunger Games, these movies pull at the heartstrings of young girls and annoy the eyeballs of everyone else outside of the demographic. That said, the first Twilight and last year’s Hunger Games were somewhat enjoyable. Twilight was an accidental phenomenon and Hunger Games‘ commentary on media, fame and class was surprisingly interesting. Based on the book by the same name, Beautiful Creatures clearly wants to be the next teen franchise epic, which makes the Richard LaGravenese-directed film calculated and terribly predictable.

Beautiful Creatures is not the fault of the actors (although the majority of the southern accents are embarrassing) or the cartoon-like special effects, it’s a terrible screenplay that is a toxic mix of Beetlejuice and Mean Girls. From the yawnfest build up to laughable one-liners — “Love is a risk for anybody!” — even if you lower your standards to teen-dream melodrama (similar to Twilight), Beautiful Creatures is far from spellbinding.

The only saving grace is the female lead, Lena (Alice Englert), is not the powerless damsel in distress like Bella Swan from Twilight. She is not giving up her soul for Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich). The message of independence is a bit more palatable. Unfortunately, the film and the actors’ bland chemistry need movie-making magic to create the next Edward and Bella. Of course fans might balk at the Twilight and Beautiful Creatures comparisons, but it’s impossible to not notice the goal for a cash cow.

Acting giants Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson give Beautiful Creatures some thespian creditability. Nonetheless, even this trio of screen perfection can’t save a calculated, snooze-inducing and unoriginal heap of film-making. Don’t be surprised if the film doesn’t resonate with its target demographic.

Beautiful Creatures is in theaters today.

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Movie Review: “Won’t Back Down”

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

(Photo: Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Summary: A determined parent and a passionate teacher challenge the failing public school system.

Review: Although Won’t Back Down is packed with Oscar nominees (Viola Davis, Rosie Pérez, Maggie Gyllenhaal), the film is pre-destined for criticism. The Daniel Barnz-directed movie tackles heavy issues: children, education and unions — all topics that stir up angry concoctions in America. Therefore, most of the critiques of the film surround the hot button topics versus the actual film, which is not without flaws.  Nonetheless, Won’t Back Down is endearing, inspirational and effortlessly pulls at your heartstrings. But maybe I am biased; I survived the Philadelphia public school system.

“Change a school, change a neighborhood” is one of the lines from Viola Davis’ character, Nona Alberts. Alberts is a teacher who once had a passion for the classroom but is now disenchanted with the destructive system. She is inspired by Jamie, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, whose daughter suffers from dyslexia and is falling behind in a classroom with an unconcerned teacher who cannot be reprimanded because she is a member of the union. The plot line is similar to the phenomenal documentary Waiting for Superman.

Sure, there are no surprises and the ending is predictable. But the 20th Century Fox film is less about shocking plot twists and more about the passionate, everyday Americans who are exhausted by failing schools. Any clichés or cheese-ball one-liners — and there are quite a few — are redeemed by outstanding performances. Maggie Gyllenhaal is believable as a frantic but driven single mother who wants a better life for her child than the poverty stricken environment of Pittsburgh. Rosie Pérez, one of the most underrated actresses of our generation, provides a balance in the debate of unions (much of the conflict revolves around “taking over” their school with no unions — good teachers go unprotected).

The grand diva of the cast is the consistently dynamic Viola Davis. Ms. Davis could play Donald Trump in a film and make it believable. The Tony winner is clearly touched by a higher power; her gift for bringing a character to life is astounding. Right when the film was about to crash and burn into bad Lifetime movie territory, Viola popped up on-screen and saved the cinematic day.

Hats off to the director, Daniel Barnz, for presenting such a diverse film. The story was more about class than race. There wasn’t a stereotypical “white savior” or a downtrodden Black character who sings the blues. Davis’ character was middle class, while Gyllenhaal’s character was living below the poverty line. Very few Hollywood films get diversity right on the big screen, Won’t Back Down did.

Whether you are a teacher, parent or student, Won’t Back Down is a must-see. Regardless of protests, there is an undeniable emotionality in the flick that rises above politics — eye-opening, heartwarming and triumphant.

Won’t Back Down is in theaters today.

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“The Help” and Hollywood’s Limited View of Black Actresses

Published by Ronke Reeves on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 9:20 am.

(Photo: Dreamworks)

While I wasn’t particularly jazzed about seeing the film, it didn’t really bother me that The Help was released in 2011, while we still have our first Black president and first lady in the White House. The movie, regardless of how annoying and trite some of its scenes and dialogue may be, is still a slice of U.S. history. Furthermore, Black women domestics who’ve worked hard behind the scenes to help establish this country in every corner of America always deserve to have their stories told.

The real problem is that in 2011 there is still no balance in the amount of films starring Black actors released yearly. Most people wouldn’t have a problem with The Help if it we had different African-American images to choose from at our local movie theaters (we still only get one or two movies annually). Much of the best, diverse film stories about the Black experience are either told through small budgeted indie films or shorts, but they continue to go unnoticed by the mainstream movie machine.

Despite the progress that Blacks have made throughout decades in the industry, it has also grown glaringly clear that Tinseltown still has no idea what to do with the Black actress, especially those with darker complexions. It echoes volumes that Viola Davis, one of the most talented working actresses of any decade, who has been mostly regulated to albeit dazzling, small moments on film, is offered a starring vehicle as a maid. I doubt that lighter counterparts Zoe Saldana or Halle Berry would ever be offered such a movie role.

But sadly in much of our cinematic history (with a few exceptions, mostly by way of biopics) it seems the shade of Black women usually includes two hues: the whore and the mammy.  Unfortunately, those images, the ones that Hollywood seems comfortable seeing us in, are designed to polarize us all; the working actor, the movie-going audience and sisters and brothers of all colors, all while leaving a limiting and damaging stereotypical depiction of us to the world.

Click here for a history of Black actresses who have played maids in Hollywood.

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Movie Review: ‘The Help’

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Dreamworks Pictures)

Summary: Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a white socialite in 1960s, segregated Jackson, Mississippi, is an aspiring writer. She has an idea to tell the story of the “colored” help and with the assistance of one maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis), several maids are convinced to spill the beans on their white boss-ladies. Skeeter’s friend, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is leading a campaign for white households to build a separate bathroom for the help, which causes strife with Skeeter, eventually exposing her secret that she is helping the help.

Review: During Viola Davis’ press tour for The Help, much of her promoting has been defending the controversial film. Some are questioning why a story about Black maids in the ’60s is being told through the lens of a white character and a white writer, an all too familiar pattern in Hollywood. The author, Kathryn Stockett, who penned the best-selling novel (the book has many more redemptive qualities than the film), and Tate Taylor, who directed and adapted the book to film, are the minds behind The Help.  If they were Black would we see a better film?  That is a question I cannot answer.  There is an obvious mishandling of race and class in the movie, but I’ve seen several Black directors commit the same cinematic sins.

Many audiences, especially African-American viewers, are exhausted with seeing Black actresses as maids. It was a role to which many Black actresses were regulated to for decades, and The Help brings back old Hollywood memories that some would rather forget.

Viola Davis recently said, “As a Black actress, I can’t play a role that is so multifaceted… because there was something about it that offended a group of people. I can’t be vulnerable. I can’t be a woman who looks down because it’s disabling.” Davis has a point. Many Black actresses feel artistically limited to what roles they can or cannot tackle simply because Black folks might not be happy. This dates back to Hattie McDaniel, who once snapped back at the NAACP for criticizing her for consistently playing maids. The first African-American Oscar winner said: “I’d rather play a maid then be one.”  Touché!

Let me put the history of African-Americans in Hollywood off the table for a moment. Regardless of mammy stereotypes, The Help needed some help with its janky, watered-down storyline and its Disneyfied version of the Jim Crow South. Predictably, the movie focuses more on the rich, racist characters versus the heart of the film, the impoverished domestic servants and their untold stories. There should’ve been fewer Southern tea parties and poolside gatherings and more of the gritty realities of being a maid in the ’60s. For a film that is set in pre-civil rights Mississippi, it is too bright and cheery, cheapening the horrific experiences of legalized racism. 

Then comes Viola Davis, the Aretha Franklin of acting, to save the day. The two-time Tony Award winner can play any character, on the Broadway stage or the big screen. She has the uncanny ability to make every role shine, and her final scene almost rescues the entire film, but not quite. Yes, Davis deserves recognition for her performance, but hopefully she will get the chance to flaunt her superb acting chops in a film as excellent as her.

The underrated Octavia Spencer was gripping as the sassy Minnie. Unfortunately, her character was steeped in stereotypes like, “Frying chicken tends to make you feel better about life.”  But Spencer found every bit of soul in Minnie.

A small role for Cicely Tyson helped round out great casting. But good acting doesn’t always make a good film.

Getting back to the politics of the film, who knows what the various reactions will be from white and Black audiences. Where I saw the film, a white female was sobbing at an emotional scene. The Black woman next to me sucked her teeth and quietly said, “What? She had a mammy as a child?”

Maybe this is an era of history that we as African-Americans are still too attached to and can’t see the film as what it is–a Hollywood flick that is non-threatening and not meant to change the world, only make some money.  In moments, the film works, but overall it was another clichéd civil rights film with all of the typical elements: the ultra-racist evil white person (played by disturbingly well by Ron Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard), the sympathetic Southern woman suffering from white guilt, a sassy black rebel and a flock of obedient Negros. There is a dash of Mississippi Burning, a touch of The Long Walk Home and a strong helping of Driving Miss Daisy. Nonetheless, for me, The Help wasn’t impactful enough to be offensive.

All of that said, I trust the cinematic choices of Viola Davis, she is someone who has respect for the art of movie-making.  Therefore, me not giving the film an excellent review is not a damnation of Viola Davis or any Black actress who takes a role that she believes is honorable.  Davis honored this character, shifting the stereotype of “mammy.”

The Help is in theaters today.

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Ten Things We Want to See in Film

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 12:00 am.

Now that awards season is over, we are hoping for a more diverse and interesting 2011 in the year of film. 2010 didn’t give us much, but we have high hopes for this year. Check out 10 things we want to see in film for 2011.

10. The Aaliyah Movie
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s passing. So, where is the Aaliyah movie? Last we heard, the director of Dreamgirls, Bill Condon, was set to direct and Canadian actress Keisha Chante would play Aaliyah. Hopefully, we at least get a release date in 2011.

9. No More Horror Movie Remakes
I’d love to go through a year without these horrible horror movie remakes that consistently bomb (Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc.). Freddy and Jason need to stay in the ’80s and ’90s. They had their run—let someone else think of a new horror movie plot.

8. Imitation of Life Remake
Now, if someone wants to remake a movie, they should take on Imitation of Life, the classic story about a light-skinned Black girl who tries to pass for white. With a solid cast, this could be award-worthy.

7. A Lady Gaga Movie
Considering her epic music videos, I would love to see Lady Gaga on screen. Not in some silly romantic comedy but more of a Quentin Tarantino/Lee Daniels/Rocky Horror Picture Show–type experience. Bring Gaga to the big screen!

6. I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay
We raved about this film last year, and it was selected as the best movie of 2010 by  The film deals with family, loss, love and life. It’s a tour de force of emotions. The film is getting a release in select cities this Friday. It’s a must-see for 2011!

5. Nicki Minaj Movie
Nicki Minaj went to a New York arts school for theater. So, we would be interested to see what her acting chops are like on the big screen. Maybe a small, supporting role just to get her feet wet, but Minaj in movies is a good look for 2011.

4. Juice DVD Re-Release?
2Pac’s classic, Juice is a masterpiece of minimalism on DVD. No special features, no commentary, just an extreme disappointment. Can we get a re-release with deleted scenes, cast interviews, and commentary? Paramount needs to make it happen!

3. More Viola Davis!
I need more Viola Davis! We are looking forward to The Help, her first starring role about a Black maid in the ’60s. According to “Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, [the fiml is about] a Southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns the town upside-down when she interviews the Black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent Southern families. Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to open up—to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit Black community.”

2. Wanda and Sheneneh in Skank Robbers
Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence need to halt all production on all other projects and get this film off the ground. Last we heard, Halle Berry and George Lopez signed on and it got the green light. Oh—and let’s hope they don’t forget Tichina Arnold as Pam—she needs a cameo or a full role. We need a release date for Skank Robbers in 2011!

1. Wesley Snipes Out Of Jail
I’m still confused on why Snipes was jailed for three years on misdemeanor charges, especially after a juror admitted that two other jurors said they thought he was guilty when they “looked” at him. Free Wesley, because I think it’s about time for a Jungle Fever sequel—and Keeping Up With the Kardashians don’t count!

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Viola Davis as Shirley Chisholm? Yes!

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 9:33 am.

Finally, a biopic seems to have gotten it right. All of this miscasting in films on icons of history is disappointing. But, this time around Oscar nominee and two-time Tony Award winner, Viola Davis, as legendary political figure Shirley Chisholm is silver screen perfection.

Chisholm was born and raised in New York. She was the first Black woman elected to Congress, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District from 1969 to 1983. In addition, according to Wikipedia, she was the first “major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.”

Chisholm was vilified in the press during her run for president, which was examined in the 2005 documentary, Shirley Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed, which won a Peabody Award.  Chisholm passed away in early 2005.

Viola Davis is one of the only actresses who has the depth and the vigor to portray Chisholm on screen.  According to the New York Daily News, the producers, Bryan Gambogi and Grant Anderson, want Davis but the deal hasn’t been sealed. We hope Davis lands the role — or Angelina Jolie might take it!


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Movie Review: Eat, Pray, Love

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm.

Summary: Liz (Julia Roberts) is an underwhelmed, privileged New York City woman. She divorces her husband and decides to find herself via food, traveling and love.

Review: I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now — a woman unsatisfied with the excess of her upper-class life tries to find herself through traveling the world.  Times are tough for Liz… she needs balance! Manhattan is getting to her! She doesn’t even want a salad for lunch! Oh, the horror!

I’d like to see an Eat, Pray, Love about a single mother in Brooklyn or Queens who is dealing with a tragic economy — how exactly would she find balance? A Greyhound trip to New Jersey? We all could have the option of “finding balance” if we didn’t have the stress of cash flow.

I am sure this will be an obvious complaint — but if people could afford to not work for a year, endlessly travel and never worry about a dime then none of us would have stress in our lives.  We could all eat, pray and love, spending hours out of the week to meditate. Directed by Ryan Murphy, Eat, Pray, Love drowns in elitism that is eye-rolling; the intentions are good but too fantastical.  I was waiting for unicorns and fairies to appear (an elephant does walk up to Julia!).

That said, in the beginning, Eat, Pray, Love is enjoyable with its gems of relationship wisdom. This is partly due to the good writing from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. When the movie goes from narrative to storyline, the heart of the film gets abandoned in the Hollywood glam.

There is the good acting, which is a given.  Yes, Julia Roberts is still an incredible actress. Then there is the always flawless and Tony Award-winning Viola Davis, who is unfortunately put into the small role of the best friend — again. As Meryl Streep said, “My God, somebody give her a movie!”

Also, the lensing has a cinematic beauty.  Each frame is shot with detail, showcasing the character’s various travels — this is a better travel commercial than full length movie.

You can’t forget the constant eating. Sure, there is some liberation in Julia Roberts encouraging her friend to eat anything you want, but the repetition made Eat, Pray, Love feel like a preachy food commercial for D’Agostino.

Speaking of preachy, there is the high-context message of self-love, attempting to frame itself as a revolutionary tale for modern women. After all the whining that Liz doesn’t need a man, after being harassed by everyone possible that she must have a husband, after all the one-liners about independence — in the end, she ends up with a man using the clichéd excuse that she could fall in love now because she found herself. So, at the end of the two and a half hours we get to the same point of all the other stereotypical chick flicks. Eat, Pray, Love is an overly intellectual version of any other flavorless  Jennifer Lopez or Kate Hudson romantic comedy.

Eat, Pray, Love is in theaters tomorrow.

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‘Fences’ and ‘Fela!’ Win Big At Tony Awards

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, June 14, 2010 at 12:00 am.

fela_broadwayIn case you aren’t familiar with the Tonys, it’s an annual awards show that honors excellence in theater. While there are diversity issues with the Academy Awards, the Tonys has always been leagues ahead. Winners for Tonys include James Earl Jones, Diahann Carroll, Jennifer Holliday, Heather Headley, Phylicia Rashad, Savion Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne and countless others.

Last night was no different. Viola Davis won her second Tony for best actress in a play for Fences. In addition, Fences picked up two more wins, best revival of a play and Denzel Washington for best actor in a play, which was his first nomination.  In a teary-eyed speech Davis said, “I don’t believe in luck or happenstance. I absolutely believe in the presence of God in my life.”

The critically acclaimed Fela!, which is produced by Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, won for best choreography — given to the legendary Bill T. Jones. Fela! also won for best costume and sound design.

Some celebs in attendance were Beyonce, Jay-Z, Paula Abdul and Will and Jada.

Congrats to all of the winners!

Click here for a fashion rundown of the Tony Awards!
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Denzel and Viola Receive Tony Award Nominations

Published by Clay Cane on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 10:14 am.

denzelAs reported yesterday, the Broadway musical Fela! received 11 Tony nominations — more than any other musical this year. Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Oscar nominee Viola Davis received Tony nods for their performances in the revival of August Wilson’s Fences.

Davis is no stranger to the Tony Awards.  While she hasn’t been on the stage for six years, she won for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for 2001’s King Hedley II.

Fences also received a nomination for Best Revival of a Play.

The Tony Awards date back to 1947 and recognize achievements in Broadway productions and regional theater. Other Tony Award winners include Diahann Carroll (1961), Jennifer Holliday (1982) and Heather Headley (2000).

The Tony Awards will air on CBS on Sunday, June 13, 2010 live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

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Viola Davis In Talks For Lead Role in “Help”

Published by Clay Cane on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 9:20 am.

violaAt the 2009 SAG Awards, Meryl Streep shouted during her acceptance for best actress in Doubt, “The gigantically gifted Viola Davis — my God, somebody give her a movie!”  Davis is an Oscar nominee but she is one of the most underrated actresses of this generationb.  Davis has conquered all forms of acting from stage to film.  Now, she might be a lead in her next movie — someone must’ve heard Meryl’s demand!  According to

Story, set in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s, explores how the unspoken code of behavior governing Southern households is shattered when an aspiring writer interviews a maid, who speaks candidly about her experiences. The interview sets off shock waves that reverberate across the entire community.

Davis would play the role of Aibileen, the maid. Emma Stone is eyeing the part of the writer.

Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Stockett’s, will direct from his adapted script.

Hopefully, these talks result in Davis landing the part.  She has a movie opening this August with Julia Roberts, but I would like to see her in a lead role, especially in a movie that clearly has some depth.


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