REVIEW: Prince of Broadway

20 05 2017

The working class appear a decent amount in contemporary cinema, but few directors take the time to understand their world like Sean Baker. His technique is more than just an aesthetic superiority of neorealism or “poverty porn” meant to coddle the bleeding hearts of the audience. Baker gets down into the weeds and grapples with poverty on its own terms, examining how getting dealt a single bad hand can trigger a cascade of negative outcomes.

At the beginning of “Prince of Broadway,” the Queens street vendor Lucky (Prince Adu) sees his life take such a turn when an old girlfriend shoves a baby into his arms. She needs childcare for two weeks for some unexplained reason while she jumps town, and we get the sense that Lucky is her last resort. Not only does he have no parenting skills under his boat, but he lives by the seat of his pants hocking off-brand designer bags and, as an undocumented immigrant from Ghana, Lucky can scarcely fall back on a network of extended family to shoulder the burden of watching the baby.

Leaving an ill-equipped individual in possession of a baby has classically entailed the trappings of comedy (“Three Men and a Baby”) or poignant drama (“Kramer vs. Kramer”) … so long as the protagonist comes from means. In “Prince of Broadway,” the same inciting incident triggers the basic mechanisms of economic survival as Lucky wonders how to feed, house and monitor his son. The sacrifices and trade-offs he must make in order to fulfill the most basic human compassion to the young life in his care involve his very livelihood.

Baker understands that a story as seemingly commonplace as this one in Lucky’s world cannot involve mere transposition from an upper-middle-class milieu. Every decision carries enormous weight. Every event comes with massive aftershocks, many of which cannot be met with adequate preparation. He’s taken the time to understand the mechanics of Lucky’s situation, and while “Prince of Broadway” might not necessitate its full 100 minute runtime (subplots involving his boss could easily have been streamlined), there’s not a moment that does not demonstrate his empathetic eye for detail. B





REVIEW: The Butler

17 08 2013

ButlerBased on the trailer for Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” I had prepared myself for “Forrest Gump: Civil Rights Edition.”  It looked to be in a filmmaking tradition of heavy-handed, cloying, and over the top shenanigans designed to easily trigger emotion.  As it turns out, I didn’t even have to resist because the film was not any of these things.

It was just a plain, bad movie.  “The Butler” is poorly written, unevenly directed, and meagerly acted.  It vastly oversimplifies history, both that of our nation’s struggle for civil rights and also the remarkable life of one man who served many Presidents with honor and dignity.  And in spite of its golden hues and stirring score stressing the importance of every moment, the film just fell flat the entire time.

Screenwriter Danny Strong writes the story of Cecil Gaines, Forest Whitaker’s titular character, into a parade of presidential caricatures – leaving out Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter since they apparently never grappled with civil rights.  (I’m ok with a narrowed portrait of history, just not a narrowed portrait of the people who made that history.)  Each man is a waxwork figure, a set of immediately recognizable traits tied up in a bow by a crucial civil rights decision, that happens to be served tea by the same man.

And every president is somehow swayed by the mere presence of Cecil, who will make a passing remark to each.  He’s apparently the perpetual Greek chorus of the White House or even the nation’s most influential civil rights adviser.  It’s a little ridiculous to infer causality here, even with a generous suspension of disbelief.  This trick worked in Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump” because it was done with a wink and a sense of humor.  It fails in “The Butler” because no one can seriously believe Cecil was an actual policy influencer.

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REVIEW: The Paperboy

12 12 2012

The PaperboyThere’s no way Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” came from the same director as “Precious.”  A film this sweaty, steamy, and trashy simply does not follow a movie so emotionally searing and poignant.  And not only is the movie purely sordid, it isn’t even done artfully or tastefully.

I pray you haven’t seen director Lee Daniels’ debut film, “Shadowboxer,” because your eyes will never forgive you for it.  There’s a reason you probably haven’t heard of it, and that’s because the movie is an absolute mess from beginning to end.  Oh, and there’s also the matter of Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Helen Mirren having a pretty graphic sex scene.  Thanks, but no thanks.

But it’s Lee Daniels of “Shadowboxer” who showed up to direct “The Paperboy,” not Lee Daniels of “Precious.”  Now we are all left to wonder if Oprah directed “Precious” for him or something.  I’m serious, watch “The Paperboy” and try not to let these types of conspiracy theories bubble up in your head.  Well, actually don’t watch “The Paperboy” and just take my word for it that you would feel this way.

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Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 10-12

28 05 2012

The festival is over and I have so much to report from these last few days!  I don’t know if I was in Cannes for my whole life or a nanosecond; in some strange way, I feel like it’s both simultaneously.  Now that the all the awards have been handed out and everyone has left the Palais (and basically the city of Cannes as well), I figure I’ll put a bow around my tales of Cannes to wrap it all up.

To all those who have been reading, thanks for following my adventures!  If you felt even a fraction of the thrill I felt at the festival, then I feel truly blessed to have brought even the smallest pinch of excitement into your day.  I’m traveling throughout Europe for the next 11 days, but I’ll try to post some outstanding reviews during my trip.  I wound up seeing 12 of the 22 competition films, which was far more than I ever expected!  I was very blessed and fortunate, and hopefully I can convince you to see or skip what I saw!

Day 10 – Friday, May 25

Thought about rushing “Cosmopolis” in the morning … yeah, that didn’t happen.  Still feeling a little queasy and definitely feeling extremely tired, I slept past that 7:00 alarm to get up for an 8:30 screening.  I arrived around 11:30 A.M. to rush the 1:00 P.M. screening, and no one from the rush line was able to gain entry to the screening.

Not wanting to waste another day without seeing a movie, I didn’t mope for long and went almost straight to the line outside the 60th Room (a rooftop tent theater on the roof of the Palais – yeah) for the reprise screening of “The Paperboy” at 2:00 P.M.  But I should have known something was up when the movie didn’t start on time.  I found two friends in the theater and we talked vaguely about people’s reactions to the film.

Then, at 2:30 P.M., the film started … in Spanish.  I suddenly realized that I was not going to be seeing Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” with stars like Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron.  Instead, I mistakenly walked into “Post Tenebras Lux,” the Mexican expressionist film that seriously made me want to rip my head off.  Thankfully, a character in the film showed me what that would look like, and that pretty much talked me out of it.

The Pavilion where I worked held a big party that night, which mostly hosted our normal guests (and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin) plus a few big names including Macy Gray and Lee Daniels, Oscar-nominated director of “Precious” and “The Paperboy.”  Don’t worry, I finally got a picture with a celebrity – not a blurry shot taken from God knows how far away!

Day 11 – Saturday, May 26

This one would be an early morning, though, as I managed to score a ticket to the morning press screening of Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.”  It was much different than I expected, veering away from the visual and visceral brilliance of “Take Shelter” and more towards a plot-driven mainstream Hollywood film.  I’m curious to see what this means for Nichols’ career and onto what trajectory this launches him.

I then quickly ran to see if I could spot Reese Witherspoon at her photo call on the roof of the Palais.  It was initially unsuccessful, but I would not be deterred!  I lingered around the back of the building hoping she would come out of the star entrance, and my loitering eventually paid off as I eventually spotted she and Matthew McConaughey walking across the bridge into the main building!

Naturally, I ran into the building hoping to catch her before she got into her car, but that never panned out.  I decided to go into the Palais to use the restroom, and I walked past a TV that showed the press conference for “Mud.”  Thanks to getting lost a decent amount of times in that Death Star, I knew exactly where press conferences at Cannes were held.  I decided to wait outside the room near the elevator where I assumed she would have to go; there was also another area closed to the entrance to the press conference room, but I thought she would pay them no attention.

Well, I was an idiot.  I never should have doubted that Reese Witherspoon is magnanimous.  Turns out, she went over to the other area and signed a few autographs before leaving – not out the elevator, but through some back entrance.  Grr.  I did get to glimpse her magnificent beauty and become dazzled by her radiant smile.  She’s even better than I ever could have imagined over the past ten years.  Here’s the picture I did get; Reese is the blonde blob in the middle.

The day was destined to go downhill from Reese sighting, but I didn’t think it would get as bad as “Cosmopolis.”  The Robert Pattinson-starrer was a serious disappointment, mainly due to the dialogue and direction.  R-Pattz wasn’t half bad, and I actually thought he was pretty good at the end.  Maybe there is hope…

It was also the last beach screening, which was listed as a “surprise screening” on the schedule.  Rumors circulated like mad about what the movie could be – I had heard “The Dictator,” Brian DePalma’s new film “Passion,” and footage from the new Bond film “Skyfall” all mentioned as possibilities.  Turns out, it was only a short film program that lasted for over an hour and a half.  I was a little underwhelmed and upset to say the least.

Day 12 – Sunday, May 27

The last day of the festival meant a lot of packing, a lot of cleaning, and a lot of goodbyes.  There wasn’t much of a wasted moment to be had – oh, and every single one of the 22 competition films was replaying again.  I got a chance to see “Holy Motors,” the French film featuring Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes getting her armpit licked, and that was pretty fun.  I also saw “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin yet again, just chilling and seeing a movie like a regular Joe.  Gosh, I hope he wins an Oscar or something – the man just seems so humble, modest, and unassuming.

I thought about trying to see “The Paperboy” after my Friday fiasco, but I ultimately wound up opting for food and fun with friends.  I’ll get to see it in no time at all back home in the States.  After convincing myself that I would go out on a high note with “Holy Motors,” the jury announced all the awards.  There was one big winner that I still had the chance to see – “Reality,” winner of the Grand Prix (essentially second place).  I quickly caught a bus from my apartment and made it to the theater in time to see the movie.  Don’t know that it was worth the trip, but I’m glad I can say I saw it – especially since it looks like Oscilloscope is going to hold it for release until 2013 in the US.

Oh, and going to the bathroom in the artist’s entrance finally paid off as I saw Emmanuelle Riva, the leading actress from the Palme D’Or-winning “Amour.”

I wound up seeing all but one of the North American films, the Palme D’Or, Grand Prix, Best Director, Best Actor, and Camera D’Or winners, as well as a smattering of other films that ran the gamut from great to God-awful.  Overall, a very interesting festival – hopefully, it won’t be my last.  There’s plenty of unfinished business I have left with Cannes, and so many things I want to do better in the future.  But for now, as I close this chapter, I am satisfied and truly grateful.

Much thanks to my parents for making this trip possible!  Hopefully, Cannes 2012 is just the beginning of many great things to come.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 21, 2010)

21 05 2010

I thought I would give a one-week reprieve from the heavier movies. Now, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” takes a step towards the wrenching with “Monster’s Ball,” a movie with the power to conjure up all sorts of emotions. You might remember the movie because of Halle Berry’s emotional Oscar speech after becoming the first African-American to win Best Actress. But as soon as you watch the movie, you will remember the movie because of her performance, which is the film’s heart and soul.

Berry inhabits the character of Leticia Musgrove, a woman who is stuck in circumstances she can’t stand. Her husband (Sean Combs or whatever shortening of his name he goes by now) is set to receive the death penalty. Her son (Coronji Calhoun in a mesmerizing and powerful debut performance) is morbidly obese, and she can’t get him to lay off the candy bars. Her car is busted, her house is about to be foreclosed, her job situation is hectic. Most of all, her soul is weak under all these burdens.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a correctional officer at the prison where Leticia’s husband is executed. He is a cold-hearted racist and doesn’t hesitate showing it. He can’t stand his son (Heath Ledger) who is trying to follow his own moral compass. He is bitter for being straddled with the care of his ailing father (Peter Boyle), an even more extreme racist than himself.

Don’t Leticia and Hank sound like an unlikely pair?  Moreover, doesn’t Hank’s shoulder seem like the least likely place for Leticia to cry into?  Yet as events unfold, the two connect in surprising ways, shocking the traditional Southern community around them.

Halle Berry is absolutely astonishing, hitting every emotional high and low with pin-point precision.  There’s no doubt that she deserved the Oscar.  I haven’t seen “Things We Lost in the Fire,” her only non-comic book or action movie since her win, but I’m a little upset that she has squandered such incredible talent on such unworthy material.  She needs to get back to roles like these, ones that accurately showcase just how talented she is.  Maybe Mo’Nique and “Monster’s Ball” producer Lee Daniels will give her a role in the Hattie McDaniel movie – here’s hoping!





Random Factoid #141

16 12 2009

I probably could have milked a whole post out of this, but I needed a factoid today.

I did something this month that I hadn’t done in over 6 years: after seeing a movie based on a book, I went to the roots and read the book.  I read “Push” by Sapphire after seeing “Precious,” and I must say, I actually liked the book better.  I don’t agree with the statement, “The book is always better than the movie.”  Usually whatever you experience first, you like better, although it was not the case here.

Here’s a small bit of commentary: Sapphire’s novel gives us so much more insight into the fascinating character Precious.  Lee Daniels turns her into such a passive figure that we think little is going on inside her head, but in the book, she is quite the opposite.  We are able to feel how she feels during some incredibly despicable acts committed against her, and the movie did not quite get those sentiments across.





REVIEW: Precious

17 11 2009

Precious” joins a very selective group of movies that is able to sear its impact into your memory with a flaming hot brand, leaving a mark that will burn for a while and stay forever.  It will undoubtedly reign as this year’s most emotionally charged movie, packed with some of the most profoundly affecting scenes ever committed to celluloid.  The movie portrays the devastating heartbreak of Precious’ life with unflinching reality, but what I found equally remarkable in Lee Daniels’ movie is how glimmers of hope manage to shine through in even the darkest of situations.

Claireece “Precious” Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) leads the life that we imagine when we think, “Well, at least I don’t have it as bad as this person.”  She lives in poverty.  She is illiterate.  She is obese.  She is pregnant for the second time by way of her biological father.  She has an careless, lazy, and abusive mother (Mo’Nique in a performance that will make your jaw drop).  Worst of all, she thinks no one cares for her.  But despite her situation, she still dreams of a life where she can dance on BET and have a light-skinned boyfriend.  In these moments of reverie, Precious’ face lights up like a Christmas tree, and it is so heartbreaking for the audience to watch because we know that she will soon have to wake up and face the world which she can greet only with a sullen frown. Despite all the bleakness of her situation, she manages to stay somewhat optimistic, seeing the person who she wants to see when she looks in the mirror.  With some help from a compassionate teacher (Paula Patton) at her new alternative school and a social worker willing to go the extra mile (a very de-glammed Mariah Carey), Precious soon gains the courage not only to face her fears but to find a way to triumph over them.

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