Director Spotlight : The Films of Kasi Lemmons

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With the perhaps unnecessarily color titled BLACK NATIVITY headed to theaters this November, I thought now was the perfect time to take a pictorial gander at the films of its director Kasi Lemmons; a director who unfortunately like too many directors, particularly directors of color, does not get a chance to work enough.

Her 1997 debut film EVE’S BAYOU remains a personal and perennial favorite, being equal parts coming of age story and southern gothic tinged horror and magical realism. In the nearly 20 years since that film’s debut she has managed to make 4 feature films and one short, which is good to have at least that much work from a unique and talented director, and is also a tragedy to only have had that much work from a talented and unique director.

I do think the economics of making a theatrically viable film in Hollywood has kept her from truly exploring the promise of her first film; as I would have loved to see a dozen movies from Kasi Lemmon’s in her unique and dangerous southern gothic magic realism vibe. In the directorial genes of Kasi Lemmons, you had the promise of a director with the unique output of a David Fincher or Nicolas Winding Refn.

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However the films we do get from her, even hampered by the constraints of producing more accessible and conventional movies, still are never completely… conventional. There are stylistic choices and decisions that in places, take your breath away. Particularly she has never shied away from strong Black protagonists, and Black male protagonists as heroes, leading men, rather than comedy relief or the sexless partner.

Kasi Lemmon’s cinematic viewpoint of Black Masculinity, even when that masculinity is dangerous or flawed, is never less than riveting and dignified and hopeful, and as such is a viewpoint that is virtually forbidden/extinct in Hollywood films. I doubt BLACK NATIVITY will be likewise blessed, but I will still support the film and go see it, in the hopes a respectable opening gets Lemmons back to making films, that transcend… convention.

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Eve’s Bayou

The Caveman’s Valentine

Talk to Me

365 Days of Roku: Day 1 – Amazon Prime’s HEADSHOT

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HEADSHOT-Needlessly convoluted with a purposely fragmented and confusing structure, no doubt aping such films as MEMENTO, there’s room for frustration and dislike when watching director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s HEADSHOT. However it is, for much of its running time, done and played well; and the central conceit such an intriguing idea, that it transcends mimicry and suspect storytelling, to be an involving film in spite of itself.

Stylish and existential, this is a very different crime thriller, that has a voice over (a film noir trope for this new age film noir) that is compelling.

The movie does lose momentum mid-way through, forgetting to use in any meaningful way or examine the interesting idea of the title character’s affiction, and becomes a rather ordinary and plodding man on the run film.

So a film not without its failings but one that has enough intriguing moments to transcend those failings, and have you interested in the end. Grade: C+.

TECH TIPS: Today’s CRACKLE ON-DEMAND TV Guide Watch List

Go back and see previous lists for more great recommendations.

Okay onto today’s list:

Review of movies/programs to catch on the on-demand Roku channel CRACKLE today:

CRACKLE the premier channel for free on-demand movies is showing the following flicks:

The ‘it will do if you have nothing better to watch’ pile:
EMPIRE OF THE WOLVES- a horrific premise, graphic scenes, and an intriguing if convoluted and dubious premise makes this french thriller worth a cursory look

THE CUTTER- This 2007 flick shows Chuck Norris still capable of mixing it up. The premise of this film about Nazis and diamonds doesn’t really hold one’s attention nor do the performances, but there are a couple decent and surprising fight scenes that are worth a look.

WIND CHILL- Starts off generally very effective and intriguing, but comes apart completely in the 3rd act.

The ‘Awful or trust me you really should avoid’ pile:
THE DEVILS TOMB
THE ORDER
SCREAMERS:THE HUNTING- Starts off intriguing, but once we get to the obligatory Noble Black who has to buy it in the first act of the movie, we’re in complete hack mode. Couldn’t finish it. Awful.

The Great or Very Good:
HERO WANTED- This 2008 flick is yet another fantastic Cuba Gooding Jr film (something that I thought for a long time was an oxymoron). Following up on my recent watch of HIT LIST. This and HIT LIST both are good enough that you’ll probably want to add them to your DVD collection.

LEGENDARY ASSASSIN- An action/martial arts movie, but what sells this one is really the touching story at its heart. Tender performances enliven what otherwise would be a routine actioner.

RUSSIAN SPECIALIST- An example of a great Dolph Lundgren film

SILENT RAGE- An example of a great Chuck Norris Film

HARRY BROWN- Michael Caine is mesmerizing in this tale of generational warfare and geriatric vengeance

The Best James Bond Movie Posters of the 1970s!

The Best James Bond Movie Posters of the 1970s!

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The Best James Bond Movie Posters of the 1960s!

The Best James Bond Movie Posters of the 1960s!

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IF

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Go view it and back it here! Thanks!

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MAN OF STEEL 3D… I think Not

So I was thinking of seeing MAN OF STEEL tonight, however the theater I wanted to see it at was only showing it in 3D, of course for a jacked up price. And other theaters had the 2D showings only at inconvenient times.

And considering the movie was not shot in 3D, and only post-converted, and the post conversion is getting poor to mediocre responses, I’ll wait till I can catch this running in 2D at a time convenient for me, or wait till it hits the 2nd run theater circuit.

For more on MAN OF STEEL and 3D, go here. The article isn’t that interesting but I found the comments intriguing. Give it a read.

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Movie Review 3D

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS – My abiding thought upon watching STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was… enjoyment. From first frame to last I was just very captivated by the film, and completely along for the ride.

As a reviewer 2nd, but a movie goer 1st, I think it is very important to go into a film with as fresh eyes as reasonable to pique your interest. Beyond the broad stokes of a trailer or two, I avoid leaked plot details or guessing games about the storyline. Beyond broad generalities I think it is important to allow a filmmaker and a cast, to present the movie to you unfettered by too many preconceived notions or expectations.

Otherwise how can you fairly judge a film or a filmmaker’s work that you have in essence previewed? It’s hard to get moments of surprise and originality in films, when too many people these days go into the film with all surprises read and all originality already squandered before the film ever opens.

Increasingly it is the impetus of a cynical audience, that is numb to all but the basest pleasures, to take comfort in that self same cynicism.

JJ Abrams, much like the New STAR TREK itself, flies in the face of such cynical times, being a throwback as well as a leap forward to old fashioned film-making. A filmmaker who understands emotional resonance and story and character is every bit as important as blowing things up, but in his affection for the old, never loses the skill and love for crafting the new. JJ Abrams and his writing staff for my money for the 2nd time do the impossible, creating a remake that manages to brilliantly embrace the new, without invalidating the old.

It’s the choices he makes as a director (that others may deride as sentimental or romantic or syrupy) that are the choices that for me make INTO DARKNESS a great film, and Abrams a great filmmaker. Not an opinion I’ve always held on Abrams, but an opinion he has earned since his first Star Trek film.

There’s a scene early in INTO DARKNESS [extremely minor spoiler but feel free to skip till after you've seen the film] where someone goes traitor, you’ve seen it in numerous films if you are even a casual moviegoer. The bad guy has an inside man working for him, a traitor. It is a movie cliche and virtually no one ever looks at that character as more than a means to an end, No one ever asks or seemingly cares about the why of such a character’s actions. In this movie in a scant few minutes, in nearly wordless scenes, Abrams takes the time to paint the reason why someone would do it. And it is a reason that if we can not condone, we can understand.

In scant minutes of screen time he takes an actor I generally have not enjoyed on screen, and gives him I think his best role to date. A role that in nearly any other film, by any other filmmaker, would be a meaningless plot device, here resonates and is memorable.
[End of minor spoiler]

With that scene I knew quickly and completely…. that I was in capable hands.

And the film continues with such heartfelt performances, married to beautiful visuals. It is the Star Trek universe re-imagined, and it looks grand and mythic. And any film’s protagonists, must be measured by the quality of that which they struggle against and in that role Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a fantastic performance as a character who must be feared yes, but also respected. Well written is the film where there is no simple villains, or villains at all, but only people in conflict, with agendas neither completely right nor completely wrong.

I could go on, but to say more about the film is to ultimately say little, what is best in the film has to be experienced, not regurgitated.

I will however say about the theatrical experience that I saw this film in a matinee showing in RealD 3D format (only the 3D showing was available), and the 3D, to my surprise, did not annoy.

No doubt the pleasant experience owes some to the theater I saw it in, not your typical multiplex, but seemingly it is just handled well here. It became very immersive, just part of a rich tapestry that pulled me in. I found this viewing while not noticeably 3D, definitely noticeably beautiful to look at, and that is all that visually I ask of any film.

In closing, JJ Abram’s 2nd foray into the STAR TREK universe, INTO DARKNESS was a long time coming, but I think has justified its wait, being as smart, as fun, as energetic, and perhaps more emotional and more grandiose than the admittedly excellent first film. On all fronts, for this reviewer, an unqualified success, and a movie I see myself returning to often. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Grade: A.