Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chi-Raq – Review


Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Written by Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee

Based on Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Edited by Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na

Nick Cannon
Wesley Snipes
Teyonah Parris
Jennifer Hudson
Angela Bassett
John Cusack
Michelle Mitchenor
Harry Lennix
Dave Chappelle
Samuel L. Jackson

Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Released: December 4, 2015 (USA)

Summary: Chi-Raq  is a satirical musical drama set in Chicago, the film is a satire that touches on the gang violence prevalent in some neighborhoods on the city's south side, particularly that of Englewood. The film is based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which various women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war. The name "Chi-Raq" is a portmanteau of "Chicago" and "Iraq" as well as an endonym commonly used by South Side residents to liken the area to a war zone due to its extremely high crime rates.

Review: I don’t think I’m speaking out of school when I say Chi-Raq is Spike Lee’s most significant work in years. Spike returns to his social issues roots as only he can. The film is a satire and has humor, but it’s still very serious. The first part of the film deals with the murder of a child from a stray bullet. A bullet fired by warring gangs. The film touches on all the gang violence and gang mentality without being another “hood film”. Yes there is explicit language, drinking and smoking, but most of it is told in a rhyming scheme. Yes, most of the dialogue is spoken in rhyme. When I read about it, it sounded really off base, but watching the film it didn’t bother me at all. Spike Lee really weaves it in and out and it never comes off tired. Like a theater director friend of mine said, think of it as old Rudy Ray Moore/Dolemite records. It’s an artistic affect, a technique and it works. The films weaves in the humor/satire, rhyming, the messages, real life statistics and still had some of the most powerful scenes in cinema 2015.

Samuel L. Jackson in Chi-Raq

Most of that power comes from the across the board terrific performances. Nick Cannon was really good and frankly, far better than I thought he might be. Angela Bassett really brings it as one of the older women in the community who has seen far too many shootings and murders she has some great scenes. Samuel L. Jackson is perfect as the narrator/Greek chorus of the film "Dolmedes". His narration really ties the multiple storylines together and no one can deliver lines like Sam Jackson.

Jennifer Hudson in Chi-Raq

The early scenes with Jennifer Hudson were good, but she really builds to some terrific, powerful scenes as the film goes on. A really great performance.

John Cusack in Chi-Raq

One of the most powerful scenes in the film was the child’s funeral lead by a spectacular performance by John Cusack. Spike and his editors deserve recognition for crafting a long funeral of a child–yet still making it compelling and moving. I think in the hands of a lesser filmmaker the scene could have really come off as maudlin and dare I say trite. John Cusack really delivers in this scene with a powerful sermon.

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

The film though belongs to the terrific Leading performance of Teyonah Parris. Her character Lysistrata doesn’t start off as one of the “conscious sisters” you might suspect. Not a ghetto “hood rat”, but not exactly conscious either. Her character has the greatest character arc and leads the rebellion of “no peace, no piece” (even though the film addresses it more explicitly) to a worldwide phenomena. You believe Lysistrata every step of the way in her journey from bystander to leader. Definitely a star-making performance.

I thought Chi-Raq was terrific and a true return to form for Spike Lee. I admit, I didn’t know what to think going into see Chi-Raq, but as I said on social media “I loved it! Everything it did, everything it was trying to say."

I have to say that from the start people really got the idea of this movie WRONG, from the community to the prospective audiences. Chicago residents and City Council members had requested that Lee change the name of the film, going so far as to threaten the tax credits that the filmmaker will receive from the city. (Chicago Tribune) Then the lighthearted trailer (which more than likely the studio put together) was released and that caused people across social media to decry that Spike was making light of the extremely high murder rates in Chicago. Then audiences that saw it never got the rhyming scheme or the satire.

As Spike Lee said, he wasn’t making “Menace II Society 2” nor I thought should he. We have seen too many of those type of “hood films” and I applaud Spike for making something artful yet impactful. I think if more people see it, more will get it than not. I saw it in theaters on Opening Day, but as of this publishing Chi-Raq is available across multiple VOD (Video On Demand) platforms. If you’re interested, see it for yourself and make up your mind then.

July 2015
When Chi-Raq wrapped filming for the indiewire blog Shadow & Act I put together
All of Spike Lee's Instagram Posts on 'Chi-raq' Compiled, as Filming Wraps

On his Instagram page, Spike Lee posted pics of some of the set locations, stars in the film, and even some family members that worked on the set of Chi-Raq. You can see those post compiled at the link above.

  • Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here

Friday, December 4, 2015

Creed - Review


Directed by Ryan Coogler

Produced by Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, William Chartoff, Charles Winkler and David Winkler

Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
Story by Ryan Coogler. Based on Characters by Sylvester Stallone

Michael B. Jordan
Sylvester Stallone
Tessa Thompson
Phylicia Rashād
Tony Bellew

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti

Released: November 25, 2015 (USA)

Synopsis: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before Adonis was born. However, boxing is in his blood, so he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks the retired champ to be his trainer.

Review: Even though this could be considered the seventh Rocky film, both a spin-off from the original series and a successor to 2006's Rocky Balboa, this film is definitely a spin-off of the Rocky franchise– without being a sequel.

The story is really good and deftly straddles the line of being an homage in places without being a copy. You think you know where everything is going, and while you’re probably right, it’s still so cleverly done that it never feels trite.

Michael B. Jordan is as great as ever as the title character Adonis “Doni” Johnson, the biological son of Apollo Creed born after Apollo died (in 1985’s Rocky IV). Jordan not only gives a great acting performance filled with equal parts vulnerability and strength, but you can tell that he took the boxing training seriously as well. Through Jordan and Ryan Coogler’s direction, Creed has a very realistic portrayal of boxing and boxing training.

Jordan was not the only good performance in the picture as every performance excels. Phylicia Rashād, as Apollo’s widow/Doni’s adopted mother “Mary Ann” and Tessa Thompson as Doni’s girlfriend “Bianca”, the women in Doni’s life were great in the film each bringing their own fortitude to help make Doni the strong man he needs to be. Rashād is pretty much the "mom role", but Thompson is giving a whole character of her own and not just "the girlfriend".

Because every boxing film needs an antagonist boxer, Creed has one in "'Pretty' Ricky Conlan" portrayed by real-life pugilist Tony "Bomber" Bellew. Bellew was also really good and menacing in his role. The real surprise in this picture though was Sylvester Stallone. I repeat this is NOT a Rocky sequel. It is totally Adonis [Creed] Johnson's picture, but even in a small supporting role Stallone gave the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. All of the “awards talk” is completely valid.

Ryan Coogler’s direction is really great as he skillfully crafted the aforementioned “very realistic portrayal of boxing and boxing training” with thrilling suspense. As it should be, the “big match” was the most thrilling part of the film. The punching feels real, the trauma feels real, the agony feels real! The boxing is not the only great thing about this picture. The dramatic notes are equally thrilling. The drama is good throughout, but as he did with the third act in 2013’s Fruitvale Station, the third act in Creed is powerful and strikes all the right notes.

I will echo the buzz online, Creed is a terrific picture, Michael B. Jordan the truth and Ryan Coogler the real deal!

This film conceptualized by Ryan Coogler, took a lot to get pull together. After 2013’s Fruitvale Station (which I reviewed here ) when Coogler signed with WME (William Morris Endeavor, talent agency) he identified Creed as a dream project. While Coogler already had the relationship with Michael B. Jordan (from Fruitvale Station), the agency put him together with Sylvester Stallone. Stallone loved the idea, a spin-off of his original Oscar-winning 1976 film Rocky and felt it was strong enough for him to bring back his signature screen character. Stallone and Coogler then approached MGM’s Gary Barber and Jon Glickman, and they flipped for it. (Some info from Deadline).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'Nother Brother Now Stands with ARRAY

Today we're proud to announce that we're partnering with ARRAY!

ARRAY is the rebirth of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) Founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay in 2010.

We are an independent film distribution and resource collective comprised of arts advocacy organizations, Maverick volunteers and Rebel member donors worldwide.

Our work is dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally. Varied voices and images in cinema: Array now!

As you can tell by the many posts on this blog we have always believed in the mission of ARRAY (even when it was AFFRM) and now 'Nother Brother Entertainment is bringing the mission to Baltimore!

Our inaugural screening will be this Saturday of the film Ayanda.

As the graphic says, you can get INFO+TIX at the ARRAY webpage @ http://www.arraynow.com/ayanda/ 

See all of our posts about ARRAY/AFFRM by clicking their logo below

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Aiming to diversify storytelling, Ava DuVernay expands scope of film distribution collective
By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times

September 8, 2015

Just a few years before Ava DuVernay's beautifully realized civil rights drama "Selma" took her to the Oscars and the Golden Globes, the director found herself wondering whether her debut feature, the intimate character study "I Will Follow," would ever see the light of day.

"I knew no studio or indie distributor was going to want it," DuVernay says. "It was too woman, too indie, too outside what could make a dollar for them."

Taking matters into her own hands, DuVernay started the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, a distribution collective designed to put her movie — and others to follow — in front of audiences. The grass-roots company went on to release two movies a year.

Now, five years later and after what she calls a post-"Selma" "identity crisis," DuVernay has decided to double down on that effort, announcing Tuesday that she's rebranding the company and relaunching it as Array, broadening its scope to support and help women and more kinds of filmmakers.

"There's a generation of filmmakers of color and women whose primary concern is that no one will see their work," DuVernay says. "And that is a huge barrier. They're asking, 'Why make something if no one will see it?'

"Right now, there is a fundamental disrespect inherent in the distribution and amplification of films. There is a cinema segregation in how films are seen and not seen. What we're saying is, we're not going to depend on those things anymore."

DuVernay doubled her company's membership to around 1,200 donors during a drive in May that saw her taking to Twitter, organizing a daylong question-and-answer session between black filmmakers and fans. Supporters include longtime collaborators such as actor David Oyelowo as well as Jessica Chastain and Kerry Washington.

Array has two films set for release this fall: South African director Sara Blecher's coming-of-age drama "Ayanda and the Mechanic" and Takeshi Fukunaga's debut feature, "Out of My Hand." Last week, USC graduate Tina Mabry's first film, "Mississippi Damned," a dark family drama that won acclaim on the festival circuit after its debut at Slamdance in 2009, won new life on Netflix through a partnership with Array.

Mabry's movie had premiered in Park City the day after Lee Daniels' daring, distinguished drama "Precious." Sales reps told Mabry that the market couldn't support two black films, no matter that they were very different movies.

"That was a big blow," Mabry says. "Those meetings were tough. You had to navigate how to hold your tongue and still express the shortsightedness of how people were looking at your movie and the marketplace in general."

A week after its rebirth on Netflix, Mabry says she has been blown away by the response from people discovering her film six years after its premiere.

"It's a lifesaver. It really is," Mabry says. "Audiences can't watch something if they don't know it exists. Now with Netflix we're finding the people we wanted to reach in the first place."

That's emblematic of the sea change happening within the movie industry. When DuVernay made "I Will Follow" — a film chronicling a woman's grief over the death of a loved one during a single day — she was adamant that the movie play in theaters. She made a deal with AMC and "browbeat" art house programmers to book her movie.

Now, with the likes of Cary Fukunaga's highly anticipated drama "Beasts of No Nation" premiering next month on Netflix — on the same day it will be released in a handful of theaters — DuVernay says she has become "destination agnostic." Array will rely on theatrical distribution as well as new streaming platforms.

"The consumer is deciding what they want to see and when and how, and filmmakers are more aware and accepting of the fact that success is not predicated on your movie showing in a traditional theater for a certain amount of time," she says. "[Steven] Soderbergh's doing a TV series on Cinemax. Skinemax? Really? Jill Soloway, who won the Sundance directing award the year after I did, is making 'Transparent' on ... Amazon? The place I buy books? But now, as long as it's in a place where people can grab it — and different people want to grab it in different ways — it doesn't matter."
Though new platforms have created opportunity, the number of women and minority filmmakers remains startlingly low. A 2013 USC research study, for instance, found that of the 565 directors of top-grossing movies from 2007-12, just 33 were black. And of those, only two were black women. (There hasn't been a similar study tracking smaller, independent movies.)

Keeping momentum going and growing — Array aims to significantly boost the number of films it releases beyond the original company's two a year — has required a commitment of both time and money from its founder. Since "Selma," DuVernay has created, written and directed an upcoming TV series, "Queen Sugar," for the Oprah Winfrey Network, shot a series of commercials and begun work on a timely documentary.

She's holding off on publicly sharing details about the latter project, though over a recent breakfast, DuVernay was happy to talk about her next feature, a murder-mystery love story set during Hurricane Katrina that she's now writing and will shoot next spring with Oyelowo.

Discussing her decision to pass on directing the Marvel Comics movie "Black Panther," however, holds little appeal. It simply wasn't a story she was interested in telling, she says. And it wasn't hard to say no. Just as, ultimately, recommitting to help distribute movies that allow people of color and women to see themselves on screen was an enterprise she couldn't abandon.

"There are all kinds of problems in Hollywood that need to be fixed, but this is one I can do something about because I have the experience," DuVernay says. "And, I have to tell you, it satisfies me immensely."

See all of our posts about ARRAY/AFFRM by clicking their logo below

Friday, August 28, 2015

Straight Outta Compton - Review

Straight Outta Compton

Directed by F. Gary Gray
Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

Produced by Ice Cube, Tomica Woods-Wright, Matt Alvarez, F. Gary Gray, Scott Bernstein and Dr. Dre

Cinematography by Matthew Libatique

O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube
Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre
Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E
Aldis Hodge as MC Ren
Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella
Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller
Keith Stanfield as Snoop Dogg
R. Marcus Taylor as Suge Knight

Released: August 14, 2015 (USA)

Summary: Story about the rise and fall of the Compton, California hip hop group N.W.A and borrows its title from the name of N.W.A's 1988 debut studio album.

Review: The first thing I thought about this film was “wow, they got it right!” They managed to include all the pertinent facts about the rap group that I knew and was privy to (through the media) as it happened.

I had all the albums, read all the articles and they managed to include it all–with gritty realism. The movie starts out the gate showing raw, real hood life and continued to do so throughout while depicting all the pivotal moments in the group’s history. If you didn’t know anything about N.W.A. as I’ve read some people say, this film is a good starting point.

From Left to Right: O'Shea Jackson, Jr. (Ice Cube), Neil Brown, Jr. (DJ Yella) and Aldis Hodge (M.C. Ren). 

The performances throughout were terrific. I was surprised at how good O'Shea Jackson, Jr., as his real life dad Ice Cube, was. I also really liked Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown, Jr. as MC Ren and as DJ Yella respectfully.

From Left to Right: Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E)

The standouts in the cast though were Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Both actors were terrific in their roles and really anchored the film. Both actors were pretty much unknown and gave what I think are the pivotal performances of their careers. With these crucial roles you needed really good actors to sell the story and they did.

The director, F. Gary Gray did a terrific job at not only making sure he cast the right actors for these roles, but that the overall tone was realistic. He had to cut down his film from over 3 hours to the eventual 2 hours and 27 minutes, but still retained the essence of the rise and fall of one of most influential rap groups in history. Of course he couldn’t tell everything, but what he did tell was pretty damned good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Three Black Directors with Aisha Tyler

As a multi-hyphenate that includes being an actor and comedian Aisha Tyler would appreciate this blog entry title. On separate episodes of her show, she sits down with three black directors to discuss any and everything, starting with their upbringing and ending with their careers. Through her podcast, Girl on Guy she has conversations with various people in entertainment, sports etc and these are three conversations with black directors that I found very illuminating.

The conversations are ALL THE WAY LIVE as they are loose with the language and the stories. I discovered her podcast through a podcast and she is great. You can hear Aisha’s extreme intelligence as well as her crass humor. Every convo is like one you’d have at a party or get-together over drinks.

Check out the podcasts below.

Paris Barclay
Girl On Guy 139: Paris Barclay
From May 13, 2014

“The way that I conquer fear is I don’t conquer it. I never conquer it. It doesn’t go away. I just keep walking. I just keep doing what I’m supposed to do until I realize I’m not afraid anymore.”

Join Sons Of Anarchy director and Director’s Guild of America President Paris Barclay and Aisha as they burn through weaponizing your name, having nothing to count on, making the tile, having too much hope, flunking out of Harvard before you begin, explosive parties, shooting L.L. Cool J, getting derbrided, and being a real life mad man. Plus, Paris ends his long, illustrious love affair with alcohol, and finds a new love in the process.

Listen to the podcast below

John Ridley
Girl On Guy 175: John Ridley
From March 10, 2015

“Everything good that came out of my career was out of the absolute worst moment… if this is as bad as it’s going to get, I’m not crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge… I’ve still got a computer. Go write some shit.”

Join Oscar-winning screenwriter (of Twelve Years a Slave), novelist, director and showrunner of American Crime John Ridley  and Aisha as they chop up polymathy, relentlessness, optimism, restraint, prolificacy, intractability and radical creative flexibility.

Listen to the podcast below

Eric Dickerson
Girl On Guy Bonus X20: Ernest Dickerson
From Oct 31, 2013

Join director Ernest Dickerson and Aisha as they slice through drawing movies, urban myths, pulling all nighters, medical horrors, meeting John Sayles, rainy days on the film set, why first days are the hardest, protecting your film, creative desperation, zombie creation, and why every film is terrifying. Plus Ernest gets lucky in DC, and Aisha is mentally scarred for life by a certain Japanese film.

Unfortunately, this is a premium episode, which requires a subscription to access it. But I think it is WELL WORTH  the “price of admission”. I think the subscriptions are reasonable too (Girl On Guy - 30 day subscription for $ 1.99 USD, 6 month subscription for $ 4.99 USD and 1 year subscription for $ 8.99 USD)

Ernest drops some real jewels of wisdom here, hence why you have to pay for it. LOL

Read more about the podcast here

Monday, June 29, 2015

'Do The Right Thing' 25th Anniversary in Brooklyn

A year ago today I went back home to Brooklyn for the 25th anniversary screening of Do The Right Thing with Spike Lee and cast and crew in attendance. Before that I’ve seen Do The Right Thing many times before, but never on the big screen and this was quite the experience.

First of all this was my first time in actual Brooklyn in like forever. I’ve been to New York plenty of times, but not in Brooklyn. My family moved to Queens and I would go to see them. When I saw this screening advertised online I knew I had to be there!

BAMcinématek and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences present this 25th anniversary celebration of Spike Lee's masterpiece, presented on the Steinberg Screen at the BAM Harvey Theater. In this landmark Brooklyn classic, the streets of Bed-Stuy boil and tensions run high on the hottest day of the year. Loaded with an amazing supporting cast (including Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, and Rosie Perez) and music by Public Enemy, Do the Right Thing swings effortlessly from satire to social commentary, and 25 years after its controversial release it remains an important cultural touchstone for a very different Brooklyn.—BAMcinématek
In attendance at were actors from the film Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, Joi Lee, Rick Aiello, Production Designer Wynn Thomas, Line Producer John Kilik and Editor Barry Brown and of course Writer/Director Spike Lee.

Ironically, I had a chance to see Do The Right Thing twice more on the big screen since then. The last time a week after the Baltimore riots (which was a surreal moment) at the 2015 Maryland Film Festival. Of the subsequent times I’ve seen it, I have to say that the Brooklyn screening was the LIVEST!

After they announced the cast and crew of the screening and Spike Lee made his introduction, the audience ERUPTED in cheers as Rosie Perez danced in the opening credits.

The biggest cheer came the first time Ruby Dee came on the screen. Ruby Dee died just 18 days before this screening. Of course the next big cheer came when Ossie Davis first appeared on screen. The cheering never occurred in the subsequent screening. I knew I was home in Brooklyn.

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

The audience laughed at exactly what they were supposed to laugh at, but the BIGGEST laughs came from every scene with "the corner men" anchored by the late great Robin Harris.

After the screening they had a Q&A with the cast and crew
From right to left: Dr. Khalil Gibran interviewed Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, Joie Lee and Rick Aiello at BAM's Harvey Theater in Fort Greene on Sunday night for the 25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.

Here's a slideshow of press pics of the night

I went to New York for the whole day and had a great time seeing friends and family, but it was special to be at this screening of my favorite Spike Lee Joint with the cast and crew and very special to be back home in Brooklyn.
Pic I took that day June 29, 2014

Below you can see two clips from the Q&A I was proud to be there to witness.

In this first clip Production Designer Wynn Thomas, film editor Barry Alexander Brown and Line Producer Jon Kilik discuss the making of Do the Right Thing.

This clip is an edit of the entire Q&A

Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here