Looking for a Slightly Oldie But Goodie Flick: Check out “Brown Sugar” with Sanaa Lathan & Taye Diggs

As you can guess, graduation has gotten me a little behind on the blogging. No worries. I’m still here. And I’ve got several movie reviews coming down the pike. But instead of looking forward, I decided to do a little reminiscing on some of the best (and often overlooked) movies of the past. Check out my review of the 2001 flick Brown Sugar.

“Hip-Hop: You are the Love of My Life.”

It’s rare to find a movie that mixes music, culture, humor and love in an artistic and intelligent manner. Brown Sugar (2002) starring Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs does just that. It’s a refreshing romantic comedy that features the unsung love between two old friends and their love affair with the tie that bonds them – hip-hop.

Pete Rock, De La Soul, Method Man, Jermaine Dupre, Common and Russell Simmons. These are just a few of hip-hop music‘s greats. Brown Sugar opens with their honest and revealing responses to the question: “So when did you fall in love with hip-hop?”

This is the question that Sidney Shaw (Sanaa Lathan), a music journalist, has asked of her interviewees for the past 10 years. It is also the question of her life. In the beginning, her answer was simple. “I remember the very first day I fell in love with hip hop. It was July 18, 1984.”

It’s no coincidence that this day was also the day she met Dre Ellis (Taye Diggs) on a New York brownstone stoop 15 years ago. (The film was one of the first productions to shoot on location in New York after 9/11.) Both of them stopped to stare at a lyrical battle in the Bronx between rappers Doug E. Fresh, Dana Dane, and Slick Rick the Ruler. This moment was their initiation into the hip-hop culture and forever defined their love for the genre.

The two impressionable youngsters let music be their life’s guide. Dre became a well-known record producer and executive for a major record label. And Sidney has succeeded in her career as a film critic, working first for the Los Angeles Times and then as editor of hip-hop magazine, XXL. She is also authoring a book on her love affair with rap music.  Her discussion of hip-hop for the manuscript serves as the poetic thread and shining star that guides the story along.

Although Sidney and Dre seem to be perfect for one another and have a lot in common like music and childhood experiences, they’ve never pursued a relationship. Instead, they’ve kept it platonic and remained close — just like their rapport with hip-hop.

“For many people, hip-hop was that first friend. The first to talk to us. The first to understand. Hip-hop has always been that kind of friend to me. Like any relationship, I’ve watched it grow. I’ve watched it change,” said Sidney as she typed her manuscript.

Somewhat of a workaholic, Sidney hasn’t made much time for romance. On the other hand, smooth and suave Dre is quite the player who has had his choice of women. However after dating one special woman for a couple of months, a beautiful entertainment attorney Reese (Nicole Ari Parker of TV’s “Soul Food”), who he calls “brown sugar” because she is “wifey material” – smart and fine, he decides to pop the question.  Reese, who doesn’t yet realize the strong connection between Sidney and Dre, joyfully accepts.

As Dre’s best friend, Sidney does her best to fight her feelings and support his upcoming nuptials and relationship with Reese, who quickly learns that their relationship comes second to his friendship with Sid.  Dre’s impending marriage to Reese only continues to stirs up Sidney’s emotions that she’s trying her best to ignore. Her cousin and friend, Francine (Queen Latifah), tells her she should fight for her man. In Francine’s words, Sidney could get the best of both worlds – “the buddy and the booty.”

Although there are a couple of bumps along the walk down the aisle, Dre and now jealous Reese manage to get married. And maybe, just maybe, the two old chums are better of as friends?
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CB Reviews “Adventureland”: An 80′s Coming of Age Ride

Eighties nostalgia, young love, and the horrors of summer jobs describe the cinematic ride, Adventureland.

Although written and directed by Greg Mottola, best known for the comedic hit Superbad (2007), this film can only be loosely called a comedy. (And if you are expecting a laugh-filled movie experience like his last film, then Adventureland is not for you.) Instead, Mottola delivers a coming of age story set in Pittsburgh in the 1980s.

Adventureland is the story of college graduate, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) who has big plans to move to New York City and attend Columbia University’s graduate school. He wants to become a travel essayist and thinks a master’s degree in journalism will help him because the field is “still an old boys’ network.”

However, James’s big plans and lifelong dreams fall flat when he finds out that his parents are broke. Not only is his college graduation gift of traveling through Europe with his buddy cancelled, but his parents also tell him he needs to get a summer job to save money.

After rounds of applications to every menial and entry-level job in town, Brennan finds he isn’t qualified for anything, except a “games” job at the local amusement park, “Adventureland.” So, tucking his highly educated tail between his legs, he attempts to make the best of the situation.

James soon finds there are some upsides to his rather brainless job. He develops friendships with people who are crazier and more socially awkward than he is. In fact, in some of his summer circles, James becomes the “almost-cool kid.” He also meets a girl, Em (Kristen Stewart) who is the sad, often depressed, and girl-next-door plain. Yet, she is sexy enough to tug at his heart strings. (And if you are wondering who is Kristen Stewart, you must not have seen the latest vampire film sensation, Twilight. She is the young actress who starred in this movie and has become a major success.)

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CB Reviews “Duplicity”: Finally! The Sophisticated Sexy Thriller We’ve Been Waiting For

Everyone loves a good love story. How about adding some twists and turns as well as some tricks and tests between two star-crossed spies? That’s the recipe for Duplicity, the sophisticated, cleverly written romantic thriller starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen that doesn’t disappoint.

Like most Hollywood love stories, the secret affair between Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and Ray Koval (Clive Owen) begins with the guy spewing some clever pick-up lines – to which Stenwick denies at first. However, after a bit of back and forth between the two, they end up doing the horizontal tango in the most beautiful and luxurious of places, a decadent hotel room in Dubai on Independence Day in 2003.

This chance encounter develops into a clandestine love affair that spans five to six years on screen – although it’s not told chronologically. Rather, it simply sets the stage and tempo for the espionage story that unravels. Duplicity takes the viewer on a seductive path to figure out who is going to win in a knockdown, drag out “corporate death match” between two battling pharmaceutical companies to develop a one-of-a-kind product first. Their longstanding competition and race to win requires teams of spies, double agents and former CIA operatives. And that’s where Claire Stenwick, Ex-CIA, and Ray Koval, Ex-MI6, get a piece of the action. The two are hired to spy on each other’s company but are secretly in cohorts. Because after all says Stenwick, “All we have to do is find the product. If we get there first, we make a fortune.” Their scheming and maneuvering takes the audience on a thrilling ride.

Written and directed by Tony Gilroy who worked his same magic in Michael Clayton and The Bourne Identity series, Duplicity delivers sophisticated, action-packed and perfectly paced scenes as well as sharp writing and well-timed comebacks.

In addition to the artfully writing which leaves you on the edge of your seat attempting to solve the mystery (which you can’t), Duplicity characters are cast flawlessly. The hilarious, ultra-competitive CEO, Richard Garsik, is played perfectly by the Sideways (2004) star, Paul Giamatti. And British actor, Tom Wilkinson (most recently seen in Valkyrie with Tom Cruise) carries off the calm, collected and scheming role of Garsik’s arch nemesis. The opening scene with two characters locked in a physical, slow motion, middle aged men fight is hilarious, unexpected and a pleasure to watch.

And of course, the pairing of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, seen together before in Closer (2004), is pure genius. The two light up the screen with genuine chemistry that is both exciting, enticing and sexy. Roberts, who’s an unbelievable forty-one years old, proves that she’s still a knockout and a box office hit.

Although the relationship between Stenwick and Koval is full of sparks and lustful encounters, it’s not for the lighthearted. The basic components of a good relationship – love and trust – are continuously tested on a personal and business basis for them. From worries about the other cheating while undercover to wondering if they are each keeping their part of the bargain, the mere concept of trust is never taken for granted. “Admit it. You don’t trust me either,” said by Stenwick to Koval, which just about sums up their liaison.

And if your eyes get tired of watching two of the hottest stars on the screen – Roberts and Owen (which would be hard to believe) – the beautiful Condé Nast Traveler-like locales are a feast to behold. Duplicity takes the viewer on a visual smorgasbord and broke travelers dream with scenes in Dubai, Rome, Miami, Zurich and London. The cobblestone streets, Roman architecture, and clear blue seas are just a few of the treats.

Suspenseful, sexy and full of espionage – Duplicity keeps you guessing right until the very end. The guy gets the girl but do they pass go, reach the goal and collect their reward? Who gets gamed? You will definitely want to know. And besides, it’s a lot of fun to watch.




CB Reviews “Watchmen”: It’s A Smiley Face Turned Upside-Down!

It’s really bad when the state of humanity hinges on a bunch of pseudo-sadomasochists parading around as costumed heroes who haphazardly decide to save the world for mere kicks and giggles.  This is the twisted sense of humor and entire point of the mystery adventure Watchman.

This 2009 American superhero film is based on DC Comics’ award-winning, limited series graphic novel (1986-1987) illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Zack Snyder, who is famous for the adaptation of the 300 graphic novel, directed the movie. And Lawrence Gordon (Die Hard), Lloyd Levin (United 93) and Deborah Snyder (300) had a hand in producing it.  However viewers should not expect the same level of cinematic beauty or the type of compelling storytelling in Watchmen that Snyder showed us was possible in 300. Instead, the long and needlessly drawn out film, which lasts a restless 2 hours and 43 minutes, has the audience wishing for their own superhero powers to teleport themselves out of the theater.

Watchmen begins in the year of 1985, and tells the tale of a group of former vigilantes who used to dress up as superheroes. Although the somewhat-counterfeit crime fighters have “retired,” a couple of them decide to pay attention to the nuclear threat (read: end of world scenario) and tension between the United States and Russia.

The stakes are high but the audience’s investment in the protagonists or their success is relatively low. This weak story drags on for a full hour and forty minutes and consists of confession after confession from weary and depressed individuals who must decide if they are really going to solve the weak mystery, which is somehow connected to the complete obliteration of mankind (for the remaining hour).

smile

And here is where this artificial set of superheroes is exposed. Aren’t most superheroes like Superman concerned with unnecessary violence and killing people? Don’t most champions of justice risk their lives to save others and humanity? And don’t all superheroes have a special power or two that us mere mortals could only dream of?

On these accounts, viewers could legitimately question whether the movie had any bona fide superheroes at all. The protagonists, with the exception of the neon blue Dr. Manhattan, actually lacked any “real” or perceived super powers. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) can see into the future and teleport himself all over the universe after a science lab mistake. Next to him, the other hero hopefuls are pretty laughable. Heck, all they want to do is fight for fun and stave off boredom.

And speaking of characters, there were only a few that are truly memorable. There was the demented and bloodthirsty Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), whose street name was Walter Kovacs. Although his journal accounts provide the framework for the story, the inkblot masked Rorschach’s killing scenes will make the audience wonder if the film was written or produced by Quentin Tarantino.

And then there’s Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), whose action hero’s name is Silk Spectre II. She had only one bona fide power — her drop dead gorgeous looks that captured the attention of her fellow superheroes. Other than a decent left hook and a swift kick, she disappointed the audience who expected a more Wonder Woman-like performance due to their close resemblance achieved through casting, makeup and wardrobe. (more…)




CB’s Review: “The Class (Entre Les Mur)”: Who is Teaching Who?

If you ever wanted to understand why teaching puberty-ridden, curious and often rebellious high school kids is a tough job, just watch the French film, The Class (Entre Les Murs). This movie dives into the deep end of the complexities of teaching a multi-ethnic, socioeconomic diverse class in the new immigrant rich France.

The Class (2008) takes place inside the narrow confines of the high school campus, which may sound limiting, but it was a careful choice made by director Laurent Cantet.  The docudrama is based on a book and screenplay written by François Bégaudeau, the author and teacher who plays himself in the movie. It is a somewhat loose day-in-the-life story of his struggles to teach a diverse class of challenging students.

Most viewers realize the teachers are in for a rough time from the very first scene. Smartly foreshadowing the year to come, a group of teachers meet to prepare for the incoming students. The team shares its words of encouragement and advice, especially for the rookies. A retiring teacher said “[He’d] like to wish the new arrivals plenty of courage” because he knew they would need it.

The complexity of courage and respect are played out in the film’s French classroom and in “real-world” classrooms internationally. François, and the other teachers, wear a shield of courage each day to face the brutal, disruptive and demanding students. Like the new France, François’ class had students of all nationalities – Moroccan, Mali, Chinese as well as other African and Middle Eastern nations. The Class proves that teachers also needed respect to understand the daily battles their first and second-generation immigrant students encountered in their tough French neighborhoods. These constant clashes between teacher and student for understanding left the audience with mixed sympathies.

This push-pull tension around respect in the classroom was played out perfectly as the movie went from scene to scene. Several students, like Khoumba, a sharp-tongued, moody African girl, were quick to demand respect from their snappy and exasperated teacher. In one power play, she is scolded by François for her insolence in class after refusing to read aloud. In a tug-of-war after class discussion, François demands a sincere apology from her. Feeling a lack of respect shown, she offers a half-hearted apology and runs off to join her friends who waited and snickered in the hallway. Seeking to provide balance to the commentary on respect, the film shows another side of Khoumba, as a sensitive, emotional teenaged girl. In a well-written note to François, she explains how she feels disrespected by him.

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CB Review: “Taken” is a slow predictable ride on a path to nothing new

Despite Taken’s (2009) action-packed, hyped up trailers featuring an angry, revengeful father who is on a fast-moving, butt-kicking warpath to find his daughter who is taken, hence the title, this action flick actually begins at an agonizing snail’s pace. Not surprisingly, the biggest suspense of the film was actually experienced in the beginning of the film as viewers wait impatiently for the action to commence.

For an action flick, Taken begins slowly by showing father and ex-CIA operative, Bryan Mills, (Liam Nelson) reminiscing about his daughter’s childhood. The audience is led through a series of uneventful scenes that depict a somewhat pathetic Mills trying to make-up for lost times and rebuild his relationship with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). He has even given up his career, which kept him away from his family, and moved to be closer to his precious Kimmie. Although it appears as though no love is lost between Mills and his daughter due to his absent years, he struggles with playing second fiddle to his ex-wife’s new husband and new money.

And just as the audience is about to give up on seeing any action in this movie (which now closely resembles a drama), the foreshadowing begins as Mills is characterized as an overprotective and paranoid father who is extremely concerned about his 17-year-old daughter traveling abroad without parental supervision. Kimmie tells her father, “Mom said your job made you paranoid.” To which Mills blandly responds, “I was a “preventor” of bad things from happening.”

From this point forward the pace begins to quicken as the viewer waits wearily for the daughter to be “taken.” Although the kidnapping was not a surprise, Mills’ timing and sideline involvement added an interesting flip on the standard abduction scene. It is only after poor Kimmie is captured that the viewer gets what they’ve been waiting for – the angry, taking-no-prisoners Mills who not only vows to get his daughter back but threatens her kidnappers. In the most famous line of the movie, Mills says, “I don’t know who you are but if you don’t let my daughter go, I will find you and I will kill you.”

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CB Review: “Waltz with Bashir” – An Artful Dance with the Trauma of War

When movies usually mix animation and wartime violence, they become action flicks (think GI-Joe cartoons), bloody horror shows or somewhere messy in-between. Yet, Waltz with Bashir (2008) is surprisingly neither of these. Instead, the beautifully done animation makes the difficult issues in the documentary – such as death, torture, post-traumatic stress disorder, war and suffering – a bit easier to swallow, watch and ultimately understand. The cartoon images managed to soften the blow of the sad and troubling story of the first Lebanon War and the Palestinian massacres in Sabra and Shatila.

After hearing about his friend’s recurring dream of being chased by 26 vicious dogs, movie director Ari Folman and his friend connect this nightmare to their experience as soldiers during the 1982 Lebanon War. It is at this point that Folman realizes that his mind is blank. He doesn’t remember his participation in the War, nor his witnessing of the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians. This conversation then sparks his first flashback into the times his mind helped him forget.

The movie unfolds beautifully as Folman attempts to bring back his memories of the war and the massacres by interviewing and speaking with others who were involved.

Although an interesting choice to use animation for a film with such deep themes, Folman’s decision turns out to be both extraordinary and appropriate for showing the depth of these issues. The use of animation and cartoons allowed the movie to artistically depict the tricks that the mind can play on people who survive wars and those that witness and commit countless acts of violence.

In Bashir, flashbacks, dreams and moving in and out of the past and present are the name of the game. In fact, the memories create the story – they are the story. There is a naked blue woman who appears out of the sea to rescue a soldier who then climbs upon her stomach and leaves his fellow soldiers back on a ship. This boat is then blown to pieces in an attack as the soldier wearily looks on. These types of flashbacks, or the mind’s attempts to move past traumatic events, are woven into the storyline, which addresses the wounds of soldiers and the pains of war. The movie’s animation gives us, the viewer, an up close and personal look at post-traumatic stress disorder, without the sharp vivid images of real pictures and images. However, Folman does choose to show a few minutes of the actual video footage of the Palestinian massacre. These powerful images will be painted into the minds of the audience, and serve to reinforce the very depths of horror and trauma endured.

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My Maltese puppy; lazy Sunday mornings; a day at the Beach; Yoga; breakfast anytime of the day; my gurls (and you know who you are); my family (I’m a daddy’s girl); making new friends; Los Angeles & Washington, DC; ocean views; Anguilla; healthy foods that don’t taste healthy; politics; "greenie" things; meditating; natural curls and movies.

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  • profileCARAMEL BELLA: This is my place to write about my adventures and mis-adventures in this thing called life. I discuss my passions: the environment, politics, art & culture, writing as well as yoga, health and spirituality. The one thing you can expect from this blog is that it is not what you expected. Thanks for reading! To reach me email thecaramelbella at gmail.

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