Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Higher Learning (1995)
Singleton's Improbable History
Based on the personal experiences of director John Singleton's time at the University of Southern California,comes Higher Learning. A film centered on the racial politics that occur at modern day colleges.
There are three main characters to which the film bases its foundation around for its story: Malik Williams, an carefree lowbrow athlete who is an African American male. Kristin Conner, a sheltered soft white girl, and Remy, a unsophisticated unconnected white male. All three are overcome by the sudden realities that college life is not as good as it is advertised as all three go through disappointment by being unprepared (Malik), by being naive (Kristin), and by being unwanted (Remy).
One good thing about the film is that it does show that modern American colleges are just high schools writ large. The colleges are not places to build character , develop potential, or enhance personal advancement, but they are institutions used to gather all sorts of students in a one-size-fits-all atmosphere. It is an experience that usually is built for failure for most students. It would have been good if the film built it story about this travesty rather than racial politics.
But it didn't and that's where the films falls apart. Singleton ,it seems, had a pretty bad experience at Southern California. Through this film he lets it all hang out. There is no need to beat around the bush here. Singleton lets the heroes and the villains of this piece be easily seen.
The black characters in the film are pretty much seen as the heroes here while all the whites in the film are seen as the villains, save for Kristin, who was raped by a fellow white student.
Who can understand the inconsistencies of this film? Black gang members who come to the aid of a white girl after she points out to them who supposedly raped her? The ease that the black gang members have at the university while a bunch of skin heads meet in a dark small dorm planning violence?
The performances of Omar Epps (Malik) and Kristy Swanson (Kristin) are disappointing. They do seem like the third choices for the roles that they played in this movie (Tupac Shakur and Drew Barrymore were supposed to play Malik and Kristin but were unavailable). O'Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube ,Busta Rhymes, and Regina King were all irritating in their respective roles. And Laurence Fishburne was woefully miscast here as the history professor. Only Michael Rappaport did well in this film and he did considering that his character ,of the three main characters, changed the most in the film.
John Singleton wanted to take on the matter of race and inequality in American college life with this film. And he did so quite badly. It was sort like killing a fly with a shotgun. Life is far more complex than it seems and people are alike all over and he should know this. Higher Learning is proof that he did not understand this at all. Seeing the film ,then and now, would only confuse, disappoint and enrage the same public he would wish to speak to. Not to mention it would not entertain them in the slightest.
The Five Heartbeats (1991)
Five Uneasy Pieces
The rise and fall and the return to glory of an African American rhythm and blues singing group is presented in Robert Townsend's, The Five Heartbeats. Set between the years of 1965 and 1977, The Five Heartbeats is a biopic that tells the story of how five young black fellows catch a break and rise to fantastic fame and breathtaking stardom, only to be taken down by greed, jealousy, drugs, womanizing, and corruption from within.
Like most, I would love to like The Five Heartbeats. But it is a film made with totally simplicity. That is, the film glosses over how the Heartbeats made it so fast and how their music made them so special in the eyes of the public.
You see in the movie, the Heartbeats making the cover of Time, Newsweek, and Ebony magazine in their epic rise to stardom. Yet sad to say none of the music in the film ,despite having R&B music great Thom Bell's input, is anything special. The songs are not sung by the actors portraying the Heartbeats in the film and are poorly lip-synced by the same actors.
The movie shows the corrupt head of the record company the Heartbeats work for, "Big Red" (Hawthorne James), taken down and indicted and sentenced to prison for murdering the Heartbeats' manager, Jimmy Potter(Calvin Patterson) in a big front page headline in a newspaper. For a movie that many posters here have said portrays the reality of the music business perfectly, the fall of Big Red is a bit of a stretch. Red was supposed to be a Berry Gordy type of businessman. It would have been impossible to have pinned the murder of Potter on him and even harder to bring him down.
As for the part in the film where The Heartbeats see a new album of theirs have the picture of a white family at the beach instead of themselves on the cover, well that had to be one of the most awkward scenes in the film. Yes black R&B acts in the 1940's and the early part of the 1950's had faced a great deal of racism. But by the time the Heartbeats (Their rise started after 1965) became big why couldn't they be seen on an album cover together? Why would their own record company present this them way? What would putting an white family on an album cover of black R&B group have to do with crossover appeal? Townsend seems unable to present the problem the group supposedly had with racism properly. I mean if you make the cover of Time magazine that is crossover appeal isn't it?
When the film was made, Robert Townsend, was hot and he knew it. Hollywood Shuffle and Eddie Murphy's Raw made him a hot producer. He and Keenen Ivory Wayans wrote The Five Heartbeats. The Five Heartbeats, missed the mark by a wide margin. The film is inconsistent ,trite and a bit too long. In the long run the Heartbeats, their own stories as individuals, and their own music, couldn't and cannot match real life music groups. The story is supposed based on the real life R&B group ,the Dells, but Townsend couldn't translate their story in a competent manner.
The In Crowd (1988)
A Good Crowd
The time:1965. The place:Phiuladelphia. The movie:The In Crowd. A fun and enjoyable timepiece about the time when Americans enjoyed and loved seeing and participating in dance shows in their various local cities. You see this when the movie ,cleverly, shows the beginnings of several dance TV shows from across the country and the hosts of these TV shows (Sam Riddle in Los Angeles, Wink Markindale in Memphis among others).
The movie centers on three stories. One having the movie's star, Donovan Leitch playing a character called Del. A bright young man with a bright future ahead of him but he wants to be a dancer on the local TV dance program, "Perry Parker's Dance Party". Del doesn't know it but he has nothing in common with the dancers on Perry Parker's show , except that he is a fine dancer himself which gets him a chance to be on the show.
The second part of the movie deals with Perry Parker himself, played by that great actor Joe Pantoliano. Parker .like most people in Philadelphia, feel betrayed that Dick Clark took American Bandstand away from Philaelphia and moved it to Los Angeles.He tries to tell his dancers that if Dick Clark fails the network may want to look for a replacement, like his own show for instance. Parker is like a lot of TV hosts of local shows of that era, hoping to be the next Ed Sullivan, the next Steve Allen, the next Dick Clark, the next Johnnny Carson. Hoping the networks will take him in a make him a big star on network television.
The third part deals with Del and his short love affair with Vicky (Jennifer Runyon). Vicky is pretty but is too lowbrow even for Del. This is one movie where the pretty girl fails to meet the expectations of the supposed geek in the film rather than the other way around. In the end Del tries to help Vicky leave Philadelphia and join her Fonzie like boyfriend Dugan (Scott Plank) as they head for Hollywood.
The In Crowd has great music using some good soul music in the film that is true to the era and not just the same old music you might have heard over and over again in other films about the early 1960's. The choreography is great and inspired and it makes for a good musical and that is what The In Crowd pretty much is. A musical. The living room dance duel between Del and Dugan is proof of that.
The movie told a true tale of how things were changing in America without getting highhanded and clumsy in how they did it. Perry Parker is a prime example of this. An associate producer tells him the show is getting low ratings and that the type of music he has on his show won't work. He should try Mitch Miller instead says the producer. The station manager(Blake Soper) has no use for Parker or his dance show and wants something else. When he brings along a British Invasion like group ,longhair and all to the TV studio and wants Paker to put them on the show, Parker says no saying that,thanks to the long hair, he can't tell if they are boys or girls. He was right, the group was all wrong for his dance show but Perry Parker's days on TV are numbered anyway.
Pantoliano is his usual great self here. As with all of his roles he makes Perry Parker his own. The film is a nice timepiece just before everything came apart in the US.The music, the dance numbers, and some decent acting make this a decent movie if you really wanted to know what America was like back in 1965.
It is the type of tale that Dick Clark tried to tell himself through the American Dreams TV series but failed miserably because the show was all over the map. It wasn't overwrought and overrated like the NBC mini series about the sixties called The 60's. The In Crowd is a good film that wasn't all that appreciated when in came out in theaters in 1988. Hopefully people shall take a better liking to it when they see it again in the future.
Fantastic Four (2005)
Four On The Floor
After making movies for their other comic book titles like Spiderman, The X-Men, the Hulk, Daredevil, among others, Marvel Comics goes about and makes a film about the characters that started it all for the Marvel Universe, The Fantastic Four. Yes Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm , and Ben Grimm are brought to life in a feature film that will give them the respect and studio money that the marvel title that was billed "The World's Greatest Comic Book Magazine" deserves. Well it was planned that way anyway.
But something happened along the way that is quite apparent that the new Fantastic Four film didn't quite meet expectations. The story is about four people, Reed,Sue,Johnny and Ben going in a private rocket ship ,funded by Reed's own money, to reach the moon. The ship doesn't reach its' destination and goes through a massive storm of cosmic rays that transform Reed, Sue,Johnny, and Ben into people with fantastic powers. This does not happen in the film however:
The space flight is done for different reasons. The flight is funded by the very successful Victor Von Doom , who in the picture, is the finance of Sue. Von Doom goes with the four on the fateful flight and receives a dose of cosmic rays as well. A tremendous change from the origin of the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe that one sees in the comics.
The four find out about their powers in a very different fashion than they did in the comics. Quite naturally, their portrayals don't even come close to bringing out the Fantastic Four and fleshing them out as deep well rounded characters.
Ioan Gruffred looks lost as Mister Fantastic. Reed in the comics was a highly successful confident man(Tim Robbins would have been great as Reed). Gruffred ,no matter how one looks at it, isn't Reed Richards.His chemistry with everyone in the movie is readily not apparent.
I know many studio executives may have thought that making Jessica Alba as Sue Storm would bring in a lot of publicity for the film and it may have. But to say a studio can't find a blond white woman to play Sue (Say Naomi Watts) is incredible. I am not a hater or anything but Sue in the comics wasn't Hispanic like Alba is. Alba and her acting skills left a lot to be desired too. Having Jessica Alba playing a scientist is a bit of a stretch that not even Reed Richards with his powers could reach.
Johnny Storm in the comics was a teenager so it is hard to believe Chris Evans was to play Sue's younger brother. Huh? Evans and Alba don't even look like brother and sister(The danger of the stunt casting just mentioned above.) and Evans looks older than Alba. He does do a decent job playing a hard edged Johnny Storm. He seems to be the only member of the four who enjoys his new found powers.
That can't be said for Ben, who now has become a large body of orange rock thanks to the accident. Michael Chilkis does a fine job playing the unfortunate Thing. But he like Alba seem to have no great chemistry with Gruffred. Alba and Gruffred have absolutely no chemistry with each other at all. Gruffred is old enough to be Alba's older brother but not really suited to be her love interest.
Why they had to make the blind Alicia Masters into a black woman (Kerry Washington) for the movie is not easily understandable. Her comment about not being accepted by society when she meets Ben in the bar late in the film is smacks of political correctness not real human frustration.
Julian McMahon makes for a serviceable Doctor Doom. But changing his story, changing how he met Reed and how he became Dr. Doom hurt the film the most. The Reed/Doom rivalry of great masterminds, one for good one for evil, is totally lost in the shuffle. As with everything else Gruffred seems to have no chemistry in his dealings with McMahon. The Richards/Von Doom rivalry is ruined even more.
There is not enough action in Fantastic Four to make it an exciting movie. At the very best it is just serviceable. The final showdown between the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom is one quick let down. The showdown is over and done with before you know it.
Director Tim Story(Barbershop) seems as if he didn't really put his best foot forward into this movie.The acting, at times, is stilted and awkward. Marvel Comics could have found a better producer for this film than Story.
Whereas Marvel hit two home runs with Spiderman and the X-Men, with the Fantastic Four, Marvel gets a single but gets thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. As with the creators of The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle not having Jay Ward around to help that movie out,the creators of this Fantastic Four movie didn't have the mentoring of its' real creator, the late Jack Kirby. Stan Lee may have had his little cameo in the film. But the spirit, the flair, and the imagination of Jack Kirby was truly missing with this film. It only goes to show how much studio executives and their focus groups do to ruin feature films through their lack of imagination, their lack of experience in film making, and their own greed.
The Fantastic Four is one of those types of films. We all thought that with this film, we could forget the small budget Roger Corman FF film of 1994. But it seems like we shall have to wait somewhere in the future for giving The Fantstic Four the type of film they and their fans and movie fans everywhere really deserve.
Cooley High (1975)
On the heels of the well received and beloved coming of age film classic ,concerning the lives of teenagers as they headed into adulthood, George Lucas' American Graffiti, we have Cooley High. An adaptation of sorts by one Eric Monte, co creator of the popular 1970's CBS sitcom Good Times.
Cooley High was, and is, viewed as a black version of American Graffiti.Instead of central California ,as in American Graffiti, we have the black slum of Chicago's Cabrini Green as the backdrop for the story here. Instead of America in 1962 Cooley High is situated in 1964.The movie stars Welcome Back Kotter's ,Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and Glynn Turman as the movie main protagonists and its' main characters. It has Garrett Morris playing the principal who tries to keep Jacobs' and Turman's characters,named Coceise and Preach, out of trouble a great deal of the time.
You know, I would like to say that Cooley High is a worthy comparison piece to American Graffiti or that it is a great film on its' own but I can't. The problem lies with the fact that the producers of the film couldn't or wouldn't hide the sad underside of black life in America.Having the film in the Cabrini Green part of Chicago doesn't help things.
Neither does the crass gross attempts at humor here. When Coceise is looking for a letter of intent from a college he finds his little brother has thrown down a toilet. When the gang visits the Chicago Zoo, one of the gang named Pooter, has manure thrown on him by an ape. When the Turman's character,Preach, is being chased by two hoodlums in the school hangout(A dirty and depressing place to eat food in much less meet people at), he opens the door of the girls' bathroom while a girl is relieving herself as he escapes through the window of the same bathroom! The high school, the homes of the characters, the bathrooms, just about everywhere in the film displays the unfortunate look of urban decay and poverty.
If that wasn't enough there was the rough display of humor in the film. The use of violence and profanity in the film. Cooley High may be an coming of age film ,but it is a hard and rough coming of age film with little or none of the wit and liking of the use of nostalgia that made people like and appreciate American Graffiti so much.
Motown Records had a hand in making the film. The company's music was part of the film's soundtrack. But even here you get a sense of same old same old as one has heard these songs before a million times over. Not that they weren't great songs within themselves but black music,of that time period was more than just Motown.Especially in Chicago. The song nearing the end of the movie, by the Spinners' G.C. Cameron, was not all that impressive. There have been better Motown ballads that have been done, by better Motown artists than Cameron without question.
The last part of the film showing where the characters went to pay homage to the film Cooley High aimed to be ,American Graffiti. It shows that Preach,an intelligent but underachieving student went to Hollywood and became a successful television writer. Eric Monte may have patterned himself as Turman's character. The last shot of film show's Preach running away from Coceise's funeral ,held on a dark rainy afternoon, and all the bleakness that Cooley High came to represent. Eric Monte ,through Preach and that final scene, had one little lesson for all of us when watching Cooley High and for the love of the past. Don't look back.
The Lost World (1999)
"The Lost Mess"
More television junk food for those who enjoy such trash one must submit to you,The Lost World,also known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,The Lost World.The show has not all that much to do with the original adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book and it shows to the regret of all that see it.
The television series is a politically correct piece of nonsense that uses dinosaurs in the very beginning of the show,but as the series goes on the dinosaurs are seen less and less frequently.How "lost" is this civilization one cannot fully say.All kinds of strange races,tribes,creatures,and characters show up here.The Lost World,really,is sort of like Gilligan's Island with dinosaurs.
The focus groups used to create the show have made this "Lost World" fit for today's audience.The female characters lead the way,first with Rachel Blakely,playing the annoying and selfish character named Marguerite Krux.Krux wasn't not a character in the first "Lost World" movie in 1925 or the 1960 remake but she is here in the current day TV series as pushy opinionated heiress who usually gets her way.
Then there is Veronica,played by Jennifer O'Dell.O'Dell is sexy and a delight in her native girl outfit showing off her legs and tush and going around in her undies pretty much all throughout the series.But they make Veronica,like Krux,far too aggressive than she should be.She winds up beating up and besting men twice her size and she always wins the hand to hand combat battles with every man she faces.
The male characters,meanwhile,are pretty much pushovers and do not resemble the male characters of earlier Lost World adaptations.Will Snow and his Lord John Roxton is all too wimpy as is David Orth's Ned Malone.What they did to Challenger here is pretty sad.They make him out to be a dottering old fool.The same could be said for Arthur Summerlee,who would be killed off at the end of the first season by the show's focus group.The show's male characters,if they are the show's protagonists,or this week's villains are easily pushed around and hardly seem threatening when you right down to it.The show,because of this,seems so gay.
As the show was on its' last legs,it brought on another aggressive female character,Finn from the future,destroying whatever creditibility the show may have had,if it had any to begin with.This,"Lost World",gives us a lot of what we have seen before from shows like Gilligan's Island,Batman,and The Land Of The Lost.Cheesy junk food for the mind masquerading as an adventure and a drama,of which it is neither.The Lost World TV series is more like a parody.A proper and well done adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World,fit for the small screen and for the general viewing public,shall have to come in the future.
Supreme Sanction (1999)
Kristy Swanson plays an elite hitwoman who is supposed to have knocked off a TV reporter for a group of bad guys,but once she sees this poor fellow at home playing with his kids she decides to junk the whole project and the TV reporter's life is spared.The hitwoman's life is up for grabs as the people who wanted this reporter killed now want her dead for not following through with her assignment.Such is the basis for a movie called Supreme Sanction.
Supreme waste of time is more like it.We see Swanson's character beat up,pummel and kill men far bigger than her.And she always one two fifty steps ahead of the group of murders who can't,for some reason,do away with this super hitwoman.Having one woman do away and beat all these men,makes the movie seem so gay.It is too predictable once you figure Swanson's character is going to win out anyway,thus making the film boring and inept.
Kristy Swanson is decent actress,who in her younger days was always sexy and easy on the eyes.Supreme Sanction is not one of her better efforts however.
Livin' Large! (1991)
When a young lower class black fellow from the ghetto,who aspires to be a journalist,wants to meet his idol,a black tv newsman while that tv news reporter is at a crime scene,and then when that same older classy black tv reporter,who turns down the young man's offer to see a video of the young man's work,gets killed in an accident while at the crime scene,the young black fellow takes his place reporting from the crime scene and becomes a hit with local viewers and the tv station and its' news producer.Such is the story of Dexter Jackson in the 1991 film Livin'Large,about a young black man who learns that despite the rewards of fame and money to never forget where you come.
That lesson would be decent enough to take in except that in the case of Livin'Large,the lesson becomes heavy handed.Dexter,played by Terrence Carter,changes more and more and becomes more remote from his ghetto neighborhood roots as he becomes successful.When a realtor shows him around a new townhouse he is going to buy,and his girlfriend tells Dexter that she can see the old neighborhood from the townhouse and Dexter replies,to his girlfriend's dismay,"and that is the way I prefer to see them from",the movie shows how much he is changing because of success and not for the better.
As with most films centered around black people,these days,the politics concerning blacks and white come into play.Blanche Baker plays her role as the manipulative sleezy news producer very well.Her character,Kate,mentions to Dexter that they,white woman and black men,together must work to keep the white man from keeping them from reaching the top.It is a horrid message from a trashy character and yet it is a message the film itself doesn't distance itself too far from.
Livin' Large tries to tell blacks,in a nutshell,that having too much success,being too refined in speech,dress,education,and manner,makes you white.It is a message that is somewhat clumsy to present to the audience.There is nothing wrong with success.There is nothing wrong is doing the best you can and having dreams far from one's position in life.Livin'Large would wish to sell the idea that if you are black,and trying to improve your lot in life,in being different than how blacks are usually seen and portrayed by the American entertainment media,is an idea filled with compromise,or "selling out",or "acting white".The film's makers,in this case,could not be more than wrong.One would not hate the film,there are some funny moments in it,but it is not quite the film one should reccomend to the general audience at large.
It's All Relative (2003)
"It's All Over"
Trying to inject some imagination in their stable of cookie cutter tv sitcoms,ABC brought to the public "It's All Relative".A show with the situation for it's comedy that a son of a straight Boston couple,that own and run a pub,is in love with a young girl who is the daughter of two gay men,with conflicts rising between the two families every now and then.
Had this been done in Britian(A show,with this premise,may have been considering how networks here copy after British shows all the time),the show would have been the all out laughfest ABC had hoped for.
But the comedy was somewhat low key because the gays on the show were too low key in how they were portrayed.No Out magazines in at their homes,no pink shirts,no tv viewing of American daytime soap operas.I am not saying that these things make up a gay person,but the things about the two gay men were toned down so much that they turned out to be some dull characters.The jokes were so subtle and down low,that after a while,there seem to be no real conflict between the straight Boston pub owners and the gay men.The show drifted in its'dullness and the general public reacted accordingly.
Hollywood is dominated,on and off screen,by the gay community.This community is expressing itself more and more each year.Many gay projects play hardball with the general audience(Queer As Folk) and few projects throw soft ball pitches to this same audience.Guess which group It's All Relative falls into?
The only good thing about It's All Relative is the beauty we saw from Maggie Lawson,who played the gay couple's young daughter.Hopefully she shall find another project to be apart in.A successful one.ABC thankfully pulled the plug on It's All Relative and now it's all over.
The Tuxedo (2002)
This Tuxedo Does Fail
Without a doubt there are few showmen in cinema today who can still entertain us as Jackie Chan can.But his film from 2002,The Tuxedo,was a disaster,for him, and his audience who adore him worldwide.
The plot was horrible.The film's supposed villians were not even a bit scary.The script was terrible.Then there was the lack of chemistry between the movie's two stars,Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt.Lack of chemistry?Actually,there wasn't any between the two and it showed in the film.
Hewitt who,is paired with Chan in this adventure,looks great,no doubt,but she has this problem of whining and complaining all throughout the movie.So much so,her character becomes completely unbearable.You wish Jackie would overpower her with one punch and spare himself,and the viewing audience,anymore of Hewitt and her horrid character.
The plot of the movie would not allow this therefore we must continue to see the little girl from Kids Incorporated punch out every man she comes up against making the movie even more unbelieveable.Hewitt,it seems,is more dangerous,in this adventure,than martial artist veteran Jackie Chan is.
This movie was a setback for the once hot star Jennifer Love Hewitt,her acting is just horrid here.But one hopes this is just one bad film that is allowed every great film star every once in while,that being said The Tuxedo shall be a film that shall be considered a miss,in the many hits Jackie Chan has made in his career.