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Excellent Political Documentary
CHISHOLM '72: UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED is an excellent documentary about a fearless lady and her bold campaign for the nation's top political office. Rather than wait for the "right time," Chisholm stepped into the presidential race in 1972 as not only the first black person, but also the first woman to mount a serious presidential campaign. She also did it on her own terms.
While she failed to win the nomination (that went to Sen. George McGovern, who eventually lost to Richard Nixon), she did incredibly well given the substantial obstacles that she faced. If one were to compare her bid to Carol Moseley-Braun's 2004 bid for the same job, it is all the more impressive. So much so in fact, that you wonder if Moseley-Braun even bothered to study her campaign. If she did, one would think that she would have fared much better.
Unlike Moseley-Braun, Chisholm did not try to downplay the fact that she was a woman or that she was black. To her it was a badge of honor. If anything, Chisholm's campaign had tremendous symbolic value. It served as a test of the "American Dream." The question that the campaign seemed to ask was not so much could a black woman win, but would she be taken seriously as a candidate. The viewer can make that determination after watching this film.
The documentary combines historical and contemporary footage to effectively give the viewer a sense of the political environment that Chisholm found herself in. For those unfamiliar with the campaign, it may bring a few surprises.
The director wisely allows the participants to speak for themselves. This includes interviews with former Congressman Ron Dellums, author Octavia Butler and Chisholm herself.
Overall, CHISHOLM '72: UNBOUGHT & UNBOSSED is a powerful documentary. Chisholm's outspoken nature is a refreshing alternative to the sanitized and overly cautious political candidates that dominate the political landscape today. Irrespective of your political affiliation, this provocative film will stay with you long after you've left the theatre.
I, Robot (2004)
Much Better Than I Expected
When I first heard of the film, I thought it was going to be simply a programmer with great special effects and non-stop action. As it turns out, I, ROBOT does have the requisite action and special effects, but it also has a story with something to say about the world.
Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, a cop who has a big issue with robots, which have become enormously popular in 2030s America. His suspicions of them are in complete contrast to most other people, who think they are a great help to society.
When the inventor of these robots dies, Spooner thinks he was murdered by one of his creations, while everyone else believes it to be a suicide. What follows is a roller-coaster side of twists and turns as the film drives toward an unexpected conclusion.
What could have been simply a generic action picture, turns into something much more. I, ROBOT will entertainment, but it will also ask you think as well. Hopefully, it will inspire other producers to do the same with their big action films.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Not Just An Attack on Bush
Having actually seen "Fahrenheit 9/11," I can say that there is more to Michael Moore's film than meets the eye. Sure it's an attack on Bush and his foreign policy, but what resonates the most about this film is the human stories about the men and women that have fought in Iraq.
The fact remains that the mass media doesn't seem particularly interested in showing what it is like for the average American soldier fighting in Iraq. When was the last time that you saw a news piece on a specific soldier that was killed and effect that the soldier's death has on a family?
Another thing that really struck me about this film is the hypocrisy of Members of Congress who voted for war, but whose children are noticeablely absent from the battlefields. According to the film, only one Congressman has a child fighting in Iraq. This is not merely a partisan attack, but one that crosses all party lines. Of course who is the war being fought by? The poor and unemployed. This is made particularly clear when Moore follows two recruiters in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. With an official unemployment rate of 17%, the military offers one of the few opportunities for the town's young people to find gainful employment. It's a sad commentary.
Overall, "Fahrenheit 9/11" will not sway highly partisan voters one way or another. However, it may get a few people to examine U.S. foreign policy more closely and our treatment of veterans in general, which is definitely a good thing.
Charlotte Sometimes (2002)
Intriguing Concept - Average Execution
CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES tells the story of Michael (Michael Idemoto), an automobile mechanic that rents part of his converted house to Lori (Eugenia Yuan) and her lover Justin (Matt Westmore). Lori and Justin's relationship is based almost entirely on sex, so after their frequent coital encounters, Lori finds herself knocking on Michael's door in search of emotional intimacy. Lori and Michael talk, watch videos and basically just hang out together. They are friends, but clearly Michael is in love with her.
So Michael doesn't have to hear the sounds of Lori and Justin's love making, he often escapes to a local bar for a drink or two. One day, Lori asks Michael if she can fix him up on a date. He declines.
On a subsequent visit to the bar, Michael meets Darcy (Jacqueline Kim). Intrigued by her, Michael begins to spend time with her. Although Darcy's clearly interested and Michael's attracted to her, he decides to wait for them to have sex. This is true despite that fact that Darcy tells him that she is going out of town.
While Darcy's away, Michael examines his feelings toward her and learns more about her in the process. We also discover that things aren't quite what they seem.
In Eric Byler's film, which he wrote (based on a story by Byler and Jeff Liu) and directed, the basic situations are set up very nicely. There isn't the compulsion like some new filmmakers to explain every detail. On the other hand, some of the dialog is obvious, especially when it comes to Michael's expression of his feelings toward Darcy. However, given the nature of Michael's character, that's not a significant shortcoming of the script. A major logic problem that develops at the end is a problem. It causes unnecessary confusion in the final act of the film.
In terms of character, Michael is much too passive. Rather than show some initiative, he waits for others to take action before he does anything. Simply put, there is no fight in him. As a result, it's hard to connect with Michael on an emotional level. This is really a shame, because being in love with a woman that only wants to be your friend is a situation in which most men can relate.
That aside, the other main characters are pretty much on point. Justin is a self-absorbed ladies man that is unwilling to share himself emotionally. Lori is the pretty and sweet girl that always feels unsatisfied in relationships because she's always attracted to emotionally unavailable men. There's something very different going on with Darcy, but you'll have to see the film to find out.
Overall, CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES presents a very worthwhile scenario, but doesn't live up to its potential. For those looking for an intelligent film that presents its characters in interesting ways, it is definitely worth a look. It features an attractive cast with generally strong, believable performances. I just wish Michael's character had a little more fire in him.
The film is nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. One is for the "John Cassavetes Award" for best feature made for under $500,000. The other is for "Best Supporting Female" recognizing Jacqueline Kim's fine performance as Darcy.
While not a great film, CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES is better than a lot of what Hollywood has to offer. It's also an apportunity for audiences to see some fresh young talent in a film with something on it's mind
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
This film is quite a disappointment for me. It is neither the awe inspiring spectacle that Spielberg is noted for nor a compelling drama. The main problem seems to be is the muddled narrative. It is all over the place. Without getting too much into the particulars of the plot, the film starts off okay, but by the second act the film starts to drift aimlessly and never gets back on track. In the last reel or so, the film rolls off a series of endings which mostly fail to generate the emotional impact that is Spielberg's trademark. Some semblance of a theme survives, but its impact is weakened by the film's lack of urgency. The theme is also not brought out in the most compelling way. If you have any interest in seeing this film, it's probably better to see it in the theatre. If you see it on cable, you're bound to start channel surfing about thirty or forty minutes in.
Fresh Twist on Familiar Subject Matter
In the thirty-three years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, his life has taken on an almost mythical status. The result is that people often forget that he was a real living and breathing man. He was a person who loved (and made love to) his wife. Dr. King was an intelligent man with the gift of oratory, but otherwise ordinary, who suddenly found himself thrust into an extraordinary situation. Commend HBO, director Clark Johnson, the screenwriters and the incredible cast for breathing life into the often told story of Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Previous films on Dr. King, paint him as an almost superhuman figure -- a saint even. With Boycott, the filmmakers have wisely brought him "down to earth' and reveal Dr. King as a noble, but clearly human being who has feelings and weaknesses. Remember Dr. King was only 26 years old with a young wife and child, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Also significant is that the film explores Dr. King's relationship with his father at the time. All of these elements help to give the film a special power that will resonate with viewers. Jeffrey Wright gives a powerful performance in the lead role than rivals if not surpasses Denzel Washington's performance as Malcolm X. Wright is so riveting, that you actually forget that you are watching a performance. The film's documentary-style approach also gives the film an almost eerie sense of realism. There's also some more subtle touches that help to place the viewer into the period. Some of the most striking were the scenes showing how black passengers were required to pay their bus fare and how they were treated once they got on the bus. Boycott is not a mere "history lesson," but a moving portrait of a time and the role that a people played in improving their quality of life.
Boesman and Lena (2000)
An Intense, Powerful Drama
It's always nice to see Angela Bassett getting to do a role that she can really sink her teeth into. She is at times intense, funny and even sexy in her role as Lena, a "colored" woman forced to make a home on a desolate mudbank just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Danny Glover is also good in a not entirely sympathetic role as her partner, Boesman. Willie Jonah gives a finely nuanced performance as the stranger that discovers Boesman and Lena's new living area. It's not often that you get a chance to see an intelligent film dealing with mature themes. Although it is based on a play, the late director John Berry (who also directed Claudine) opens the material up by having the film shot in the widescreen Cinemascope format. He also keeps things visually interesting through the creative blocking of actors and by showing us things only mentioned in the play. Just like Diahann Carroll in Claudine, John Berry may have directed Angela Bassett into an Academy Award nomination. This is definitely a film worth searching for.
Men of Honor (2000)
A Moving and Inspirational Film
You think you've had it tough? You should check out this film. Carl Brashear is the epitome of courage and determination. What this man had to go through to become a navy diver, should be an inspiration to us all. And significantly, after seeing this film, I learned that what is shown is not even the half of it! Cuba Gooding, Jr. does some of his best work to date as Brashear. De Niro, as usual is good as the southern redneck who trains him. George Tillman in only his second major feature (after "Soul Food"), has made a quantum leap as a filmmaker. If you want to be moved and inspired, you definitely need to check out this one.
Saving Grace (2000)
Brenda Blethyn is Very Appealing
Brenda Blethyn is very funny in this comedy. She is backed by a well-cast array of supporting players. The story takes a little while to get going and the ending is a bit contrived, but otherwise a very enjoyable film. See it.
Chuck & Buck (2000)
A Very Disturbing Film
One thing is for sure, Chuck & Buck is not a Hollywood movie. What starts off as a rather light, goofy story about a 27-year-old "Peter Pan" who seeks to rekindle his friendship with his childhood friend takes some disturbing twists. At times it is mildly humorous and at other times it is extremely painful to watch. The film has a voyeuristic quality enhanced by the grainy video images. At times the scenes are so revealing, that you literally feel like you are spying on these people's lives. For someone considering to watch this film, you should ask yourself, "Do I want to spend ninety minutes with these people?" For many, the answer will be a resounding no. On the other hand, if you're looking for something different that explores some largely uncharted territory, this might be worth a look. Overall, it is a brutally honest and rather unsettling work not for the faint of heart.