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Hustle & Flow (2005)
Whoop That Trick GET EM Whoop That Trick GET EM......
This little gem was one of the few surprises of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and was certainly the best film in American Dramatic Competition (along with "Brick" and "Thumbsucker").
Yes, the plot is riddled with clichés - but the film manages to transcend these shortcomings due to the slick camera-work of cinematographer Amy Vincent (who won the cinematography award at Sundance), the powerful and poignant performances by Terrence Dashon Howard in the title role (Djay), Taraji P. Henson (Shug), and, of all people, Anthony Anderson (Key).
The film follows a down-and-out Memphis pimp/hustler named Djay (Howard), who, along with his "primary investor" ho Nola (Taryn Manning), run tricks out of his beat-up Caddie in a back alley.
Djay is then swept up in the crunk-rap game, with the emerging success of hometown Memphis product Skinny Black (Ludacris). Djay was once a DJ/freestyle MC during his formative years, and, in his opinion, was on a par with Skinny. So Djay, frustrated by life as a pimp/hustler/dirt-weed dealer, decides to break into the rap game. He's aided by an old friend Key (Anderson), who's still kept his rap-dream alive by recording gospel music at the local church, and his sidekick Shelby (DJ Qualls), who's got some ill crunk beats.
Djay's pregnant "first lady" Shug (Henson) provides the hook to their second single ("You know it's hard out here for a pimp / when you trying to get the money for the rent / all the Cadillac and gas money spent / will have a whole lot of b*tches jumpin ship"), as well as some much-needed tenderness that helps ground Djay's rough, pimp-slappin character.
This film won the Audience Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and rightfully so - it's very engaging and a lot of fun. Even when the sparks fly in the 3rd Act, and filmmaker Craig Brewer throws a left-hook featuring delicate material, the film is redeemed by its close.
I enjoyed this film much more than Curtis Hanson's "8 Mile", and must thus crown "Hustle and Flow" as the greatest rap film ever made.
(The title of this post is a reference to Djay's first, catchy single)
Best Documentary of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival
"Murderball" was the best documentary I viewed at the recent 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It won the audience award, which is what really counts as opposed to the bogus grand jury prize award (which went to "Why We Fight" - a leftist film).
"Murderball" does an amazing job of juxtaposing scenes of the quadriplegic rugby players documenting their familial environments and dealing with their personal demons, with the fast-paced, adrenaline-packed scenes of rugby. You'd have to be a robot to not be touched by the heartfelt and poignant stories - such as that of the intense Jeff Zupan (who was rendered a quad because at the age of 16 he passed out in his buddys flatbed drunk, and then his buddy went out dwi and crashed, flinging Zupan's body 60 ft. into a nearby stream, where he hung onto a tree branch for 13 hours before help arrived on the scene). The scenes of the abrasive Joe Soares are also great - documenting his family dynamic and his relationship with his bright, effeminate son.
Also included are a series of animation sequences that amazingly capture the character's dreams of flight (with all their limbs).
However, my personal favorite scenes are the rugby sequences, in particular the heated rivalry documented between Team USA and Team Canada. Joe Soares, a former quad-rugby legend for USA, was shunned at a tryout in '96, didn't make the team, and in a brazen act of defiance went to coach Team Canada against the Americans at the quad-Olympics, knowing all their plays. This compelling scenario sets the stage for one of the best documentaries you'll ever see - a triumph of the heart, and human spirit - truly inspirational.
)) <: :> ((
Anyone who's seen "Me and You and Everyone We Know" should get this - positively hilarious. I'd have to side with Ebert - this was definitely one of the major highlights (and surprises) of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The photography in this film is stupendous, the acting is heartfelt (I especially enjoyed the performances of the two young and curious boys), and the writing is excellent. I had never even heard of Miranda July prior to the festival, but I am now converted - she has loads of talent. "Me and You..." was such a touching, and honest film - with great dialogue (and it doesn't hurt that July herself is adorably cute).
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Tarantino's Brilliant Homage to the Classics Overlooked by the Fatuous Academy
Kill Bill Volume 2 is brilliant, although you really do have to have a vast knowledge of films to appreciate it for what it is - a great homage to cult cinema/filmmaking. The references are everywhere - the whole master/disciple relationship of Pai Mei (Gordan Liu) and the Bride (reminiscent of Liu's 1978 36th Chamber of Shaolin - probably the best martial arts film ever made). Also, the Leone-esque narrative construct with long, drawn out takes. All the close-ups of feet (similar to De Palma's infatuation with hands). Even the whole buried alive sequence and rising from the grave conjures up images of De Palma's Body Double/Carrie. This film is true brilliance, and is a great end to an epic revenge saga. The only problem I had with it, was that I was so disappointed that it was over.