Tuesday, March 31, 2015


   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Jake Gyllenhaal is an outstanding actor that always seems to gravitate toward roles with some sort of edge to them. In this film he channels his inner “weird” and “disorder” to deliver a performance that keeps you looking at the screen for fear of missing the latest “are you serious?” or “whoa” moment. For a character with which we are not given much background, Gyllenhaal shows us everything we need to see to determine the depths of the dysfunctional life his character had to have lived. It’s not surprising really, as Gyllenhaal dedicated himself to the role by losing twenty pounds and starving himself to channel his character.

  Rene Russo has always been enjoyable to watch…well, not so much in the “Lethal Weapon” films, but much more so in the “Thor” movies. In this film, the role fit her skills perfectly and she is able to absolutely sell a woman in charge that is masking the insecurities her position has created. Her interaction with Gyllenhaal is tremendous in exposing her vulnerabilities while at the same time contrasting the depths of which he is far removed from regular society. Scenes like this are set up by the script, but the delivery and selling of them are reflected by the skill of the actor. Russo shows us in this film that she has matured in her craft.

The Plot: 
  Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is man on a mission that won’t let morality or the law get in the way of his goals. With a quick tongue delivering for an even quicker mind, Lou makes his ends meet by thievery until he happens upon a car accident on the freeway that changes his focus and launches him on a journey that can only be described for him as destiny. With the world of freelance independent filming (of accidents, fires, and crime) opens up to him, he steps through not with a whimper, but with a bang that will effect several people before it’s all over. 

   Nina Romina (Russo) is a producer for one of the lowest rated networks on Los Angeles television. Tough in her position and driven by her ambition, she is not expecting the collision she has when Lou Bloom enters her life delivering exactly what she needs, but offering what she dare not refuse.

   As Lou becomes extremely good at what he does (and what he does is not nearly always legal or moral), there is a power shift in the professional relationship he has with Nina that culminates in a very personal way. As he constantly pushes the envelope of how far he will go the get the story….his ruthless drive becomes how far he will go to make the story. What follows is a thrill ride into a profession few really understand, that leaves a trail of bodies nobody expects.

The Verdict: 

   This film took me for a ride early as the delivery by Gyllenhaal was so creepy and interesting, that I had to keep watching to see what he was about and how he was going to progress. This is the trap of the film as the more you see him, the more you see him evolve, although never in a way that I could truly identify with. I suppose the character having antisocial personality disorder had something to do with that.

   That said, it isn’t just the weirdness of the character but the intelligence he displays which he uses to disarm nearly everyone he comes across, despite lacking the ability to fully mask his antisocial nature. I got the feeling much of his education came from sources other than real people, including how to deal with real people, which he then refined…to do exactly that.

   I loved how the film brought this out by his interactions with other people, notably Nina, but also with Bill Paxton’s character (Joe), another “nightcrawler” with numerous years in the business, and Riz Ahmed’s character (Rick), a homeless man and former prostitute that he takes on as an employee. It’s with Rick that we really get to see how Lou simply refuses to impose limits to what he will do to get what he wants.

   I do love a good drama and this film delivered that as well as thrill and action. It was much more engaging than I anticipated and much more fun than I expected, in a “watching a train wreck” kind of way. Without a doubt this film had a very unique flavor as it captured (on film) four out of five cinnamon sticks, in my cup of tea.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The “Empire” Effect

   There has been massive buzz about the new hit show “Empire” and with fourteen million people watching, it is certainly having an effect. It seems you can’t engage in any social media without happening upon a post or tweet about the latest episode. People are watching and talking about it, but what kinds of discussions are they having? Maybe a more important question is what kind of discussions should we be having? If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know what kind of discussion we are about to engage in.

  Ratings don’t lie…”Empire” is a hit. The show is heralded as being a breakthrough for viewership of a mostly Black cast.  I suppose this is a good thing, possibly even a testament to “progress”…except I have to ask, the progression of what? There has been sharp criticism of the show as it is analyzed and dissected by those thinking profoundly about its “effect.” The most common rebuttal to this criticism is that the show is just entertainment, so there is no real harm. Well, the word entertainment means “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” There is no exclusion of harm in this definition.

   Dog fighting is very much entertaining to a segment of the population (not with me), but I dare say there is great harm in it. Watching videos of people in compromising situations is constantly entertaining people…and many of those videos show harm. Entertainment does not mean there is no harm. Anybody saying “Empire” is not harmful because it is entertaining has now been educated as to why this statement is fallacious. 

  That said…what harm could this show possibly have on anyone? It has been meticulously compared to “Dynasty” and the comparison seems to be a pretty sound one…except for the fact that the Carringtons would have to go “gangsta” to aptly mirror its African-American alter ego. Umm…what?  I don’t think the Carringtons were about that life…and when you stop to think about it, is being about that life helpful or positive in any way at all? Understand that comparisons of “Empire” to any other soap really stops when the show is predicated on reinforcing a stereotype that is literally killing Black people.

   To a young person watching this show and thinking they can also make it big….where do you think they will have to start? What example does the main character Lucious Lyon set? For that matter, extrapolate this line of thought to the Hip-Hop music industry and tell me it’s a positive path to success where those that make it impart wisdom and positivity to those listening to them.  I won’t lay it all on the industry though, because if we as a people don’t demand more for ourselves, then we are getting exactly what we are settling for…which is mostly garbage.

  Am I supposed to be blinded to more of the same in the form of “Empire” because it’s soapy, shocking, has music, displays fashion and tackles the issue of homosexuality? If only I could be that shallow. 

   Sure, it’s great that Black actors and actresses are being given work and I don’t begrudge anyone from making a living and providing for their family. It’s just sad this show has to be the vehicle by which they do it…but the sadness is not with the show (Hollywood can make whatever they want), it’s with the people that have no idea they are swallowing the wrong pill and choosing to remain in the Matrix.  

   There are lots of reasons why “Empire” works on television…and none of them matter a bit. When the country we live in is rife with our youth being shot by law enforcement and constantly depicted as nothing more than thugs by the media, we have to ask ourselves…are the ratings of “Empire” a reflection of this sad reality, or is the show helping to perpetuate a detrimental cultural mentality? 

   We know we can’t count on the media for answers as they are simply an extension of the same machine that powers the very industry in question. There can be no profound discussion had with those that seek to perpetuate the very problem that needs our collective attention. How can there be when reason and wisdom are vilified? So once again….the task remains with us, and once again we will either rise to deal with the issue…or continue to let the issue define us as a cycle of self-destruction.