by Robert Earl Houston
Last week, my wife and I went to see the new, Oscar-buzzed movie, 12 Years a Slave. It has taken me a few days to absorb the movie and I write this hoping that you won’t take just my word for this movie, but you will go see it for yourself.
This movie is based on the true story and book by the same name penned by Solomon Northrup, who wrote this book in his autobiography in 1853. He was a free black man who was kidnapped in, ironically, Washington, DC and sold as a “runaway” Georgia Slave to a series of slavemasters in Louisiana, where he was held for 12 years until his release.
Directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, this movie stars what proves to be the perfect choice for not only lead actor of the film, but should be the Best Actor at next year’s Oscars, Chiwetel Ejiofor. He is absolutely believable in his translation from free man to slave man to free man – with a grace and dignity as free to determined and calculating as a slave and then humbled and grateful for his freedom again.
Besides Ejiofor, the movie centers around a hard-working but misaligned slave by the name of Patsey, who is also the object of her slavemaster’s affections with the knowledge and objection of his wife. She is played with power by Lupita Nyono’o and honestly her supporting role bumps Oprah Winfrey out of the picture. She is the paradox of the movie – a woman who can pick 500 pounds of cotton a day, easily surpassing all of the other slaves, and yet has to enduring sexual advances by an out of control slave master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). This is easily a shoo-in for Best Picture.
As I watched the movie, some points were too painful and graphic to take in at once. I’ll probably go back and attempt to do so. But when I think of my ancestors who endured this hardship, pain and devaluation of humanity, it makes me take our nation in a light of thanking God for the progress we’ve made (albeit it against the majority’s will in the South), but also knowing we have a long ways to go.
The cruelty of the slave owners is vivid. Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti make the business of slave holding very vivid down to the unreasonable pain inflicted upon slave families.
If you go, be prepared for moments of silence. I think the filmmakers intention of inserting large moments of silence is to give the audience time to process what they’ve just seen. There were moments when the audience wept and wept, and yes, I cried to as well. You’re given a front row seat to the pain of one very American family whose lives were completely disrupted by the ill intentions of those who saw children of colors as livestock and commodity instead of human beings. May we never again experience this type of behavior toward anyone in this country again.
I hope that this generation of young people will watch this movie. It is their generation’s Roots. I hope that when they see it some attitudes will change, pants will be pulled up, our women will no longer be referred outside of their names, and that we’ll have a greater appreciation for our history and our survival.
Easily one of the best movies this year and should be a shoo-in for nominations in next year’s Oscars is Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
The movie follows the life and times of Cecil Gaines, who began life as a son of a sharecropper (David Banner) and his abused wife (at the hands of plantation owners) played by Mariah Carey. After witnessing two brutal acts against his parents, he is brought into the owners’ home by the matriarch of the family to be taught how to be “a house nigger.” Cecil adapts to his assignment from childhood to his teenage years, when he leaves the harsh realities of the south and moves to Washington, DC, where he works at a hotel and is selected to a White House assignment.
Thus he begins to work under American Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. Each actor portraying the various presidents are spot on, especially Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) and Lyndon Johnson (Live Shreiber), who provided some of the biggest laughs in the theatre.
Forest Whitaker takes over the role of Cecil from early adulthood and is very solid throughout the movie – but in my eye, another actor should have played him in his early years. The wig was a distraction in his “20s and 30s” – but he sparkles in his old age as he not only combats in quiet confidence racism, but an alcoholic wife (played brilliantly by Oprah Winfrey), two quite different sons – Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley) – who have a conversation about this country that shows the tension in the African-American community in the 60s with a great gravitas. He has the line of the movie in the conclusion and when I left the theatre, people were repeating it as they left the theatre.
Cecil’s neighbors and co-workers are a delight, but I’m wondering why does Terrance Howard always have to play the philanderer? Cuba Gooding, Lenny Kravitz, and the other White House staffers, underpaid compared to their (unseen) white counterparts show how disciplined they could be publicly and switch mercilessly to real people in the kitchen.
The latter portions of the movie remind you of Forrest Gump as Cecil’s lifepaths directly dissect with major historical events – Korea, Vietnam, Kennedy Assassination, Nixon Impeachment, Little Rock Nine, Nashville Woolworth Sit-Ins, and even the Black Panthers. The brutality of the Freedom Riders of which Louis is a part, is worth the price of admissions for young people who have only heard of it and never seen images like this. It’s not disturbing for those of us who lived in or immediately after the period of the 60s, but it will make you think twice about race relations and wonder how come we are not farther along in 2013 than we should have been.
It also reminds us that even in the 50s and 60s that the Black Community was divided in its approach to civil rights. There were those who protested, those who fought, those who sued, those who stood in pulpits, those who organized boycotts, there were those who chose not to be involved, and there were those who went to the streets in violent protests while others took to the street in peaceful protest.
Oprah Winfrey plays Gloria Gaines like a finely tuned instrument. She displays a wide range of emotions from contented housewife to alcoholic to compassionate mother to combative defender of her husband. As she says, Cecil’s being a butler has brought financial sustainability to the family – even though he quietly fought for a raise, won at the hands of Ronald Reagan. Oprah even makes you remember that even in the bad times, humor and love often times keep a family relationship together when it doesn’t seem possible on paper.
There is no doubt that Oscar should consider Daniels, Danny Strong (for his screenplay), Whitaker, Winfrey, Oyelowo, Schreiber and Rickman for possible nods in respective categories. If this movie is not on the list for Best Picture then it goes to show that good filmmaking by black folk is still in the pullman car and not on the showcase floor.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
It is very rare that you sit in a movie theater and hear people – both men and women – openly weep. Tonight we went to see “Fruitvale Station” which struck an extraordinary chord on the heels of the George Zimmerman verdict.
This movie written and directed by Ryan Coogler, a first-time filmmaker, is the true story of Oscar Grant, III (“The Wire’s” Michael B. Jordan) a 22 year old young man who was murdered by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day in 2009. Oscar was coming home from enjoying the New Year’s Eve celebration with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), (who he was considering marrying). Oscar’s mother is powerfully played by Octavia Spencer, who carries the weight of the screenplay on her face.
As the movie opens, the actual cell phone filming of his murder opens the movie and the remainder of the movie takes us back to Oscar’s last 36 hours of life. As the movie showed his murder by BART Police, there literally was not a dry eye in the house – from audience members – black and white.
This movie won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and should be required viewing for all young people. Oscar’s struggle with his past and his decision to make the new year a time for a new start.
I’ve read some of the reviews tonight, especially those from Geoff Berkshire of Variety and Scott Tobias of The Dissolve and it reinforces the fact that the so-called reviewing professionals may have been in too many dark theaters and miss what ordinary folk (such as myself) look for in a movie. This movie is not for entertainment alone – it’s for information, inspiration and it retells a story that many of us as African-Americans have heard too often – a loss of a young black man, with his whole life ahead of himself. This young man was not in the position that should have resulted in his death – but a police officer snuffed out the life of this young man, young father, and potential husband.
Sadly, many of us who wept in the theater wept knowing that our young men are in an era where many of them won’t see full adulthood. They won’t see marriage and family and life . . . because they have a greater chance of being mowed down – whether it’s because of police action or community patrolman action or even by someone who looks like themselves. It’s a sad reminder that young black men who make it to 25 should be celebrated, make it to 30 should be applauded, and make it to 40 should be honored in these critical times.
I encourage you to see this movie. When I left the theater I told my wife, “I felt like I’m leaving a funeral.” Profound movie.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
The Hangover Part III is a comedy film produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures. It is the sequel to 2011′s The Hangover Part II, and the third and final film in The Hangover film series. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Kim Jeong, John Goodman, Melissa McCarthy, Mike Epps.
by Robert Earl Houston
Many people complained about The Hangover Part II was too much like the original The Hangover. That complaint won’t be repeated with Part III.
The movie reunites the Wolkpack – Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug, who once again is a minor character in the movie. This one could have easily been called “Alan’s Song” as he is clearly in the driver’s seat of the movie. Zach Galifianakis, one of the craziest talents in movies, pulls off a full range of emotions – but crazed lunatic to star crossed lover to brave friend to compassionate human being.
This movie is entitled a comedy by its advertising but actually it’s more drama than comedy. Actually there are less than 10 very funny parts to the movie and Zach is responsible for most of them. Ken Jeong’s character Mr. Chow is easily the co-star of the movie, and it revolves around him.
Brother into the last of the series is Heather Graham, for a very brief cameo, but the one who steals the movie is Melissa McCarthy. I’m hoping and hoping for a Zach-Melissa movie based on their two characters – the possibilities are endless.
The script was much better than Part II, but I fear that it won’t get the response that its predecessors received. I went to the mid-day showing and there were less than 10 people in the theatre.
If you want a good story with very little comedy – this is your movie. If you want a comedy movie, by-pass this one for the video/Netflix.
Your comments are welcome.
by Robert Earl Houston
I spent my birthday evening with my wife by seeing the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Normally, I would have went to the 12:01 a.m. showing, but due to my recent medical procedure, I put it off until tonight and made it a dinner date at the Movie Tavern.
This movie has been called darker than J.J. Abrams’ previous effort and I agree. Most of the time the theatre was almost pitch black and I have to give it to Mr. Abrams – from the opening sequence to the conclusion this is non-stop action. No dead spots. Just when you think things will get “mushy” then action appears out of no where.
The plot is a throwback to the previous Star Trek movies and retells it with precision. Two very popular Star Trek icons are revived by Mr. Abram’s direction – one I won’t mention in fear of ruining the movie – but the other one is a tribble (a tip of the hat to the old Star Trek TV series) which actually has a very key role in the movie.
There was a lot of time spent on the relationship between Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Mr. Spock – who made you feel like you really were looking at a younger version of Leonard Nimoy. Zachary Quinto actually steals the movie and has many of the most surprising fight and dialogue scenes. Chris Pine’s Captain James T. Kirk is good, but there is a different swagger from William Shatner’s version. You get the feeling that sometimes he is made for the captain’s chair and other times, he’s too young for that kind of responsibility.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of he who’s name I won’t call is remarkable but he lacks the look of his predecessor in TV and film. But his super-strength and intellect are to be marvelled and feared at the same time.
The ending is completely plausible and you can see it coming a mile away. However, that’s the key to the movie – to engage the audience in making a sub-conscious decision seconds before a character does. That’s Mr. Abrams’ genius.
For those who are going, you have to know something about Star Trek lore – otherwise the movie will not make any sense. For those us who have, it’s like being trapped in a candy shop with an appetite.
Your comments are welcomed!
by Robert Earl Houston
Some sources have reported that this may be the end of the line in the Iron Man series of movies.
I hope they’re right.
Iron Man 3, which features Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sir Ben Kingsley, is the third and most difficult part of the Iron Man series. I actually did not enjoy the movie. The premise was weak, the ending reminded me of The Dark Knight’s demise in Batman 3, and the storyline in the middle of the movie put me dangerously close to falling asleep.
When I go to see an Iron Man movie, I want to see Iron Man, not Tony Starks. I knew I was in trouble at the beginning of the movie when Tony was having difficulty in putting on a uniform that he himself designed. It was unbelievable especially in consideration of the closing scenes when he moved from uniform to uniform with ease.
Also, the scenes with him and a young boy seemed absolutely implausible. In 2013, if a grown man showed up in your house and the child didn’t report it to his parents and allowed him to stay in a garage by himself???? Didn’t make sense and the inclusion of the child into the story line looked like the writers were either out of ideas or the kid is somebody’s child.
Don Cheadle, one of the era’s best actors was reduced to the wise talking sidekick. Gwyneth Paltrow has become a character that is neither believable or consistent. One minute she’s demure, the next she’s a super hero. One minute she’s afraid of heights, the next minute she’s cool with it. Very disturbing.
I have always enjoyed Ben Kingsley until this movie. His character was deeply, deeply flawed and honestly, unbelievable. Also, it feeds into this anti-Arab or anti-Muslim hysteria that I’m sure Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee and others would find nourishing. It’s a waste of Oscar winner talent.
The customary battle scene was more about Tony Starks than Iron Man. I paid good money to see IRON MAN, not the Tony Starks Movie. I wanted to see him, in uniform, taking down the bad guys. If I wanted to see a movie about a guy who is smarter than the enemy but lacks any super powers, I’d watch Batman . . . oops, I already have.
The end of the movie suggests an illogical conclusion . . . however, I hope it’s true.
Your comments are welcome.