Archive for March 25th, 2008


Movies on DVD Review: American Gangster

American Gangster

Formerly titled, “Tru Blu,” “Superfly,” and “Gangsta.” (joking)


Starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, and Ted Levine. Directed by Ridley Scott.


NOTE: This review is based on the extended, unrated version.


Ridley got his paycheck.


Straying from the usual “epics” Scott is known for (“Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven”) he tackles the “real life” story of Frank Lucas, a black man with precision and professionalism, along with cutthroat tactics, that kept his empire in-family as he single-handedly controlled heroin in New York during the late 60’s / early 70’s. Trying to figure out how heroin was becoming the “new” drug is Detective Richie Roberts, the most honest cop since Serpico; he became “vilified” after he turned in $1 million found in the back of a car. What follows is the usual “rise and fall” of a druglord and a cop’s redemption.


I liked this movie, but didn’t love it. The acting was good, the story was interesting, the characters were believable, and kudos to Ridley Scott for being a stickler for even minute detail, but… I wasn’t a big fan. And maybe it’s just me. I’ve watched about every other movie in the “drug” genre; “Carlito’s Way,” “Scarface,” “Blow,” “Traffic,” etc. It’s been done to death for me. But I digress.


The message that comes from this movie is two-handed. On one hand, it’s the fact that a black American (or African-American) has the business smarts, nay entrepreneurship, to create an empire the likes of which no one believed, or wanted to believe. It’s an example of the “American Spirit;” the ability to accomplish something when others scoff at the idea.


The message from the other hand is the consequences of actions made. E.g., Lucas hires his immediate family to keep it all “in-house.” The consequences: they all end up in prison. He builds up the largest heroin empire New York has seen. The consequences: once he gets out of prison (after 15 years) he has to live in what’s left of the world that he decimated to create his empire.


All in all, an enjoyable movie. Interestingly enough, the real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts served as consultants on the film. Feel free to Wiki search Frank Lucas and see how different the facts from the film are (hence the “inspired by a true story” label on the poster/DVD). Ridley and the screenwriters did take a few liberties (as do all Hollywood movies) but this is a movie, not a documentary (and Scott took less liberties with Frank Lucas as compared to Oliver Stone and “The Doors.”)


My grade: B


Movies on DVD Review: Southland Tales

Southland Tales

This is the way cinema ends…

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Nora Dunn, Bai Ling, Cheri Oteri, Wallace Shawn, and even Christopher Lambert. Written and Directed by Richard Kelly.

To begin I’m gonna say that I liked this movie but many of you probably won’t. I’ll see if I can make the story coherent:

In the year 2005, Texas gets nuked. Marshall Law is enacted and everyone is put under the eye of USIDent, the right wing’s “Big Brother.” The left wing has now become the Neo-Marxists, and they have their website called USIDeath. Both sides are fighting over the upcoming election and voting on something called Prop 69, which involves more scrutiny of public lives (I think). The year at present is 2008, and there are days before the election and vote. These are the last of them…

Still with me? Good.

Boxer Santaros (Johnson) walks out of the desert and into the life of porn star Krysta Now (Gellar). He has amnesia and tries putting together what had happened since he left the desert. Krysta is keeping him under wraps with exception to the fact that she filmed them getting it on and they’re working on a screenplay called, “The Power,” which incidentally is like a Book of Revelation, telling everyone how this is all going to end.

But wait, there’s more.

Enter Roland Taverner (Scott), a cop who has just returned from the Iraq War (in a parallel reality, I guess some things are bound to happen). His “twin” brother Ronald takes his place as a cop, with Roland being held hostage. Problem is that Ronald has amnesia as well and is sent to teach Santaros to be a cop. And things go haywire…

Almost done.

And there’s Pilot Abilene (Timberlake). He’s back from the Iraq War as well, except he’s addicted to a substance called Fluid Karma. Fluid Karma was supposedly tested on the soldiers and gave them a greater degree of telepathy, but caused problems of which addiction was the least of concerns. Abilene is a friend of Taverner, as well as the narrator of the story.

And there’s more, but I’m not going to ruin it…

Yes, this movie is a mess. I just viewed the DVD version (which I’m told is 30 minutes shorter than the Cannes release) and the reason that I enjoyed it: ambition. Critic Roger Ebert made the point that this film has no plot, and I can’t deny that fact. This film is a journey into the last days of mankind in Southern California in an alternate 2008. And yes, you have to be “on the boat” in order to enjoy the movie.

Richard Kelly, who previously pulled-off “Donnie Darko,” took political satire, parody, the culture of SoCal, and the Book of Revelations, put it all into a gigantic blender, and this is the result. For what it’s worth it could have been better, but those of you who cry “Originality, please!” after you’ve watched the millionth summer blockbuster and don’t bother watching this, shame on you.

And as with any indie movie, the “cameo” appearances in this one are no exception. There’s Curtis Armstrong (Booger from the “Nerds” movies), Zelda Rubinstein (the psychic from “Poltergeist”), Will Sasso, Amy Poehler, Jon Lovitz, Jeneane Garofalo, and even Christopher Lambert as a guy dealing weapons out of an ice cream truck. Oh yeah, and Kevin Smith whose appearance in any film (outside of his own) guarantees that the film will not do well (anybody see “Catch and Release?”)

Should you decide to see the film (it’s not for everyone) it will leave an impression on you. There are some deep themes in this movie, and some really great moments. Justin Timberlake having a “dream” sequence/reaction to Fluid Karma in which he’s lip-synching to “All These Things I’ve Done” by the Killers is classic. And there’s Sarah Michelle Gellar singing, “Teen Horniness Is Not a Crime.”

My grade: B- (ambition excluded)