Monday, November 26, 2012

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) Class Update Final

Congratulations to me! I have finally completed this 10 week course, alive! I have taken away from this class some things of value, but I will not really know what I have learned until some of the answers pop up on Jeopardy!

The class was taught by very enthusiastic staff, including the instructor and the teaching assistants. But at some points, it sounded to me as though they were speaking in a foreign language... the language of poetry.

They saved one of my favorites for last. Tracie Morgan's "Afrika" is the bomb! To see an awesome live performance, follow this link:

I have already enrolled in yet another Coursera class. I am ever hopeful....

Friday, November 02, 2012

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) Class Update Week 8

We are at the end of week 8 of 10 and I am finally seeing the light! This week we are studing "Language Poets" whose defining characteristic is to encourage reader participation.

Throughout this course, I have been re-introduced to the works of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman, as well as the works of Countee Cullen (Harlem Renaissance poet), Claude McKay, and Amiri Baraka. I have also been exposed to many poets with whom I was not familiar before taking this course. To date, I have not read anyone whose style is similar to my own (or vice versa).

So, two more weeks of reading, writing and reviewing essays, watching videos, taking quizes, and commenting on discussion forums, and I will be done. I will have to sort out all that I have learned when it is all over!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) Class Update

As of this week, I am practically half-way through the 10-week course. I just realized I missed yet another video session this morning, but I was at work!

Pretty much, I am caught up with the coursework, but maybe just a little bit behind on my comprehension of certain terms. I will survive.

Why am I even taking this class? Well, firstly, I am hoping to gain a better understanding of the structure of poetry, in order to improve my own work. Secondly, even though I absolutely hate attending classes, I actually am very fond of learning. If I know something today that I didn't know yesterday, I am happy... sort of....

Unless all heck breaks loose, I expect to complete this online course with a certificate in modern American poetry from University of Pennsylvania, which I will just add to my résumé.  Who knows what is next? Another book of poetry?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) Class

I decided to take a poetry class through University of Pennsylvania, to try to improve on my own poetry writing skills. In week 3 of a 10 week course, I am questioning my own sanity.

The good thing is that the instructor is very enthusiastic, eating, sleeping, and eating "poetry." I am sure he cannot imagine that some of us have jobs and other things in life about which we care deeply... other than poetry.

Each day we must read a poem, very often listen to several author readings of the poem, and then watch a video of the instructor and teaching assistants discussing not only that poem, but others. I won't go into further detail, lest you be terminally bored.

I will continue to keep you apprised of my journey in search of the perfect poetic form....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Year in My Love: Love Found and Lost

A year of joy and pain is brought to life in my very first e-book, soon to be distributed  at,, and at other fine online vendors. Check out A Year in My Love: Love Found and Lost.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

My Take - Traces of the Trade (2008)

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

This 2008 documentary by Katrina Browne certainly started me thinking… again. What exactly does it mean to benefit from “white privilege”? How complicated is it that all of these generations after legalized slavery in the U.S. my people are still downtrodden, long after other, voluntary immigrants have caught up to us and prospered? How can anyone possibly think that racism does not still exist here in the land of opportunity?

I viewed the abridged version of this film in the Laney Community College Theater, one place I would not generally be after dark. Yet I thought this film was important enough to risk life and limb. Thought-provoking, yes, for some of us. Yet others are probably still deluding themselves.

The story begins in Bristol, Rhode Island, the site of the longest-running 4th of July parade in the country, a place built firmly on the back of the slave trade, undeniably in the North.

The filmmaker is a direct descendant of Mark Anthony D’Wolf (DeWolf), who arrived in this country in 1744, when it was legal in the U.S. to import slaves. The Dutch DeWolf family was the largest slave-holding family in Bristol, having brought over approximately half a million slaves from Africa during the “legal” trade.

The DeWolfs are steeped in the Episcopalian religion, and have attended Mass at St. Michael’s in Bristol for over two hundred years. Nevertheless, they make it a point never to discuss “politics, religion, or Negroes,” until this film. Maybe that was an attempt to avoid connecting Christianity with the control of slaves.

Several DeWolf descendants traveled backward over the Middle Passage in search of our interwined destiny, through Havana, Cuba, and on to Cape Coast, Ghana. The DeWolfs’s shared history has been revised and beautified to have them appear as abolitionists as opposed to slave traders, pirates as opposed to murderers.

Slavery in the South is generally thought of as Africans singing while picking cotton and harvesting tobacco; slavery in the North apparently went more into building stone walls, involuntarily nonetheless. Slaves were traded up and down the Northern Coast of the Atlantic, geographically far above the Southern states we generally think of as slave-holding.

Rum made in Cuba was the chief currency of the slave trade, as Northern slave traders picked up rum from Cuban plantations to trade for Africans on the West African Coast. Of the Northern states, Rhode Island was the “most complicit” in the United States slave trade, but these Northern slave states included New York, Connecticut, and others.

As the modern-day DeWolfs discovered on their pilgrimage, there were approximately 70 slave forts along the West Coast of Africa, built primarily by the Portuguese, and run by the Spanish, the French, the Dutch and the Danish. Their Christian churches were built right on top of the slave dungeons. A foreign religion for every ounce of a human being’s culture, language, and name. What a trade.

Centuries after the legal slave trade allegedly ended, Africans and other people of the African Diaspora still mourn in ritual. Yet the DeWolf family who witnessed this ritual in Ghana never let it cross their minds that their presence might be an intrusion… a delusional frame of mind if I ever saw one.

One of my favorite scenes in the film involved a family dinner wherein each of the DeWolf descendants tries to convince the others that everything they have, they obtained on their own merits. What a coincidence that all except one attended either Harvard, Princeton, or Brown University. I think not! Through Katrina, the family protests that all of the slave-trading family fortune was lost long ago and that they made their Ivy League money the old-fashioned way. Right!

Surely not every European family in the Americas profited as greatly from the various branches and contributory products of the slave trade, yet it is obvious to me that the leg up that was obtained long ago purely by virtue of a white skin still exists, no matter how much they protest!

I know the film was thought-provoking and stimulating for the few audience members who are descendants of Africa; I have no idea what it meant to the privileged many.

© 02/05/2012

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Take - Zodiac

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

I guess I shouldn’t point out that I am old enough to remember the Zodiac scare of the 1960s. I recall the apprehension in my West Oakland neighborhood over trick-or-treating one October, and then another scare after a bit of time had passed. The new film by director David Fincher (Fight Club - 1999) brings back some of the eeriness that I associate with those times.

Zodiac (2007) stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain - 2005) as San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, obsessive amateur sleuth and author of the books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked upon which the film is based. The screenplay is written by Shane Salerno (Shaft - 2000).

Within minutes of the film’s opening, Zodiac attacks a young couple. His weapon of choice: a .9 mm Luger. Shortly thereafter, cryptic letters are received by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Vallejo Times, and the San Francisco Examiner, claiming responsibility for these 1969 Vallejo murders and a murder several months earlier in Southern California. Thus begins a reign of terror that persists on and off well into the 1970s.

Although there is no shortage of creepy potential suspects in the film (just as in real life), the true Zodiac killer is never identified and brought to justice. It is not for lack of trying by Graysmith, who performs a never ending investigation into the crimes, constantly trolling libraries for sources used by the Zodiac, and seeking interviews with potential witnesses.

As part of the backdrop of this semi-historical film, there is a ton of 1960s memorabilia, i.e., vintage Coca-Cola machines, dial telephones, and a pre-Playstation Atari game system. The film features time-lapsed photography of the erection of the TransAmerica Pyramid, which was finally completed in 1972. Talk about bringing back memories!

Despite the dedicated investigation on all fronts, the fly in the ointment of the original probe seemed to be the lack of cooperation between the various jurisdictions where the Zodiac did his work. So many lawmen and jurisdictions are represented in this film that it is difficult to keep them straight. Inspector David Toschi is Mark Ruffalo (All the King’s Men - 2006); Inspector William Armstrong is Anthony Edwards (E.R.); and Ken Narlow is Donal Logue (also of E.R.). Famed attorney Melvin Belli is depicted by Brian Cox (Deadwood). Robert Downey Jr. (Good Night and Good Luck - 2005) produces an excellent portrayal of the gifted alcoholic Chronicle reporter, Paul Avery. Graysmith’s intelligent but understated wife Melanie is played by Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry - 1999).

Zodiac runs a little long, but seen mostly through the eyes of cartoonist Graysmith, it remains fascinating throughout. The challenge is to follow the clues and try to figure out for yourself (with the limited information provided) the identity of the real Zodiac. One thing is for certain—you will leave the theater still wondering…. [RT 2:38]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 03/05/2007]


Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Take - Blood Diamond - starring Djimon Hounsou

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The fascinating previews of Blood Diamond (2006) name Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed - 2006) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind - 2001) as the film’s stars, omitting the award-winning and intense Djimon Hounsou. Despite the film’s misleading advertising, the Benin-born Hounsou (Amistad - 1997) clearly dominates both the story and the screen, from the film’s exciting opening to its riveting end. The film is directed by Edward Zwick (Traffic -2000); the original story and the screenplay are written by Charles Leavitt.

Solomon Vandy (Hounsou) is a humble fisherman, a proud Mende of Sierra Leone, West Africa. Also native to Sierra Leone is a billion dollar industry in smuggled and unreported “conflict” (blood) diamonds, fueling a gory civil war. The bloodthirsty Revolutionary United Front (financed by the government of nearby Liberia) commits atrocities against the Africans who will not join them. Some are mercifully murdered on the spot; others are mutilated. Yet others, mostly young boys, are taken under their sadistic wings; others who are strong enough to work are set to panning for diamonds. Solomon falls into the latter category, while his family escapes and are imprisoned in a refugee camp. He finds out soon enough that his son is not with the rest.

The plot of Blood Diamond revolves around Solomon’s search for his beloved son Dia (Kagiso Kuypers). In so doing, he forms an alliance with Danny Archer (DiCaprio), an opportunistic soldier of fortune, and Maddy Bowen (Connelly), a New York photojournalist almost too independent for her own good, each with his or her own reasons for wanting the boy found.

Despite an uncomfortable master-and-slave relationship between the fortune-hunting Archer and the grief-stricken Solomon, they ultimately come to an uneasy understanding — uneasy for the two of them, and uneasy for the viewer. To add to the discomfort, Blood Diamond sheds light on ugly aspects of the African diamond trade, wherein resource-rich areas are colonized for their wealth, and common diamonds are hoarded in order to keep the prices artificially high. It may change some minds as to the value of that “ice” on their fingers.

In spite of the sickening violence and its ever-present racism, the film is everything I had imagined it would be, and includes an unlikely (although short) car chase in the jungle. The sunsets over the African terrain are undeniably spectacular, in a way that they rarely are seen in urban America. Blood Diamond is excellent in nearly every regard, despite its all-too-common slighting of the African in favor of the European.

For its consciousness-raising efforts alone, I applaud this film. [RT 2:23]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 01/07/2007]


Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Take - The Pursuit of Happyness - starring Will and Jaden Smith

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) is the new motion picture drama inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner (now a millionaire stockbroker and philanthropist), who once slept with his small son on the restroom floor of a BART station. The film is directed by Roman director Gabriele Muccino and is written by Steve Conrad, brother of actor Chris Conrad (Criminal Minds). The book upon which the film is based is written by Chris Gardner and poet Quincy Troupe.

The film’s title is taken from a sign at the daycare of Chris’ son, Christopher. Apparently, the owners are unaware that the word “happiness” is spelled with an “i”; throughout the film, this mistake is pointed out to them by Chris, but his complaints fall on intentionally deaf ears.

The true story of the life of Chris Gardner is a remarkable one—one of childhood abuse by an obtuse and evil stepfather. It is a heartbreaking story of a little boy whose favorite uncle dies at a young age, and of a child who never meets his biological father until the age of 28. It is a story of a young man who overcomes poverty and hard luck and instability to become Father of the Year, and ultimately through perseverance, a renowned humanitarian and motivational speaker.

Former rapper Will Smith (Hitch - 2005) stars as Chris Gardner. Will’s son, Jaden, costars as Chris Gardner’s young son. The chemistry between father and son is unmistakable in the film, but Will’s growth as an actor is not apparent here. He seems somehow more at home as a comedian. Chris’s girlfriend (whose name in the film is Linda), is Thandie Newton (Crash - 2004). Although certainly Ms. Newton is a fine actress, in this film, something in her facial expressions and voice is reminiscent of the title character in her 1998 film Beloved. Perhaps the direction given in the film is a bit off center.

The film is okay, as far as it goes. I made the mistake, however, of reading the book immediately prior to seeing the film. The first thing that I noticed was that the film begins in the middle of the book. All of Chris’s early life, and the experiences that made him what he is, are gone. The second thing is that, of the parts of the book that appear in the film, many are embellished or otherwise modified. Some things are pointed out repeatedly, as if we are all idiots. There are several inconsistencies, and people who are critical to Chris’s life in the book (as well as allegations of domestic violence) are left completely out of the film.

The Pursuit of Happyness is number one at the box office this week and I cannot argue with that, but I have to believe it is more the result of good promotion than of good filmmaking. See it if you must; just don’t read the book first. [RT 1:57]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 12/17/2006]

My Take - Déjà Vu

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Déjà vu is a French term meaning, literally, "already seen." It is thought to be a trick of the mind which occurs when one eye sees an event (or a person) a split second before the other eye, causing the suspicion that the same something has occurred in the past. In director Tony Scott's new action thriller Déjà Vu (2006), Denzel Washington (Inside Man - 2006) is able to see events that have occurred exactly four days and six hours in the past, or so he believes. The actuality is even more creepy, if that is conceivable.

The screenplay is written by Bill Marsilii (Courage the Cowardly Dog - 1999) and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - 2006). The film is an "Already Seen" Production.

Washington’s character is an ATF agent investigating the bombing of the Algiers ferry in New Orleans, on which 543 bodies are found dead. There is something strange, however, about the one body washed up on a nearby shore, whose injuries seem inconsistent with the bombing. Paula Patton (Idlewild - 2006) co-stars as Claire Kuchever, the object of Washington’s apparent trick of the mind. An older and heavier Val Kilmer (Alexander - 2004) is FBI Agent Pryzwarra, the agent responsible for recruiting Washington into a world of science fiction, including time travel and parallel realities.

The vehicle for the agents’ apparent time travel is a series of "Big Brother-type" cameras strategically placed throughout the City of New Orleans. As unbelievable as it all may seem, it does give one pause for thought, in this day and age. The “science fiction” of a few decades ago is the scientific reality of the 21st century. It is difficult to say what might not be possible.

Denzel turns in his usual fine performance here, which is no surprise. James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ - 2004) is more than credible as the crazed bomber. Paula Patton’s evident desperation draws the audience into what is essentially a very bizarre plot. The balance of the cast is portrayed by Erika Alexander (Heist), Bruce Greenwood (Capote - 2005), Rich Hutchman (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), and Matt Craven (Assault on Precinct 13 -2005).

I really liked this film, suspending my disbelief just long enough to enjoy Denzel’s presence. If you haven’t already, go see it! You may be treating yourself to a glimpse of the future. [RT 2:08]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 12/14/2006]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

My Take - Ian Fleming's Casino Royale - starring Daniel Craig as .007

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

I was a huge “.007” fan back in the early days. Thanks to Casino Royale, I am a fan all over again. This 2006 film stars Daniel Craig (Munich - 2005) as Bond… James Bond (sometimes affectionately referred to as “James Blond”). It is directed by Martin Campbell, director of earlier Bond film GoldenEye (1995). The Ian Fleming novel is adapted for the screen by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough - 1999 and Die Another Day - 2002), along with Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby - 2004).

Sean Connery and Roger Moore are the familiar faces of Bond; Daniel Craig must be given his props as the new face of Bond. The controversy over the selection of a light-haired actor in the title role can be put to rest. Craig possesses exactly the cold-blooded stare, rugged features, and somewhat dark demeanor required for the 21st century version of the role. We won’t even mention that he has a body to die for — literally.

The action sequences in this latest Bond film are right on the money. One secretly roots for Bond even as he outwits and takes out an entire security force at the Nambutu Embassy in Uganda, though outgunned and outmanned. Fabulously expensive and perilously swift sports cars are a huge attraction, as always. The trademark beautiful women are back, along with the “bad boy” behavior that is part and parcel of the early Bond films. The new theme song for this film, “You Know My Name,” is performed by Chris Cornell, and the sound is right on time! Naturally, the main Bond theme is performed with excellence.

Alongside the new Bond and a cast of other new characters is the unforgettable “M,” played by Judi Dench (Die Another Day - 2002 and at least three earlier .007 films). Eva Green (Kingdom of Heaven -2005) is Vesper Lynd, the MI6 accountant who accompanies Bond at Casino Royale in the exquisite nation of Montenegro on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Danish actor Mads Mikkelson is Le Chiffre, the primary evil genius, who is flanked by a host of evil drones played by Isaach de Bankolé of the Ivory Coast as Obanno, Ivana Milicevic (Love Monkey) as Valenka, Simon Abkarian as Dimitrios, Caterina Murino as Solange, and Jesper Christensen as Mr. White. Jeffrey Wright (Lackawanna Blues - 2005) plays Felix Leiter, initially a very silent poker player who turns out to be a very valuable ally.

For much of the 1990s, I gave up on the Bond franchise. One actor after another tried on the .007 suit, with marginal success and none of the excitement of the films of the 1960s and 1970s. After viewing Casino Royale, I am having trouble getting the .007 music out of my head. For the year 2006, I have to agree — Bond is back! [RT-2:24]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 11/17/2006]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

My Take - A Good Year - starring Russell Crowe and Albert Finney

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

A Good Year (2006) is a romantic comedy/drama starring Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man - 2005) as Max Skinner, Parisienne actress Marion Cotillard (Big Fish - 2003) as Fanny Chenal, and Albert Finney (Traffic - 2000) as Uncle Henry. Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - 2005) plays the crotchety child Maximilian. The film is directed by Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven - 2005).

The orphaned young Max spends the best moments of his childhood on the vineyard estates of his beloved Uncle Henry. By the time he is a successful adult stockbroker living in London, he has become so heartless and callous that Uncle Henry and the vineyard are all but forgotten. Ironically, Uncle Henry has not forgotten Max. Henry had always intended that Max should inherit the estate where they had enjoyed games of chess, wine, good conversation, and each other’s company. His superstitions, however, prevent him from formalizing this arrangement. The obvious problems then ensue, including the arrival of an unexpected possible heir, with mixed results.

Russell Crowe is a fine actor, and he is able to turn in a good performance even in this less demanding part. Albert Finney is, of course, spectacular as a crusty, dirty old man. The supporting cast is full of charming, perfect characters played by Archie Panjabi (The Constant Gardener - 2005) as the wise-cracking personal assistant Gemma, and French actors Didier Bourdon and Isabel Candelier as Monsieur and Madame Duflot, to name some of the more memorable roles.

The rustic weatherworn farmhouse and prolific leafy grapevines on Uncle Henry’s neglected estate are shown to maximum advantage against the backdrop of the beautiful scenery of Provence, in the south of France. A very receptive mood is provided for the film’s audience, and for the workaholic Max. There is a memorable romantic scene in the film, where toute le monde is enjoying live music outdoors and a sudden heavy rainstorm begins. This unexpected development allows an opportunity for Max to show his chivalrous and more tender side.

I opted to see A Good Year instead of a more popular and far more exciting film starring one of the darlings of Hollywood. I did not regret this decision for a moment. I was so completely enthralled by A Good Year that I wish I had taken my mother, as well as my daughter. Perhaps this is a “girlie” movie, but I believe girls and guys of all ages will appreciate the warm and fuzzy bon sentiment of A Good Year. We could all use a break from the harsh realities of daily life, and this film provides a much appreciated respite. [1:56]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 11/12/2006]

60 Minutes' Ed Bradley Dies at 65

By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

CBS’s esteemed 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley died of leukemia during this past week. We will all mourn the loss of one of the finest journalists we have ever had the opportunity to watch in action. 60 Minutes will be airing a special tribute to Ed Bradley at its regular time this evening on all of its CBS stations.

Links to Further Information:

[© 11/12/2006]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

My Take - Flushed Away

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Flushed Away (2006) is the sort-of-cute new animated film by British directors David Bowers (storyboard artist for Wallace & Gromit - 2005) and Sam Fell. Sam Fell and Peter Lord (producer of Wallace & Gromit - 2005) are credited with the story. Original music is by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Chronicles of Narnia - 2005).

Roddy the Rat (voice of Hugh Jackman of The Prestige - 2006) is living in the lap of luxury in a dollhouse in Uptown Kensington, when he is unwillingly subjected to the presence of lower crust Sid (voice of (Shane Richie of British TV series EastEnders). In an unexpected turn of events, Roddy is unceremoniously flushed away to the sewer home of Rita (voice of Kate Winslet of All the King’s Men - 2006), The Toad (voice of Ian McKellen of The Da Vinci Code - 2006), and Le Frog (voice of Jean Reno also of The Da Vinci Code - 2006). In an effort to return to the status quo, he makes a deal with Rita and her family. He must then adhere to this deal, even against his own best interests.

Flushed Away is a typical British-style animated feature that has all of the comedic elements and atmosphere common to this type of film. In short, it is not well suited to the sensibilities of a mature, bred-in-America adult. The visuals are good, but the songs are tedious, and the humor is distinctly British.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, the kiddies seem to enjoy it. If your young kids are bored on a Sunday afternoon, Flushed Away is a good way to bring them out of the autumn doldrums. [1:24]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 11/10/2006]

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Take - *The Prestige*

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

According to legend, “… every magic trick consists of three parts… the pledge,… the turn,… and the prestige….” Each of two master magicians — Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman of X-Men: The Last Stand - 2006) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale of The New World - 2005) — longs to conquer this final act of the illusion of all illusions. The cost, unfortunately, is higher than either anticipates. The Prestige (2006) is the tale of two friends who ultimately become the fiercest of enemies in search of perfection of the ultimate magic act — the Transported Man — a name synonymous with “The Prestige.”

Two-time Academy Award winning actor Sir Michael Caine (Children of Men - 2006) is promoter John Cutter, who puts Borden and Angier together, much to his eventual regret. The film is directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins - 2005). The screenplay is attributed to Christopher Nolan and brother Jonathan Nolan, adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest. Technical assistance is provided by none other than the infamous David Copperfield.

The Prestige begins with the trial of Borden for the murder of his former friend. The journey from friends to sworn enemies is a long one, beginning with an accidental drowning which alters both of their lives forever, and ending in a monumental revelation. According to the film’s narrator (Caine), the stated intention of magic is to amaze and to shock. The Prestige more than fulfills that promise.

Borden (The Professor) is said to be the more skillful of the magicians; Angier (The Great Danton) is said to be the better showman. Each has his own particular qualities which enhance his popularity. Neither has what it takes to end the feud and return to a semi-normal life. They each travel across the Atlantic in search of the one apparatus that will end his rival’s career and secure his own dominance. Each will stop at nothing!

Musician David Bowie has a tangential role as Nikola Tesla, a talented electrical engineer who has apparently discovered the secret of teleportation. Piper Perabo (Cheaper by the Dozen 2 - 2005) is Julia, the ill-fated wife of Angier. Rebecca Hall (McLeod’s Daughters) is Sarah, the similarly doomed wife of Borden. Scarlett Johansson (The Black Dahlia - 2006) is Olivia, the pretty magician’s assistant who is described as the “most effective form of misdirection.”

The film takes place in the theaters of late 19th century England, and in the hills of Colorado. The darkness which envelops much of the film provides atmosphere, and serves to enhance the spirit of the magic. Each part is expertly played, and each trick is carried out flawlessly. The end result is superb. Quite frankly, the film is a masterpiece well worth waiting for. In the words of an old television commercial, The Prestige is “magically delicious”! [2:10]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/22/2006]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Take - Catch a Fire - starring Derek Luke and Tim Robbins

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Derek Luke (Glory Road - 2006) and Academy Award winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River - 2003) star in Catch a Fire (2006), the dramatic new film by Australian director Phillip Noyce (The Bone Collector - 1999). The film is based on the life of Patrick Chamusso, past employee of the Secunda Oil Refinery in Transvaal, South Africa, and present political activist. The overwhelming injustice of apartheid in 1980s South Africa converts a loyal “company man” into a raging revolutionary. The screenplay is written by Shawn Slovo (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001).

Catch a Fire is a fascinating story of racially segregated life in European-dominated South Africa, which closely parallels our struggle for civil rights here in the U.S. Throughout the film, there is a bloodthirsty search for African “terrorists” who are merely seeking to regain their dignity.

The film begins with random military-style checkpoint activity, vicious police dogs prowling, and unconscionable violence against alleged members of the African National Congress. Robbins is Nic Vos of the Police Security Branch, one of the prime perpetrators of the out-of-control violence, in search of "terroristic activity" within the oil refinery plant. The picture of blatant racism and cruelty is enough to make one want to weep — or to fight back! Chamusso chooses to do both.

On the surface, Chamusso seems to be an ordinary upright citizen. He is a hard-working man who holds a position of responsibility in the refinery. He has a fine family that he loves at home. He also has a secret that places it all in jeopardy, and ultimately is instrumental in bringing about his personal downfall. It is the revelation of this secret that is at the heart of a devastating betrayal, and the loss of family and freedom.

Chamusso’s comely wife is played by Bonnie Mbuli (Drum - 2004). Other supporting cast are Mncedisi Shabangu (Hijack Stories - 2000) as Zuko September, Tumisho Masha (Drum - 2004) as Obadi, Sithembiso as Sixpence, a soccer prodigy who plays on Patrick’s youth team, and Mxo as rebel warrior “Pete My Baby.”

Patrick Chamusso appears in person at the end of the film, interacting with actor Derek Luke. Also appearing in the film are Chamusso’s wife and many adopted children, along with the orphanage run by Patrick and Conney entitled Two Sisters ( There is a cameo appearance by Nelson Mandela, former President of the ANC and of the Nation of South Africa.

The film is named for an early album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, and promimently features their music. With its gripping documentary footage and presentation of the people’s fight against injustice, this excellent film is likely to ignite a fire in you! Catch a Fire opens in theaters on Friday, October 27, 2006. [1:41]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/21/2006]

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Take - The Departed - starring Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Famed director Martin Scorsese (The Aviator - 2004) (who had not directed a major motion picture since the 1990s), brings another successful project to the screen in The Departed (2006), starring Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men - 1992), Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me if You Can - 2002), Matt Damon (The Bourne Supremacy - 2004), and Mark Wahlberg (Invincible - 2006). Writing credits for the screenplay go to William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven - 2005) and Hong Kong born director Siu Fai Mak. The film is produced in part by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.

The Massachusetts State Police (the “Staties”) are involved in open warfare with Frank Costello (Nicholson), a South Boston criminal mastermind who appears to be untouchable. Exactly what makes him untouchable is not disclosed until very late in the film.

Representing the Staties are Colin Sullivan (Damon), who has strong ties to Costello, and Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), who is paid by the Staties but who goes undercover in Costello’s organization. Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen of The West Wing) and Detective Dignam (Wahlberg) are in charge of the Special Investigative Unit, and the only two people on earth who know Costigan’s true identity. Costello declares that when he was young, men could become cops or criminals. The Departed shows that it is entirely possible, and highly probable, to be both.

Within the first five minutes, Costello’s violent and prejudicial nature is apparent. In his defense, he is living in a violent and prejudicial world where intolerant jokes are the norm, and dead bodies are as common as twenty dollar bills. To the detriment of both Sullivan and Costigan, they share a connection with Costello. In a strange twist of fate, they also share a connection with Madolyn (Vera Farmigan of The Manchurian Candidate - 2004), a psychiatrist in the employ of the State.

The Departed is a film requiring the audience’s full attention; the blink of an eye or a momentary wandering of the mind might cause one to miss a vital clue. Even so, something crucial is bound to slip by an unsuspecting viewer. The movie’s tagline promises “lies, betrayal, sacrifice” and all of those are here — in spades. It is necessary to keep one’s eyes on the prize in order to have a prayer of detecting either.

The film also stars Alec Baldwin (The Cooler - 2003), Ray Winstone (Cold Mountain - 2003), and Anthony Anderson (Hustle & Flow - 2005), who has recently broken out of his comedic straitjacket. Nevertheless, the film represents the “ultimate Nicholson”; his dry sense of humor is imprinted all over the dialogue. Despite the wry sarcasm, The Departed is an excessively bloody crime drama, with rarely a dull moment. If you can put up with the violence and the racial slurs, you will be highly engaged, and perhaps entertained. [2:29]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/08/2006]

Saturday, October 07, 2006

My Take - The Guardian

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Kevin Costner (The Bodyguard - 1992) is The Guardian, a seasoned United States Coast Guard officer responsible for saving hundreds of lives imperiled at sea off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska. The film also stars Ashton Kucher (Guess Who - 2005) as Jake Fischer, and Sela Ward (House, M.D.) as Helen Randall. Of interest are Omari Hardwick (Gridiron Gang - 2006) as Carl Billings and Dulé Hill (Psych) as Ken Weatherly. The film’s director is Andrew Davis (A Perfect Murder - 1998).

After losing his closest friend Carl in a tragic rescue attempt, Senior Chief Ben Randall (Costner) is yanked from duty by his superior officer, Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown of Lost). He is mercifully not relegated to a desk job as is expected for a man of his advanced years and experience, but is instead assigned to “A” School, where he becomes head instructor of a steadily dwindling group of prospective rescue swimmers. Cocky Jake Fischer is one of those recruits.

The Guardian’s story is one of an aging former record-holder and his adversarial relationship with a gifted younger swimmer, who is remarkably similar in temperament. Randall is so wedded to the Coast Guard that he risks his long-term marriage to Helen for its sake. Fischer has no other ties, having already lost all that was dear to him prior to his arrival at “A” School.

The film is beautifully done, and not only from a visual standpoint. The ocean panorama of the Bering Sea is awesome, if not peaceful. The rescue sequences are visually stimulating and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The plot delicately explores the personal lives of Randall and Fischer, and handles this exploration with tact and grace. There is a beauty that appeals to the eye, as well as to the mind and to the heart.

Overall, however, the best part of the film in my estimation is that it allows Kucher to stretch beyond his customary comedic roles and to display a more serious side of his acting abilities. I have to say I was impressed with his previously undisclosed talent. I was deeply affected by the film as a whole.

A search-and-rescue film may not be to everyone’s tastes, but there are elements of this film that will attract some part of anyone willing to spend two hours in a dark theater. The film begins and ends with the legend of a man living under the sea. By the end, it may make a believer out of you. [2:16]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/06/2006]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Take - All the King's Men

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Sean Penn (Mystic River - 2003) stars in this 2006 version of All the King’s Men, drawn from the 1946 novel by Pulitzer Prize recipient and poet laureate consultant Robert Penn Warren. “Based on a true story” seems to be a popular theme for movies this year. This film, and its 1949 Academy Award winning predecessor, are loosely based on the turbulent political career of Louisiana governor Huey “Kingfish” Long. Unfortunately, this version does not compare favorably to the original. The film is written and directed by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List -1993).

All the King’s Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a minor politician and “an honest man” who goes into politics with altruistic intentions. He laments that the "crackers" of Louisiana are not properly represented, and that the rich and the major corporations are further fattening their pockets at the expense of the poor. The catalyst for his ascension to governor is an incident which threatens the well-being of the schoolchildren of the state. Stark vows that if he is elected, he will correct the political system that allows such incidents to occur. As Stark climbs up the ladder of success, however, he finds that the old adage about “absolute power” applies to himself.

The 1949 version of the movie (starring Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, and John Ireland) more vividly describes the relationships between Willie Stark (Penn) and the people who surround him. The more recent version seems only to be about Stark, minimizing the roles of reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law of The Road to Perdition - 2002), campaign aide Sadie Burke (Patricia Clarkson of Good Night and Good Luck - 2005), and paramour Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet of Titanic - 1997). The one role that is maximized in the recent film is that of Judge Irwin (Anne’s uncle Judge Stanton in the original version), portrayed by the illustrious Sir Anthony Hopkins, who requires no introduction. This film is so clearly centered on Penn’s character that one might wonder even what “men” are referred to in the title.

The 2006 version skips over the minor events that lead Stark down the path to destruction, and practically ignores his wife and son. The story is nearly unrecognizable, and most importantly, does not illustrate the many factors that turn an honest man into a nationally infamous model of a crooked politician.

Penn does an excellent job in his role, but despite the interest drummed up by well edited previews, the only real value this new film has is for comparison purposes. Watch the 1949 film instead, and skip this one entirely. [2:00]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/01/2006]

Monday, September 25, 2006

My Take - Gridiron Gang

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Gridiron Gang (2006) is based on the true story of a group of teenaged male juveniles housed in Los Angeles County’s Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu, California. WWF wrestling champion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as probation officer and camp counselor Sean Porter. Along with several other of the real life individuals, Porter appears in documentary footage at the end of the film.

The screenplay for the film Gridiron is written by Jac Flanders and Jeff Maguire, and is directed by Phil Joanou (Heaven’s Prisoners - 1996). [The original made-for-television documentary Gridiron Gang (1993) garnered Lee Stanley an Emmy Award.]

Rapper Xzibit (Pimp My Ride) is cast as Malcolm Moore, camp counselor and assistant coach. Leon Rippy (Deadwood) is camp director Paul Higa; Kevin Dunn (All the King’s Men - 2006) is associate camp director Ted Dexter. Willie Weathers, who turns out to be a phenomenal runner, is played by Jade Yorker (Third Watch). Jurnee Smollett (Eve’s Bayou - 1997) is Danyelle, the girl who influences him to be a better man.

As the title implies, the majority of the camp’s residents are gang members, some of whom are murderers and long-time sworn enemies. In the facility and on the street, there is great violence. It is a way of life for the camp’s inhabitants, and is the only method they know of resolving difficulties. As a result, it is not uncommon for residents to return to the facility after being released. Coach Porter is instrumental in turning the destructive behavior around.

Porter’s own background in football and his continuing love for the sport makes the decision to coach a football team a no-brainer. What remains to be seen is whether the proposed team members have what it takes. On the gridiron, the gangs slowly develop into a team, exhibiting loyalty, cohesiveness, and the ability to act in unison. They even prove themselves to be fairly decent football players.

Although the film is based on real-life characters and events, some of the events are altered for the film, and some of the characters are composites of real people.

Much of the filming takes place at the actual facility, which is not scenic by a long shot. The acting here is also not fabulous. The story, however, transcends the film’s shortcomings. Initially, it appears that the violence will overwhelm and practically obliterate the more positive images. Though the violence continues, there is a much greater balance toward the end of the film. Surprisingly, there is reason to laugh and to cheer. As Porter encourages and inspires the players, so is the audience encouraged and inspired. If you can deal with the initial violence, you will be as well. [2:00]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 09/24/2006]

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Take - The Black Dahlia

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Elizabeth “Betty” Short was an aspiring actress who met a horribly violent death in Hollywood, California before her 23rd birthday. The 2006 film crime drama, The Black Dahlia, is inspired by her true story, and is based on a novel by James Ellroy, author of L. A. Confidential. The screenplay is written by Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds - 2005). The film is directed by Brian De Palma (Carlito’s Way -1993).

Aaron Eckhart (Paycheck - 2003) is Los Angeles Police Sgt. Lee “Fire” Blanchard. Josh Hartnett (Lucky Number S7evin - 2006) is Officer Dwight “Ice” Bleichert. Partners on the LAPD, they are both former semi-professional pugilists, opposites in nearly every possible way. They are united, however, in the search for the killer of the Black Dahlia, and in their devotion to Kathryn Lake, portrayed in the film by Scarlett Johansson (Just Cause - 1995). Though Fire and Ice appear to be inseparable, Kate is “never between, but always in the middle” of a delicate triangle in this version of the real life crime.

The Black Dahlia (who is seen prior to her death in screen test footage), is portrayed by Mia Kirshner (“24”). In the film, the Dahlia led a troubled and controversial existence, marked by scandal prior to her gruesome murder and dismemberment. It is speculated that she was a prostitute, and possibly a lesbian. One of the women with whom she allegedly had a sexual relationship is Madeleine Linscott, played by Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby - 2004), the daughter of a rich, crooked developer, a “Dahlia look-a-like,” and a potential murder suspect.

Although the story is based on a 1947 unsolved grisly murder, the film itself is a mish-mash of hard core criminals and out-of-control cops. Often it is difficult to tell the two apart. Much of the film is totally incomprehensible. The somewhat twisted plot is advanced (and supposedly relevant information is imparted) through increasingly gory newspaper headlines.

The film is more than an investigation into the most sensational murder mystery in Hollywood history. It dances around allegations of police corruption, all manner of depravity and deception, alcoholism and obsession, and psyches bordering on insanity. For author James Ellroy, the novel is a compilation of research into the Dahlia case and the actual murder of his own mother in 1958. The film adds theatrical elements of its own.

Although the film is rather shocking, it is not quite up to the standards of a real murder mystery—not even the one upon which it is based. If you are so inclined, I suggest you look into the real Dahlia murder. In this case, fact is more exciting than fiction. [2:01]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 09/16/2006]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Take - Hollywoodland

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Hollywoodland, a 2006 film by director Allen Coulter (The Sopranos), is based on the true story of the life and mysterious death of actor George Reeves, known to millions of children as Superman - the Man of Steel. Ben Affleck (Changing Lanes - 2002) plays Reeves, an aspiring director and a struggling actor, with dozens of “B” movies to his credit in the twenty-something years prior to his death.

Adrien Brody (The Village - 2004) is Louis Simo, the gum-smacking gumshoe who investigates the alleged suicide on behalf of the actor’s mother (played by Lois Smith of Minority Report - 2002). He is initially hoping to catch a ride on the Superman gravy train by uncovering evidence that the suicide was in fact a homicide. Ultimately, he is no longer concerned about his investigative fee; he just wants to find out the truth.

Through Simo, the film explores various possible scenarious of Reeves's untimely death. One scenario points to Reeves’s brazen fiancée, Lenore (Robin Tunney of Prison Break). No one is exempt from suspicion, and no slimy stone is left unturned. Simo uses his contacts at the Rick Harris Agency (his former employer), to develop insights into Reeves’s relationships with his fiancée, his apparently estranged mother, and his benefactor Toni Mannix (Diane Lane of Under the Tuscan Sun - 2003), the overly indulged wife of Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins of Beyond the Sea - 2004), general manager of MGM Studios.

The emotional effect of Superman's death on millions of the youth of the day is briefly examined. Simo’s son Evan (Zach Mills of Cold Case and Malcolm in the Middle) exhibits some psychological imbalance as a result of the news of his hero’s suicide. Simo himself seems altered gradually, as he delves into the circumstances surrounding Superman’s existence (and its cessation).

The ugly crime is explored in minute detail from every possible angle, as is the web of scandal surrounding the people in Reeves’s extended circle. No punches are pulled in the telling of Reeves’ story. We are repeatedly exposed to the seamier side of Hollywood, and to the disgusting crime scene. This film is not for the squeamish.

Each of the actors in the film somehow becomes the character he or she portrays. The clothing, the hairstyles, the physical properties, and the ambiance are all right on the money for the mid- to late 1950s in Southern California. The atmosphere can appropriately be characterized as “nouveau noir”.

The film poses many questions, but provides no answers. To this day, perhaps there are none. We are all left to draw our own conclusions. My conclusion is — after so much time and such a lackluster career, possibly it no longer matters. [2:06]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 09/14/2006]

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Take - The Illusionist

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

A somewhat matured Edward Norton (Primal Fear - 1996) stars as The Illusionist in this 2006 fantasy / drama. The screenplay is written by director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin - 2002), and is loosely adapted from Eisenheim the Illusionist, a short story by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) stars as Sophie, the childhood sweetheart of Eisenheim (a.k.a. Abramowitz). Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale - 2001) is the Crown Prince Leopold, Sophie’s fiancé and Eisenheim’s nemesis. In the role of Chief Inspector of Police Uhl (who is under the Prince’s dark influence) is Paul Giamatti (The Lady in the Water - 2006).

At the dawn of the 20th century in Vienna, Austria, a son of the lower classes and the daughter of a duke reconnect after a years-long separation. In the intervening time, the boy has developed into a master magician with great powers. The girl has become a beautiful woman, engaged to a corrupt and abusive Crown Prince, heir to Austria’s throne. The two old friends are determined to be together, and the Prince is equally determined that they will not.

The time-appropriate costumes and the scenic countryside are beautiful. Glimpses into the lifestyles of European royalty and the accompanying opulence are magnetic. The film’s elements of romance and mystery only serve to enhance its unmistakable appeal. These ingredients, plus the underlying intrigue, all make for a spellbinding movie.

An integral part of the film is Eisenheim’s convincing stage act, consisting of well-crafted parlor tricks and eerie manifestations of the spirits of departed loved ones. Shortly after Sophie announces to the Prince her intention to leave him, her spirit becomes the most popular of those manifestations. The Chief of Police already has a consuming interest in the mechanics of Eisenheim’s illusions, and Sophie’s death just heightens his interest. Uhl’s desire to find the truth is in constant battle with his bought-and-paid-for loyalties to Prince Leopold.

I loved the magic, and the suspense. I loved the film’s intensity, and the period atmosphere. I especially loved the surprise ending. After watching previews for The Prestige (the story of a rivalry between two magicians), I questioned whether The Illusionist was some cheap knockoff, released in an opportunistic rush. I am now satisfied that this is the real deal—commendable acting within a well-developed plot. Even if you don’t have an interest in magic, this film is a winner. [1:50]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 09/04/2006]

Friday, September 01, 2006

Idlewild - Requested Advisory

Pursuant to the request of an influential and respected co-worker, we are posting this advisory:

Do not expect authentic music from the 1930s in the film Idlewild. Although the film pays homage to Cab Calloway and others, the music is pure OutKast, quirks and all.

We will now return you to our regular programming. Thank you for your support.

[© 09/01/2006]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Take - Idlewild - starring Andre '3000' Benjamin and Antwan 'Big Boi' Patton

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

With great fanfare, OutKast’s first feature length film, Idlewild (2006) opened in theaters this weekend. Written and directed by Bryan Barber (OutKast: The Videos - 2003), it stars André “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. Idlewild is a musical drama set in the 1930s, with choreography by Tony Award winning actor/dancer Hinton Battle.

The film begins with sepiatone stills reminiscent of the work of Ocsar Micheaux (African American filmmaker of the 1920s and 1930s). We hear Percival’s voice reciting lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. These may be the few peaceful moments in the entire film.

Rooster (Big Boi) and Percival (Andre 3000) meet as children at the mortuary of Percival’s father (Ben Vereen), for the funeral of Rooster’s uncle. Rooster plays a practical joke on Percival, and thus begins a long and fast friendship. The young Rooster is played by Bobbé J. Thompson (That’s So Raven); young Percival is Bre’wan Waddell.

Advance 20 years or so, and we see Rooster as a night club singer, performing music that is decidedly not from the 1930s. The spot, Church, is owned by “Sunshine” Ace (Faizon Love). Due to Rooster’s influence, Ace has reluctantly allowed Percival to play his own compositions at the club. Enter Trumpy/Wilbert (Terrence Dashon Howard), and the entire world of Idlewild, Georgia, is turned upside down. The frenzied dancing and singing are now interlaced with gunfire.

Among the cast are singer/songwriter Patrick “Sleepy” Brown (The Way You Move), Paula Patton (Hitch - 2005), Malinda Williams (Soul Food), Macy Gray (Lackawanna Blues - 2005), Paula Jai Parker (Hustle and Flow - 2005), Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible: III - 2006), Bill Nunn (Do the Right Thing - 1989), and a cameo by Patti LaBelle as the “real” Angel Davenport.

Idlewild is probably one of the better musicals I have seen. The dance numbers are extremely entertaining, and unlike most musicals, the continuity of the film action is not detrimentally interrupted for the songs. OutKast’s outlandish sense of humor is evident in the lyrics, and their fanciful natures are evident in the talking rooster flask (voice of Bentley Farnsworth) and in the animated notes on Percival’s sheet music. Other fanciful aspects seem to take a page out of the Harry Potter novels.

I can’t praise Idlewild highly enough. The dancing is spectacular, the songs provide food for thought, and the storyline (with all its little subplots) really works. You might not like to take your pre-teen kids, but I’ll bet I couldn’t keep you away from this one. Nor would I want to. [2:00]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 08/25/2006]

My Take - Invincible

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg is Vince Papale, a 30-year-old former high school football player, laid off substitute teacher, and part-time bartender in director Ericson Core’s 2006 film, Invincible. This sports drama is based on a true story written by Brad Gann.

Vince, whose only joy in life is “parking lot” football, has just been left by his cold-blooded wife Sharon (Lola Guadini of Criminal Minds), and has been reduced to borrowing rent money from his estranged father (Kevin Conway of Mystic River - 2003). Vince’s home team, the Philadelphia Eagles, are suffering a similar fate when owner Leonard Tose (Michael Nouri of The O.C.) brings in Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), star coach of the UCLA Bruins.*

In an attempt to improve the quality of the Eagles’ statistics (and perhaps as a publicity stunt), Vermeil calls for open auditions among the Philadelphia local yokels, and Vince’s childhood friends (played by Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff, and Michael Kelly) encourage him to try out. Against tremendous odds, he is the only non-professional to make it past the initial tryouts and into the Eagles’ training camp. Vince’s early success is referred to in the film as “A real life Cinderella story with cleats instead of a slipper.”

The camaraderie between Vince’s pals and the bartender, Max (Michael Rispoli of Law and Order: Criminal Intent) is evident, as is the developing attraction between Vince and Max’s cousin Janet (Elizabeth Banks of Scrubs). The roller coaster cycle of collective disappointments and triumphs could cause one’s heart to swell with tears, and with joy.

Vince’s story is overlaid with the soundtrack of the 1970s, including songs by B.T. Express, Steely Dan, Carole King, and Rare Earth, carefully coordinated for maximum effect. It blends perfectly with the activity of the moment, both on the field and off.

Invincible’s conclusion is foreseeable; Hollywood is not fond of failures. No one actor gives an outstanding performance; however, they all do a nice job together. It is a film for those of us who love to cheer on the underdog, and to leave the theater feeling good about life’s possibilities. [1:45]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

*Several seasons into his tenure, Vermeil did manage to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl, which was won that year (1981) by none other than the Oakland Raiders.

[© 08/27/2006]

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Take - Step Up

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Despite its lack of any appreciable pre-release advertising, I was privileged to view Step Up (2006) recently and found it to be a highly entertaining film, starring a cast of mostly unknown actors. The screenplay is written by Duane Adler (Save the Last Dance - 2001) and Melissa Rosenberg (The O.C.). It is Anne Fletcher’s directorial debut.

Channing Tatum (Coach Carter - 2005) is the lead as Tyler Gage, a delinquent teenaged foster child with plenty of heart and plenty of talent, mostly used in an unsuitable manner. His home life is typical of that of many in similar circumstances, and he consequently spends more time with his “crew” than at the apartment he shares with his overworked foster mother, her neglectful husband, and his adorable younger foster sister. His crew is composed of Damaine Radcliff (Glory Road - 2006) as Mac, and DeShawn Washington as Skinny, Mac’s younger brother.

Besides playing basketball, the crew’s only regular recreation consists of dancing at the club and stealing cars. When they are caught destroying property at the Maryland School of the Arts, Tyler is sentenced to community service at the school, and finds that he is finally in his element. Through perseverance, he is able to combine his skillful street dancing with the school’s more traditional dance program. He is offered the opportunity to participate in the choreography and dance a lead part in the senior project of the icy Nora (Jenna Dewan of Take the Lead - 2006), whose intended showcase partner suffers an injury at a critical point in time for all concerned. Tyler’s connection to Nora extends to far more than just the dance.

Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) is Ms. Gordon, the crafty director of the MSA. Other significant parts are played by teen singer Mario (Let Me Love You - 2004), Drew Sidora (That’s So Raven), dancer Alyson Stoner (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody), and old school rapper Heavy D.

Although the story line is predictable, the main characters are so endearing that it can be forgiven. There is one somewhat shocking moment, even if not totally unexpected. There are no real plot surprises; what I did find surprising was how much I enjoyed the film. [1:38]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 08/16/2006]

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Take - World Trade Center

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The story of the September 11, 2001 destruction of New York City’s twin towers is a familiar one. Nearly five years after the event, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) tells a lesser-known story of many acts of heroism by two New York Port Authority policemen and by unnamed and uncounted others. This particular story is based on accounts of real-life Port Authority officers John McLoughlin and William Jimeno who, as designated “first responders” are called away from their regular assignments following the tragedy. Little do they suspect that their rescue attempts will necessitate their own rescue from Ground Zero.

Nicolas Cage (The Lord of War - 2005) is Sergeant McLoughlin, commander of a troop of PPA cops assigned to provide assistance to victims of the suicide bombings. Michael Peña (Crash - 2004) is the unit’s rookie officer, who volunteers for the delegation because he has something to prove. Unfortunately, their unit themselves become victims, as both towers come crashing down on the connecting area between. The film centers on their ordeal while trapped for twenty-four hours beneath Building 5, and their determination to survive despite overwhelming odds.

An alternate storyline deals with the wives and families of the missing PPA heroes. Donna McLoughlin is portrayed by Maria Bello (Assault on Precinct 13 - 2005), and a pregnant Allison Jimeno is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Monster House - 2006). Connor Paolo, Anthony Piccininni, Alexa Gerasimovich, and Morgan Flynn are the McLoughlin offspring; Tiffany Romano is Bianca Jimeno.

Michael Shannon (Bad Boys II - 2003) does a fine job of portraying ex-Marine Dave Karnes, whose single-minded effort is largely responsible for the discovery of Jimeno and McLoughlin, when each is nearly out of strength and the will to continue living.

The supporting cast is filled out by Jay Hernandez (Friday Night Lights - 2004), Armando Riesco (Third Watch), Jon Bernthal (How I Met Your Mother), and Nick Damici (CSI: New York & Miami), as well as other members of the actual crew who free Jimeno and McLoughlin from their underground prison. Kimberly Scott (Guess Who - 2005) plays Sergeant King. A cameo appearance is made by World Trade Center survivor William Jimeno.

Certainly, the story is one that needs telling. One sees so much needless violence that it is easy to lose faith in humanity. As fascinating as the story itself is, however, for long stretches of time the only action is provided by falling rocks and debris, while Peňa’s character has holy visions and Cage gives his usual, wooden performance. There are some genuine, heart-warming moments here, but too few, and much too far between. It is an inspiring story, but one that goes on too long. [2:05]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 08/13/2006]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Take - The Night Listener

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Robin Williams (Poseidon and RV - 2006) stars as Gabriel Noone, an openly gay nighttime talk radio host, in Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener (2006). Maupin’s screenplay is based on his novella of the same name, which is itself based on actual events. The film is directed by Patrick Stettner (Flux -1996), who, along with Terry Anderson (a crewmember on the set of Maupin’s Tales of the City and More Tales of the City) also shares writing credits.

In his extremely popular talk show, Gabriel uses real episodes from his own life with his live-in lover Jess (Bobby Cannavale of Will & Grace) as conversational material. As a result of the exposure of his personal life, the whole world believes it knows Gabriel, and Jess by extension. This familiarity leads indirectly to a bizarre set of circumstances which underlie the film, and the non-fiction book upon which it is based.

On the heels of Jess’s departure from their mutual home and Gabriel’s resultant depression and “writer’s block”, Gabriel’s publisher friend Ashe (Joe Morton of CSI: New York) offers him a pre-publication copy of a book that he believes will help him deal with his issues. The book is written from the perspective of an individual who has been severely abused, and who has learned to cope with adversity. Gabriel eventually begins a telephonic relationship with Pete Logand (Rory Culkin of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and younger brother of Macaulay Culkin), the 14-year-old boy who is alleged to be the author. From the start, the relationship is controlled by Pete’s mother Donna (Toni Collette of In Her Shoes - 2005). It appears to be beneficial to both Gabriel and Pete, until Jess notices something strange about the Logands. Thus begins the unraveling of a true life mystery that has yet to be fully resolved.

The cast of characters (apparently an entire town) who protect Pete and Donna from Gabriel’s investigative prying include Ed Jewett (Dawn’s Early Light - 2005) and Becky Ann Baker (Law & Order). Gabriel’s bookkeeper is played by Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy).

It is a testament to Williams’s acting ability that Armistead Maupin personally contacted him to offer the role. Maupin must have been pleased with Williams’s performance; I certainly was. It should also be noted that Collette is exceptionally adept in her portrayal of the elusive Donna. As difficult as it may have been to translate the novella onto the screen, it all comes together with startling intensity.

I love a good mystery, and The Night Listener’s plot twists, constant roadblocks, eerie music, and the excellent acting skills exhibited all add up to a good, if somewhat quirky, mystery. This one gets my vote. [1:31]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 08/09/2006]

Friday, July 28, 2006

My Take - Miami Vice

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

At long last, the movie version of a favorite television series of the late 1980s, Miami Vice, has been brought to the big screen. The original Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) were some of the coolest guys ever to grace a television set. Can Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx measure up? Could anyone, ever?

Tubbs and Crockett are back under cover and on the case, on the trail of cop-killing drug distributors in and around Miami, Florida. Only this time the action takes place in Paraguay, Brazil, Haiti, Argentina, Colombia, and Cuba. Maybe this should be called International Vice instead.

The original Miami Vice was a slick, stylish tribute to fast cars, sexy music, and beautiful people. Twenty years later, Crockett and Stubbs seem to have aged accordingly, and the years have not been kind. Miami Vice was as much a feeling as anything, and it appears that the thrill has gone. The adrenaline rush has vaporized. If the intent is to appeal to an older generation of fans of the television series, the makers of this film should know that the attraction of remakes is the recapture of one’s own youth. Absolutely nothing is recaptured here. The atmosphere is totally lacking, the music is disappointingly low-key, and the language itself is often nearly unintelligible.

As usually happens when a 60-minute “episode” is expanded to fill a two-hour movie bill, the pace of the film is a bit on the slow side. There is not really enough going on to fill 140 minutes, and the film suffers for the attempt. Tubbs’ character tries to fill in some of the dead spots with Foxx-esque humor, but even that falls flat. Bits of dialogue are borrowed from 1970s private eye Baretta; they sounded better coming from Robert Blake.

Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest - 2006) plays Tubbs’ love interest, Trudy, and Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha - 2005) plays the “businesswoman” who turns Crockett’s head. Barry Shabaka Henley (Lackawanna Blues - 2005) is the lieutenant supervising the operation. Various good and bad guys are portrayed by Elizabeth Rodriguez (The Shield), Spanish-born Luis Tosar, John Ortiz (Take the Lead - 2006), and Domenick Lombardozzi (Entourage). The part of El Tiburon is played by Mario Ernesto Sánchez, who appeared in several episodes of the Miami Vice television series. Michael Mann, the executive producer of the original, this time plays the roles of director, producer, and screenwriter. The music is provided by John Murphy, with selections by Moby and Nonpoint. How can you have In the Air Tonight without Phil Collins? How can you have Miami Vice without Phil Collins?

As excited as I was to see the new Miami Vice, my excitement quickly dissipated As much as I like Jamie Foxx, he can forget about an Oscar nomination for this one. [2:26]

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[© 07/28/2006]

Monday, July 24, 2006

My Take - Monster House

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

At the request of my grandson, Rashad, I spent a very hot Saturday afternoon viewing Monster House (2006), the latest beautifully animated project of executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Honestly, though, I had wanted to see this film ever since I saw the first previews, months ago. It represents Gil Kenan’s debut as a director, and the screenplay is co-written by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab.

The film begins with sunlight and happiness and singing, which quickly turn to frowns and tears and hurt feelings, under the watchful eye of the boy living across the street. In the past, he has reported other strange events at the wicked-looking house, and his accounts have been entirely discounted as products of an overactive imagination. When he reports this sorrowful incident, the outcome is the same.

The nonchalant parents of D.J. (voice of Mitchell Musso of Avatar: The Last Airbender) leave him and his best friend Chowder (voice of Sam Lerner of Malcolm in the Middle) alone on the day before Hallowe’en, to await the arrival of the babysitter Elizabeth/Zee (voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal of Mona Lisa Smile - 2003). All of the scary things that never transpire when grownups are around naturally begin to happen with much more frequency now that Mom and Dad are away. After a freaky “accident” following which Nebbercracker (the house’s owner) is taken away in an ambulance, the house develops an unpleasant face and personality of its own, and begins to seem almost human.

The two boys take on the task of saving the neighborhood from the predatory monster house, and they, along with the brilliant Jenny (Spencer Locke of Phil of the Future), are left to solve its mystery. The town’s only two police officers are of no help, of course, and being the next best thing to children themselves, they are attacked by the house as well. The children learn several lessons in humanity in their quest for the perfect solution, and the audience will also.

Here is where I would normally list the names that go along with the voices of the remainder of the main characters, but I decline to do so this time. Some of the characters’ voices are of well-known actors, and if I give those names away, it might spoil the fun of trying to figure out the voices for yourself.

I highly recommend this film, for children and for those who are still children at heart. The animation and the performances are all superb, as is the writing. The film is utterly satisfying in every respect, even providing a measure of good natured chills for those of us who still like a good Hallowe’en story. [1:31]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 07/24/2006]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My Take - The Lady in the Water

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The Lady in the Water (2006) stars Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man - 2005) as Cleveland Heep, the superintendent of a rather large apartment complex in which dwell some of the strangest characters known to mankind. Not the least of these strange characters is the title character herself, the ephemeral (and childlike) Lady, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village - 2004). Oddly, but not surprisingly, The Lady and The Village bear some similarities in texture, owing to the fact that they are both written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan also plays a role in this film, as a writer-prophet with whom the Lady connects.

The Lady appears to be a weird take-off on children’s fairytales or bedtime stories. The nature of the film brings home the innate scariness of many of the tales we tell our young children, while simultaneously wondering why they are afraid of the dark. It is billed as a drama-thriller-mystery with elements of fantasy. Fantastic is exactly the word for it.

The confusing plot centers around an ancient and all but forgotten tale of a sea nymph who comes to land once in a generation, allegedly to teach us land creatures something we have forgotten. The mystery and excitement comes in when the nymph, Story, attempts to return to her origins. Strangely enough for a water creature, her “rescuer” is not a creature of the sea, but of the air. As in any fairytale (and in real life), each character has a specific role in the story; the challenge is to discover what the role of each character is. It seems the roles change from minute to minute; still it takes an inordinate amount of time for the most obvious roles to disclose themselves.

The cast includes Jeffrey Wright (Lackawanna Blues - 2005) as Mr. Dury and Noah Gray-Cabey (My Wife and Kids) as his son. It also includes Sarita Choudhury (Mississippi Masala - 1991), Mary Beth Hurt (The Exorcism of Emily Rose - 2005), Bob Balaban (Capote - 2005), and Cindy Cheung (Law and Order: Criminal Intent).

I did not really care for this film, and several people in the theater were making fun of it by the end. There were some humorous moments, but the total effect was of a conglomeration of incongruous parts making up the whole. The previews were somewhat deceptive, and the audience who likes mystery dramas is perhaps not the optimal audience for a film of this sort. I am not quite sure what the demographic of the intended audience would be. Although it is based on a fairytale, it is certainly not for children. I would advise that you skip this one, altogether. [1:50]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 07/22/2006]

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My Take - The Devil Wears Prada

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is a funny, lively story based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger, a fictional account of her actual experiences at Vogue magazine. Meryl Streep is Miranda Priestly, dragonlady extraordinaire, and long-standing editor-in-chief of Runway. Anne Hathaway (Brokeback Mountain - 2005) is Andy Sacks, Miranda’s second assistant. She is totally fashion un-conscious, and is an intelligent, dedicated journalist to boot. Therein, as they say, lies the rub. The film is directed by David Frankel, director of several episodes of Sex and the City.

Andy and boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier of Entourage) are in New York to fulfill their dreams. But according to Andy’s dad, she gave up a chance at Stanford Law School to become a journalist, and now she is not even doing that! Nate is a run-of-the-mill cook, who aspires to be a chef. Andy’s plan is to work for the dragonlady for a year, which will allegedly enable her to write her own ticket in the world of serious journalism. Will they achieve their goals before Andy’s new job becomes a nightmare for them both?

Streep gives her usual fine, perfectly timed performance. She appears to get so much enjoyment out of this demonic role that it is almost scary. [Among other things, her character stabs a friend in the back to save her own livelihood; even Lucifer might have reason to be afraid of Miranda.] Streep’s performance nearly over­shadows most of the others, which is no surprise. Not to be outdone, however, Hathaway is très adorable in this “Eliza Doolittle” role, slightly reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn.

Stanley Tucci (Lucky Number S7evin - 2006) is Nigel, Miranda’s ever-loyal and under-appreciated right hand man, who continues to dream big no matter how unrealistically. The original “Emily” (Miranda’s first assistant) is British actress Emily Blunt (Irresistible - 2006). Andy’s and Nate’s close friends are Tracie Thoms (Cold Case) as Lilly, and Rich Sommer as Doug, each also struggling to achieve their career goals. Simon Baker (Something New - 2006) is the enchanting Christian Thompson, who helps Andy in her time of need and inadvertently aids the Devil herself. Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me and Law & Order) is James Holt, the world famous designer and the catalyst who brings out Ms. Priestly’s (and Andy’s) most devilish qualities.

Fashion is naturally at the crux of this film, and I would be remiss not to mention Patricia Field (Sex and the City) as the costume designer. The original music score is by Theodore Shapiro (Fun with Dick and Jane - 2005). The screenplay is written by Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction - 2004).

I found The Devil Wears Prada to be completely engaging. It met, if not exceeded, all of my prior expectations. I laughed, cried, and cheered, in turn. I guarantee you will do the same. [1:39]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 07/04/2006]

Saturday, July 01, 2006

My Take - The Lake House

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Veteran actress Sandra Bullock (Crash - 2004) and Keanu Reeves (Constantine - 2005) star in the fanciful romantic drama, The Lake House, the 2006 remake of a South Korean film Il Mare (Italian for “the sea”). The two would-be lovers meet across time, through letters posted in an old-fashioned mailbox, at a house of special significance to them both.

Architect and “sleazy little condo developer” Alex Wyler purchases a glass house by the lake and there discovers a letter from the previous tenant, Kate Forster, requesting that he forward her mail. Through their extended correspondence, he discovers that Dr. Forster actually lived in the house after he purchased it. Go figure! The two eventually fall in love, and experience a very atypical long distance relationship. By a quirk of fate, they even share the same dog (a female mutt called “Jack”) as a companion.

The premise of the movie is corny, to be sure, and while the mechanism employed has implausible elements, it does not stop one from trying to figure out exactly how it works. At one stage it seems that events taking place for Katie in 2006 Chicago pre-date events taking place for Alex in 2004 Madison. But who said it has to make sense?

Katie has been unlucky in love, and though her path has crossed Alex’s several times, their attempts at a real connection go unfulfilled. She poignantly laments to her friend and fellow doctor (Shohreh Aghdashloo of The Exorcism of Emily Rose - 2005) “The one guy I can never meet, I want to give my whole heart to.”

Christopher Plummer (Inside Man - 2006) plays the role of Simon Wyler, famous architect and father of Alex. The brother, Henry, is played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Mona Lisa Smile - 2003). Katie’s mother is played by Dutch actress Willeke van Ammelrooy, and her overly enthusiastic ex-boyfriend, Morgan, is played by Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck). The film is directed by Argentinean Alejandro Agresti.

I am a big fan of Sandra Bullock, and despite the constant conversation at the back of the theater, I really enjoyed the film. Bullock exhibits a reserve here that is uncharacteristic for her, but I like it. The Lake House is a delightful love story, and if you can suspend your disbelief for nearly two hours, you might enjoy it, too. I am not overly fond of happy endings, but I so wanted things to turn out right for Dr. Katie! If you are in love, or even dream of being in love, don’t miss this one! It has charms to soothe even the most savage of breasts. [1:45]

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[© 07/01/2006]