Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar 2009 Recap

Well the 81st Annual Academy Awards were definitely scaled down. The producers said they were trying something different and they did. What resulted didn’t seem like the biggest night in Hollywood to me. The stage was right in the audience’s lap and the usually lame musical numbers were…usually lame. Hugh Jackman is great, but when Beyonce can’t even make a musical number better, it’s bad. The FOW (Former Oscar Winners) presenting the acting awards was a nice idea, but when a FOW can’t read a teleprompter it became awkward. The best speeches from a FOW were the ones that seemed from the heart and not read.

Aside from the actual ceremony, the best moments were Heath Ledger’s and Kate Winslet’s wins. Heath Ledger’s acting has been excellent and his work as the Joker in TDK (The Dark Knight) was no different. I’ve only seen him in two previous films, Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain, but he was excellent in both. When I watched him in TDK he wasn’t an actor playing a looney bin, he was just a looney bin. When an actor makes you believe in a character and makes you forget they are “acting” THAT’S ACTING.

Kate Winslet has been equally excellent for a long time. I’ve also only seen her in a few films, Titanic (of course), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Life of David Gale where she played “Bitsey Bloom”. The Life of David Gale was a horrible movie, but her performance was the best thing about the film and I said the film should have been called “The Life of Bitsey Bloom”. Congratulations to her, finally.

The winners in two of my favorite categories were:
Dustin Lance Black for "Milk"

Simon Beaufoy for "Slumdog Millionaire"

I kind of have my own personal backlash against Slumdog Millionaire. I probably would never watch a movie like this, just not my cup of tea, and all of the hype about it doesn’t endear it to me. I’ll probably watch it on DVD to see what all the hype is about, but I’m not rushing out to see it. Congratulations to it though for it is a true underdog story and congrats to all of the winners. Here’s to next year.

In case you missed it a list of the major winners followed by the funniest moment of the night.

"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) A Celador Films Production, Christian Colson, producer

Sean Penn in "Milk" (Focus Features)

Kate Winslet
in "The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)

Danny Boyle for "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)

Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros)

Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (The Weinstein Company)

Anthony Dod Mantle for "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)

This was the funniest moment of the night followed by the appearance that inspired it

The Wire-My Favorite Season

By Cool Black AKA Dankwa Brooks

Almost a year after the series ended, I watched my favorite season of The Wire again. That season was season three. If you can believe it, some people still haven't seen The Wire so I will try not to give too much away for if you haven't seen this excellent show, you really should. Each year the producers of the show try to showcase a theme. Noted by the producers as the season about "reform" it could be probably best summed up by "Hamsterdam" or as the season they "legalized drugs". That was the main thrust of the season, but it encompassed so much more.

For those who don't know,
The Wire was an American television drama series set in Baltimore, Maryland, where it was also produced. Created, produced, and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon, the series was broadcast by the premium cable network HBO in the United States. The Wire premiered on June 2, 2002 and ended on March 9, 2008, with 60 episodes airing over the course of its five seasons.
(From Wikipedia. All hyperlinks go to Wikipedia.)

Each season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of the city of Baltimore. They are, in order: the drug trade, the port, the city government & bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media.

This was the first season I can say that EVERY facet of the storytelling was fascinating. In a show like The Wire with so many characters and subplots there are some storylines that aren't that interesting (Season Two anyone?). For the entire run of the series The Wire has always given equal time to the police, the criminals and all of the politics both enterprises involved and in this season both sides were compelling.

On the police side we had a police commander nearing retirement and tired of failed police initiatives decides a drastic new strategy, legalizing drugs. We see the entire arc of this play out from the initial reticence from the police and the criminals to the eventual ramifications and political fallout.

On the criminal side we see their commander, Avon Barksdale, a recently released drug kingpin reasserting control and engaging in a war with an upstart young rival. We also see the conflict he has with his partner and second in command Stringer Bell over the direction of their enterprise. This conflict and eventual fallout was one of the standouts of an already stellar season.

We also get a look at the political side of the infrastructure; we get to see the political machinations of Councilman Thomas Carcetti's run for mayor. We see the ins and outs of the backroom wheeling and dealing as well as his strategy to split the vote of Baltimore majority black population so that he can slide into office. Divide and conquer so to speak.

You would think that with all of these intertwining storylines the introduction of a new character wouldn't be relevant, but it was. When they introduced the character of Dennis "Cutty" Wise I though it was a waste of time. This was the third season of an already character rich show and we had SO many great existing characters why in the hell do we need one more? Well it seems the producers knew what they were doing. During this season's thirteen episodes we saw the full arc of someone who had to readjust to society, after a fourteen-year prison sentence, and see where he fits in this new world. The character was also given more resonance through the melancholy performance of his portrayer Chad L. Coleman (pictured left). We saw Cutty in prison, get out of prison, try to return to his former life and then find a path in his new life all in one season.

My favorite character on the show had to have been Stringer Bell portrayed by Idris Elba (pictured left). One of the most intelligent characters on the series, and had it not been for his impoverished beginnings, could have been a legitimate businessman. I know “legitimate businessman” is kind of an oxymoron in this economy, but bear with me. While Avon was “the boss”, it was Stringer who carried out the machinations of the organization and did it with incomparable precision. Avon didn’t (or couldn’t concern himself) with the day-to-day operation of the organization. In business terms Avon was the CEO and Stringer the COO. Whenever Stringer was on the screen it was no doubt who was in command of the situation, a command only heightened by the bravura performance of Idris Elba.

You can see TWO examples of what I described below (contains EXPLICIT LANGUAGE)

In this already stellar season, my favorite storyline was the conflict within the Barksdale empire. The heads of the Barksdale empire, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell partnered in the drug trade during their teens now full blown kingpins. Avon Barksdale was a gangster to the core. He not only liked the domination that came with his criminal empire, but also the warfare that came with it. His partner Stringer Bell liked the money and power that came with the empire, but sought to do more legal things with it. Stringer did what he had to do to gain and hold onto their power he just didn’t relish in the dirty side of it like Avon. When the new upstart Marlo Stansfield started coming into power, Avon wants to go to war, while Stringer doesn’t want the extra attention from the police if a gang war breaks out. This conflict widens the already emerging gap between the friends. The eventual fallout and final scenes between the two were some of the best of the entire series.

Below are two scenes from what I described above. (contains EXPLICIT LANGUAGE)

Many critics and fans alike allege that Season Four (the one with the kids) was the best. While equally excellent I don't think it excelled on every storyline, every character, every level like Season Three. I thought it was the best then, but even after a repeated watching and after seeing every episode of the entire series, it remains so.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cool Black's Oscar Recap Past & Present

It’s that time of year again! The Academy Awards or as they are best know the Oscars. If the [Baltimore] Ravens aren’t in the Superbowl, I really don’t care about the Superbowl so the Oscars are always my “Superbowl”. This year is the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

Like everyone I’ve watched the Oscars off and on throughout my life, but with recent achievements by African Americans (Denzel, Halle, Jamie, Forest, etc.) I have been watching them more and now EVERY YEAR. Of course the big attention is always given to the Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture awards and such, but since I consider myself a screenwriter FIRST I’m always particularly interested in the screenwriting awards. There are TWO screenwriting awards, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay is the Academy Award for the best script not based upon previously published material and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is awarded each year to the writer of a screenplay adapted from another source (usually a novel, play, or short story but also sometimes another film). All sequels are automatically considered adaptations by this standard (since the sequel must be based on the original story).

My favorite winners in recent history:

Best Adapted Screenplay-2007 (80th) No Country for Old Men - Ethan and Joel Coen from the novel by Cormac McCarthy

2004 (77th) Sideways - Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor from the novel by Rex Pickett

2000 (73rd) Traffic - Stephen Gaghan from the teleplay Traffik by Simon Moore

1997 (70th) L.A. Confidential - Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland from the novel by James Ellroy

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: If you haven’t seen the films above, you really should.

Best Original Screenplay-
1990 Ghost - Bruce Joel Rubin
1991 Thelma and Louise - Callie Khouri
1994 Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino (story and screenplay) and Roger Avary (story)
1995 The Usual Suspects - Christopher McQuarrie
1996 Fargo - Ethan and Joel Coen
1997 Good Will Hunting - Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
1999 American Beauty - Alan Ball
2006 Little Miss Sunshine – Michael Arndt
2007 Juno – Diablo Cody

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: Again if you haven’t seen the films above, you really should.
This year’s (2009) nominees are:

Best Original Screenplay
WALL-E - Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter
Happy-Go-Lucky - Mike Leigh
Frozen River - Courtney Hunt
In Bruges - Martin McDonagh
Milk - Dustin Lance Black

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Eric Roth and Robin Swicord from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Doubt - John Patrick Shanley from his stage play.
Frost/Nixon - Peter Morgan from his stage play.
The Reader - David Hare from the novel by Bernhard Schlink
Slumdog Millionaire - Simon Beaufoy from the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: For the first time in a while I really have no vested interest in the screenplay awards. The only film I did see, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I didn’t think the screenplay was that fantastic.

And now Best Picture-The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible not only to vote on the final ballot, but also to nominate. During the annual Academy Awards ceremony, Best Picture is reserved as the final award presented and, since 1951, is collected at the podium by the film's producers. The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture is considered the most important of the Academy Awards, as it is the final result of the collaborative producing, directing, acting, and writing efforts put forth for a film.


These are awards in recent memory that I was particularly interested in: (The films in bold were the only ones I actually saw with any additional comments will under "Cool Black's Mad Commentary:" )

2000-WINNER-Gladiator - DreamWorks & Universal - Douglas Wick, David Franzoni, Branko Lustig
Chocolat - Miramax - David Brown, Kit Golden, Leslie Holleran
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Sony Pictures Classics - William Kong, Li-Kong Hsu, Ang Lee
Erin Brockovich - Universal & Columbia - Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Traffic - USA Films - Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Laura Bickford

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: Gladiator was a good film, but in NO WAY Best Picture. I thought the award should have gone to Traffic, an excellent film.


2004-WINNER-Million Dollar Baby - Warner Bros. - Clint Eastwood, Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenburg
The Aviator - Miramax & Warner Bros. - Michael Mann, Graham King
Finding Neverland - Miramax - Richard N. Gladstein, Nellie Bellflower
Ray - Universal - Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin
Sideways - Fox Searchlight - Michael London

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: This time the award DID GO to the right picture. Million Dollar Baby was one of the most emotionally searing films I have ever seen, but truly excellent. I would have been happy if the equally excellent The Aviator won though.


2005-WINNER-Crash - Lions Gate - Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: I DID NOT like Crash. I found the racism in the film contrived and empty. I would have been SO HAPPY if another nominated Best Picture Little Miss Sunshine won.


2007-WINNER-No Country for Old Men - Miramax & Paramount Vantage - Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Atonement - Focus Features - Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster
Juno - Fox Searchlight - Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, Russell Smith
Michael Clayton - Warner Bros. - Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent, Sydney Pollack
There Will Be Blood - Paramount Vantage & Miramax - Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: Again this time the award DID GO to the right picture. No Country for Old Men was excellent. I would have been happy if Michael Clayton or Juno won.


This year’s nominees-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Paramount & Warner Bros. - Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Cean Chaffin
Frost/Nixon - Universal - Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Eric Fellner
Milk - Focus Features - Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen
The Reader - The Weinstein Company - Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti, Redmond Morris
Slumdog Millionaire - Fox Searchlight,Warner Bros.,Pathe - Christian Colson

Cool Black's Mad Commentary: The only picture I have seen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button while a good film, I don’t think is “Best Picture” worthy, but good luck to it and it’s nominees especially the great Taraji P. Henson.

The Oscars will be broadcast on ABC television Feb 22, 2009 beginning at 8pm EST.

Written by Cool Black AKA Dankwa Brooks with information from Wikipedia.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chris Brown drama 2009

Chris Brown 'Saddened,' Denies Facebook Slamming
The R&B singer is seeking counseling

Chris Brown issued the following statement Sunday (Feb. 15):

"Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired. I am seeking the counseling of my pastor, my mother and other loved ones and I am committed, with God's help, to emerging a better person.

"Much of what has been speculated or reported on blogs and/or reported in the media is wrong.

"While I would like to be able to talk about this more, until the legal issues are resolved, this is all I can say except that I have not written any messages or made any posts to Facebook, on blogs or any place else. Those posts or writings under my name are frauds."

Brown, 19, and his girlfriend Rihanna, 20, pulled out of their Grammy appearances on Feb. 8. He was arrested for allegedly attacking Rihanna and may face charges.

Following the controversy, a person with access to the Christopher Maurice Brown Facebook page changed the relationship status to "single" and then posted, "You'll begin to see her true colors. Believe it!"

Readers defend Chris Brown in the Rihanna incident
Los Angeles Times, CA - Feb 13, 2009

More info about initial arrest at MTV News
February 10, 2009

Notorious box office U.P.D.A.T.E.

Release Date: January 16, 2009

Domestic Total as of Feb. 15, 2009: $36,612,000 (Estimate)

Production Budget: $20 million

After a month in theaters, Notorious only has a profit of about $16 million (domestically), which is great for you or me, or any company in America in this economy, but not for a Hollywood studio. Hollywood studios like to make at least $30-$50 million profits on a picture +$100 million even better. The foreign gross is only $156,000 and it probably won't go far beyond that.

The DVD release is estimated for May 2009 and it probably won't make much there either because those who want it on DVD already have it and or will have a bootleg of the official version. Sad to say that's how many people buy their movies.

The so-so box office of Notorious probably won’t stop future hip-hop bio pics, but it may give studios pause before green lighting the next one.

Previous Notorious blog entries:
A report about the opening weekend box office gross here
Review of the film here
More about the film here