Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

SUNDANCE 2009 - INTERVIEW - Wendell B Harris JR

Just stumbled upon this revealing article on Chameleon Street writer/director/star, Wendell B. Harris, that aptly begins with the question many have asked over the past decade or so,
Whatever happened to Wendell B. Harris Jr.?

I was glad to see Chameleon Street finally get the DVD treatment last year, and it now sits comfortably in my DVD stash, chock-full of appealing extra features.

Apparently, as the article states, Harris has returned to the Sundance Film Festival this year — the site of his 1990 dramatic Grand Jury Prize win for Chameleon Street - not with a new film, but with Chameleon Street, which screens alongside Steven Soderbergh's 1989 debut, Sex, Lies, and Videotape in the festival’s From the Collection sidebar program.

One can only hope that, what appears to be a renewed interest in both Harris and his premiere work, will eventually lead to an interest in seeing, and thus financing and producing those projects of his that don't yet exist.

Here's some of the article:
Whatever happened to Wendell B. Harris Jr.? It’s a question that might be asked with greater frequency if only more people had heard of the 1990 winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s dramatic Grand Jury Prize. Indeed, of all the post-Sundance disappearing acts — and there have been many — Harris’ may be the most intriguing, in large part because his debut (and, to date, only) feature film, Chameleon Street, is among the best and least known prize-winners in the festival’s 25-year history.

Arriving just one year after Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape (see related stories) turned the heretofore triple-A Sundance into a major-league ball club, Chameleon Street was one of a crop of 1990 competition titles that heightened the excitement then building around the American independent-film movement. Also in the running that year were Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger, the first films of iconic indie auteurs Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) and Hal Hartley (The Unbelievable Truth), and eventual Audience Award winner Longtime Companion. But the jury, which included Soderbergh, Kathryn Bigelow and film critic Armond White among its members, reserved its highest honor for Harris’ ferociously original, mordantly funny take on the life of African-American con artist William Douglas Street, whose impersonations included a lawyer, a Time magazine reporter and a gynecological surgeon (performing three-dozen successful hysterectomies). Adding to the powerful impression made by the film was the fact that its charismatic, skin-shedding protagonist was played by none other than Harris himself.

For most of the two decades that followed, however, news of Harris was so scarce that one might have assumed the triple-threat writer-director-actor to be but the latest in Douglas Street’s series of chameleonic guises. He appeared only twice more as an actor — in Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) as the FBI agent who smells something fishy in Jennifer Lopez’s story, and as a college professor in the 2000 Tom Green comedy Road Trip. Meanwhile, unlike many of his Sundance contemporaries — some of whom continued to trudge forth in the indie trenches, some of whom graduated to Hollywood features or segued into television — Harris amassed no additional writing or directing credits. As for Chameleon Street, it grossed just over $200,000 during a small 1991 theatrical release by the Maine-based distributor Northern Arts Entertainment (after the film’s sales agent botched a prospective meeting with Harvey Weinstein) and, like its maker, soon faded from the scene. Until its belated DVD release in 2007, the film was available only on an out-of-print VHS edition.
The rest is HERE, so, go read it!

TRAILER - Imagine That (Eddie Murphy)

Fatherhood has clearly had a profound effect on Eddie Murphy's career, unfortunately for those of us over 21. Despite the critical and financial flops that his last 2 or 3 films have been (the Shrek series not included for obvious reasons), studio execs apparently still believe in his "bankability," as they continue to throw tens of millions of dollars into these questionable Eddie romps, like the one below; although this one looks like standard kids fare, unlike head-scratchers, Meet Dave, Norbit, Pluto Nash, and others...

The film is called Imagine That. It stars Eddie Murphy as a successful financial executive who has more time for his blackberry than his seven-year-old daughter (Yara Shahidi). When he has a crisis of confidence and his career starts going down the drain, he finds the solution to all his problems in his daughter's imaginary world.

The film co-stars Thomas Haden Church, Nicole Ari Parker, and Vanessa Williams.

June 12th is its release date.

Here's the trailer for yet another film which I won't be seeing this year:

SUNDANCE 2009 - Review Of "Tyson"

Earlier in the week, I reported that Sony Pictures acquired distribution rights to James Toback's documentary on former troubled heavy weight boxing champ Mike Tyson - a film which enjoyed an enthusiastic reception at last year's Cannes Film Festival in May, 2008, and which screened during the all-important first 48 hours of this year's Sundance Film Festival.

SlashFilm has an early review... and it's not a good one, which surprises me, given how well it was received at Cannes.

Read on:

... Unfortunately, it [the film] wasn’t the uncensored expose that I naively believed it might be. I realized this fact during the opening credit sequence when the name Mike Tyson came on screen, preceded by the words “Executive Producer”.

The film is a look at the life of one of the most famous fighters in Boxing History, as told through an interview with Tyson himself. And there lies the film’s main problem. Situations dealing with abuse and rape charges deserve to show the other side of the story (especially when Tyson claims they never happened). But the documentary never strays from the one on one interview with Tyson himself.

I was also surprised at the lack of additional footage from Tyson’s many years in the public spotlight. Most of the film is comprised of a talking head interview with Tyson, and some overused footage of Mike looking out into an ocean sunset. The editor also chose to sometimes split the interview footage into a shattered split screen, probably in an attempt to spice things up. As you might expect, the result is more annoying than anything else.

To his credit, Mike comes off as incredibly honest and forthcoming. And we get stories about how the boxer contracted gonorrhea from a prostitute before a championship fight and how he likes to woo strong women, CEO types, and dominate them in the bed room. We also get commentary on some of his fights, giving us a look into the skill and psychology.

And Tyson comes off like a sensitive tough guy who has seen the errors of his ways, but each and every time he falls into the same traps. And the finale comes off almost like a scripted infomercial which shouts “Look, I’m better now, I’m not a bad guys! See!” The film gives a fascinating look at a man with a serve confidence and trust issues from the point of view from that same man who now thinks he’s cured. It’s not a bad cable documentary but as a theatrical release, I can’t recommend it.

Ouch! Too bad! I never expected a theatrical release for Tyson; cable certainly makes more sense.


GROAN - Shooting Erupts At 'Notorious' Screening In NC; All Showings Suspended Indefinitely

I'd like to say that I'm surprised; alas, I'm not. Bullshit like this seems to happen more often than not, when films of this nature are screened, and will likely continue to happen, as long as there are knuckleheads present, dead-set (pun intended) on living up to the potential that their name implies!

Read on...

GREENSBORO - A 32-year-old man was shot twice in the abdomen during an argument and an estimated 700 people were evacuated when gunfire broke out at a Greensboro movie theater Friday night.

The sound of a gunshot echoed throughout the lobby of the Grand 18 at Four Seasons Station just after 9 p.m. as moviegoers waited to get into opening night showings of "Notorious" - the life and death story of the rapper Notorious B.I.G.

Greensboro police Lt. James Hinson said the victim, identified early Saturday morning as Clive O’Connor, was rushed to Moses Cone Hospital, where he underwent surgery. His medical condition was not immediately available.

No suspects were in custody late Friday night.


Rapper and actor Jamal "Gravy" Woolard, who plays B.I.G. in the film, was in the theater at the time of the shooting, police and witnesses said.


The movie theater and parking lot... were evacuated after dozens of police swarmed to the scene.

"We were just standing there talking and we heard a 'Pow!'" said Jasmine Seapoe, who was with a group of friends waiting to get into a 9:30 p.m. showing of "Notorious."

"The next thing we know there were a bunch of people running in the opposite direction, and the cops came and asked us if we saw anything and started directing everyone to get out," she said.

The Grand 18 will honor tickets today for customers whose movies were interrupted by the shooting Friday, said Lisa Burwell, a spokeswoman for Southern Theaters, the parent company of the Grand 18.

... All showings of "Notorious" will be suspended indefinitely at the Grand 18, Burwell said. Customers with tickets to Friday's showing of "Notorious" should contact the theater for details regarding a refund.

So it goes... and goes... and goes...

Here's yet another incident: 4 stabbed during club's party for 'Notorious' film

You know the press just LOVES finding and printing stories like these... why make it easy for them.


SUNDANCE 2009 - Race Drama “Toe to Toe”

I missed this title when I first browsed through the list of Sundance feature entries, when it was unveiled last month.

It's called Toe To Toe, the debut feature film for Emily Abt, described as "compelling coming-of-age tale," and "the debut film of the New Obama Cinema," and lastly, "an American movie that treats race and class with insight and enthusiasm equal to the excitement over President elect Barack Obama and his impact on race relations."

Labels like "New Obama Cinema" turn me off, but, I'll bite this time.

The film made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, at the Eccles Theatre, the largest of the Park City, Utah venues.

indieWIRE writer, Steve Ramos writes,

“Toe to Toe” is smart, honest storytelling about Tosha (Sonequa Martin), a driven African American student on full scholarship at a Washington D.C. prep school and her competitive relationship with Jesse (Louisa Krause), a troubled white student from wealth.

... “Toe to Toe” is the most driven of the American movies so far at Sundance; a well told, swift-moving story with standout lead performances, solid commercial elements and high prospects for enthusiastic word-of-mouth.

While much about the relationship between Tosha and Jesse feels honest and believable, Abt does occasionally fall into the trap of dramatic exaggeration in order to heighten the film’s emotional climax (there is a lesbian subplot that feels out of place). It’s a common misstep for someone tackling his or her first feature drama. To Abt’s credit, the film’s poignant moments far outweigh its stumbles. By “Toe to Toe’s” surprising finish, one walks away with new thoughts and feelings about race, diversity as well as questions about how today’s teens will address class and race differently from their parents.

Abt moves us with her storytelling, and as a welcome bonus, makes us think;


“Toe to Toe” is complex and multi-layered and I expect unanimous praise for Martin and Krause, both beautifully confused as two teen friends battling to overcome the troubles in their lives. I also expect praise for Abt, the storyteller who holds all the angst, successes and setbacks together, making this girl’s tale capable of engaging all audiences.

If that doesn’t earn Abt a shot at directing future feature dramas, nothing does.

Certainly not the best review of a film, even though it is undoubtedly a positive one. However, it feels rather empty, despite its verbosity.

Here's a decisively negative review from Neil Miller over at Film School Rejects:

In general, I have a rule about walking out of movies. I just don’t do it. For some reason I have always held tight to the belief that it is respectful to the filmmaker — especially in an environment such as Sundance — to give the movie its fair shake. This rule brought much pain to my life last year, with films such as Downloading Nancy and Funny Games leaving me on the edge of despair, yearning to rip my eyes from my skull. And while writer/director Emily Abt’s melodramatic soap opera Toe to Toe didn’t have me reaching for acid to pour on my face, it will go down as the first film of Sundance 2009 that had me eying both my watch and the exit door.

You can read the rest of his "D" review HERE.

By the way, Emmy-winning actress Leslie Uggams co-stars.

Stay tuned for updates on it...


SUNDANCE 2009 - Early Reviews Of "Push"

It screened for the first time last night, at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival, where director Lee Daniels, and most of the cast were present for a Q&A following the premiere.

indieWIRE rep, Eric Kohn, was there to soak it all in, and below are his thoughts on the experience:

“Push” Premieres

A standing ovation greeted Lee Daniels’ “Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” tonight at the Racquet Club, even as insiders worried that a delayed screening of Antoine Fuqua’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” over at the Eccles held up some buyers. Buoyed by positive reaction after a test screening in Harlem earlier this week, Lee Daniels seemed anxiously optimistic while chatting casually with indieWIRE prior to the screening. After the showing, he was showered by well-wishers, some of whom posed for photos with Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey. Daniels also cast Lenny Kravitz in a key role. “If you are gonna tell a bold story, go all the way, be bold,” Daniels said on Friday night. indieWIRE offers a first take on the film in this latest dispatch from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.


“Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” is a movie of many textures, each one illuminating the emotionally gripping narrative at its core. Lee Daniels directs with bold strokes that could go wrong at any moment, but generally serve to illuminate a troubled life and the justified desire to escape it. The story of a troubled Harlem teen named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) impregnated by her absent father, “Push” progresses with a steadily engaging series of starts and stops in the frayed world of its talented star. While fending off her dysfunctional mother (Monique, in a stunningly psychotic turn), Precious gradually learns to surpass her aimless fantasies and come to grips with the troubles at hand. Using lavishly photographed sequences, Daniels contrasts Precious’s daily woes with the happier existence inside her head, but these moments gradually give way to the protagonist’s fulfillment of her actual goals.

Moved to an alternative school to meet her special needs, Precious learns from more caring adults (including Mariah Carey as a trenchant social worker) about her obvious potential to mature. A spunky character with an increasing ability to editorialize about her new environment (“they talk like TV channels I don’t watch,” she says of her newfound mentors), Precious makes the ideal heroine of modern times. “Push” does not function exclusively as a story of race, but as a universal depiction of real world struggle. The only question is whether distributors can push themselves to get it out there.

Yes, that is indeed THE only question! Let's hope the answer is a resounding "YES!" I had my reservations with Daniels' casting choices (notably Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz); but, the above snapshot reads positive.

Here's another glowing review from MCARCHIVES that addresses my concerns:

Probably the least important aspect of Lee Daniels' fantastic new drama "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire" was still the biggest elephant in the room at the Racquet Club theater in Park City, Utah last night: Can Mariah Carey show any acting skills whatsoever? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In a movie filled with unconventional casting, Carey goes plain jane (i.e, absolutely no makeup) as a social worker and has to participate in a number of intense scenes where her fans will be happy to learn she clearly does not embarrass herself. The bigger surprises, however, were provided by Mo'Nique and the film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.

In her feature film debut, Sidibe is impressive conveying how battered Precious is, but she also shows glimpses of an inner strength the character will need to escape her hellish prison. Time will tell whether the young actress has the range for other roles, but its an auspicious start for sure.

As her domineering mother, Mo'Nique, who has previously only ventured into comedic roles, is absolutely stunning. Most of the film requires her to display utter contempt for Precious, but as the story progresses, she adds a sympathy that is both unexpected and moving. Mo'Nique may not have thought she had a career as a serious actress, but that will completely change after "Push".

More impressive is Daniels confident visual style that go beyond his spot on period references in the fantasy sequences. The filmmaker could have easily fallen into the melodramatic cliches of similar stories, but instead its the combination of superb performances, sharp production design and a keen eye that make "Push" so special.

"Push" is an inspiring and powerful film that will put Daniels on the map as one of cinema's emerging talents. Now, all he has to do is figure out how to pull off an equally rewarding encore.

Wow - well, so far so good! Looks like we have a winner!

I'm sure several more reviews will trickle in over the next few days; and, of course, I'll share them with you as I learn about them!


RELATED POSTS: "Push" Wins Big At Sundance!

ROUNDUP - Fela Bio-Pic, Slamdance Gems, Festival Blues, Idris On TV, Oxford Over NFL, Nona Gaye Returns

What's happening?

FELA KUTI BIOPIC IN THE WORKS. Focus Features is developing a biopic about Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and political maverick who gained fame in the U.S. for his fusion style of music known as Afrobeat. It's about time! If we can get biopics about Biggie and Aaliyah, surely, Fela deserves the same treatment. I just hope they get an unknown to play the part; an actor from his home country would be wonderful, but, I doubt that'll happen.

- indieWIRE spotlights 5 films to see at Slamdance (not Sundance), and Tina Mabry's Mississippi Damned, which I wrote about previously on this blog, is one of them. Erick Kohn writes,
This lusciously photographed period piece, set in a lower class southern community in 1986 and 1998, showcases writer-director Tina Mabry’s ability to handle the complexities of an ensemble drama with her very first feature. An impoverished black family (including David Malcolm Kelley, who plays Walt on ABC’s “Lost”) cope with dreams of greater ambitions. Whether confronting sexual tensions (in one case, a latent homosexual relationship) or monetary woes, the characters in “Mississippi Damned” represent the voice of a discontented people, which comes through loud and clear.
Black dramas are tough sells, so I'd expect Mabry's film to face some challenges in finding a distributor. I hope to have her, and/or her producers on my podcast some time soon.

- The Hollywood Reporter says Film festivals are prepping for a year of "downsized aspirations," stating,
Many organizers believe the healthy economy of the past decade created a bubble of film festivals, and that a retrenchment was inevitable... Right now times are tough for a lot of people, and some companies and festivals will go under... But those that survive are going to be the ones able to get really lean, focus on basics, identify what really matters and get stronger.
There are far too many film festivals, I think, so, I consider this a good thing.

- IDRIS ELBA TO JOIN NBC'S 'OFFICE': As I stated in a post yesterday, more minority performers seem to be finding better opportunities for steady employment in television, and more are migrating in that direction - and rightfully so! Stringer Bell himself, aka Idris Elba, is following the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett and others, to star as a new rival to Steve Carell's character in the NBC hit, The Office. While details are being kept under wraps, NBC did say the actor will play a no-nonsense hire who rankles star Steve Carell's character. I've actually never watched an episode of The Office, despite its wealth of accolades; but I might tune in to see how Elba meshes.

- COLLEGE FOOTBALL STAR PASSES ON NFL TO GO TO OXFORD: How often does something like this happen? Rarely! According to draft experts and analysts, Florida State University football player Myron Rolle would be among the top 50 players selected in the 2009 NFL draft, meaning instant fame and fortune. However, Rolle, who won a Rhodes scholarship in November, has decided to instead take advantage of the opportunity and head overseas, to Oxford, to earn a one-year Master's degree in medical anthropology. Smart move! However, he told the New York Times that he would enter the 2010 NFL draft. So, fame and fortune will likely still come, but it's a risky move for anyone hoping for a pro-sports career. He could get hurt in the next 13 months, and he'll have to kiss the NFL goodbye. Still a bold, smart move...

- AND LASTLY, Sony Pictures has acquired rights to the underground fighting drama Blood and Bone, an out of competition Sundance selection, which stars Michael Jai White as an ex-con who takes the underground fighting world by storm, in his quest to fulfill a promise to a dead friend. The deal was struck on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival, reports Variety.

Nona Gaye (where the heck has she been?), Eamonn Walker, Julian Sands, and UFC contender Kimbo Slice round out the cast.

The trailer is below, and from the looks of it, I think I'll pass! I'm guessing Sony will release it on DVD, i.e., no theatrical.

PRINT - Props!


Look who made the cover of the winter issue of the indie filmmaking bible, FilmMaker magazine?

Monsieur Barry Jenkins, writer/director of Medicine For Melancholy, which will open for a limited run at IFC theatres, here in New York City, on January 30th.

Also with him on the cover are the stars of Medicine For Melancholy, Wyatt Cenac (whom most will recognize from his now and then stint on The Daily Show with John Stewart), and relative newcomer, Tracey Heggins.

The issue isn't yet on newsstands, but will be shortly, I'm sure.

FYI: Barry Jenkins will be a guest on my podcast the week his film opens - Monday, January 26th, from 8PM to 9PM. We'll chat about Medicine For Melancholy, surely, as well as other film related topics. Looking forward to it! Mark it down on your calendars.

Congrats to Barry and company! Hope the film is a success.

SUNDANCE 2009 - Shorts On iTunes

This year 10 short films from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival will be presented as FREE content available January 15th through the 25th, exclusively on iTunes.

All 10 short films are available for viewing for the 10-day period.

Sundance, via iTunes, will be spotlighting one of the ten films every day, including the behind-the-scenes story on the film's production.

The festival's day one spotlight is a film called Hug, by fellow Brooklyn-based African American filmmaker, Khary Jones.

Hug was made as part of the MFA in Film Directing program at Columbia University.

You'll have to go to iTunes to download and watch the short, which I'll be doing right after posting this.

Here's the direct link, which will open up iTunes on your computer:

For the full list of 09 films, visit


As the Sundance Film Festival opens, buzz titles are springing from the mouths of buyers', as they do every year.

From all I've read this morning, two documentaries are apparently already garnering the attention of both festival visitors and film distributor execs present in Park City. One of those docs is Adam Bhala Lough's The Carter, labeled "the authorized feature documentary" which "looks at the life and career of rapper Lil Wayne," aka Dwayne Carter Jr., proclaimed by many as the "greatest rapper alive." The doc includes "comprehensive and personal interviews with Lil' Wayne," as well as "in-depth insight from those that know him best."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, about The Carter, "there is high commercial potential for the right distributor!"

Ok. Wow! That sounds definite, doesn't it?

I know nothing about Lil Wayne, but I could point him out to you in a photograph. I don't consciously listen to his music, other than, maybe, at parties, or being blasted from cars that drive past me. Although, I couldn't tell you what any track is called, or album title.

So, it's clear that I'm likely not the audience for this documentary. Although, given the hype, I can't help but be curious. I don't think I've witnessed this much interest and intrigue in a rapper in awhile.

I was just on iTunes listening to samples of his music, and none of it really moved me. Hip-hop is just not what it used to be when I was a fervent supporter, in the late 80s/early 90s, when people like Lil Wayne were still in the single-digit age bracket.

Those of you who are more familiar with him can share your insight...

Below is a teaser trailer for The Carter which doesn't reveal much (that's why they call them teasers). If The Hollywood Reporter is right about the film's prospects, we can expect to hear news of the film's acquisition by a distributor at Sundance, some time over the next 10 days.

DID YOU KNOW...? - Oprah In "Doubt"

I had no idea... and I'm glad Shanley, the director, turned her down for the role, and instead gave it to someone who could use the work (and the money) in Viola Davis.

Plus, having Oprah co-star would likely have changed the dynamics of the film's marketing and presentation. In essence, I think it would have become more about Oprah's involvement in the project, given her immense popularity, which may have been to the film's detriment.

Although, an argument could be made that, casting her in the role of "Mrs Miller" could have added to the film's financial bottom-line - her popularity might have meant a higher volume in ticket sales... or not.

On Tuesday's episode of her daytime talk show, Oprah Winfrey revealed that she had asked to audition for a role in the film "Doubt," but was turned down by the director. Winfrey told the movie's star Meryl Streep -- who appeared on the show -- that she asked to audition to play "Mrs. Miller" because she felt a connection to it and wanted to work with Streep. But she couldn't convince director John Patrick Shanley to give her a shot. The role ended up going to Viola Davis. She received a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her emotional scene in which Mrs. Miller breaks down after hearing her son may have been molested by a priest.

She apparently still wants to perform; so I won't be surprised to see her in something in the near (or distant) future, especially as she might be putting the breaks on her TV show after the 2011 season.


TELEVISION - Don Cheadle


As I've said previously, it appears television (specifically cable tv) provides much better working opportunities for those actors, actresses, writers, directors, producers, etc... in underrepresented groups.

Laurence Fishburne recently signed a first-look deal with the CBS network to develop projects for the small screen.

And Jada Pinkett-Smith just began work on the TNT medical drama Time Heals, in which she is executive producer and a starring cast member. The show has been greenlit for 10 episodes.

And now...

Oscar-nominated actor-producer Don Cheadle and his Crescendo Prods. are making a big push in television with a two-year, first-look deal at Universal Media Studios.

Under the pact, expected to be announced today during NBC's portion of the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, Crescendo will develop series projects for the studio.

"Don Cheadle is such a smart and dynamic presence both on the screen and behind the scenes," said Angela Bromstad, president of primetime entertainment for NBC and UMS. "We are already at work discussing ideas that will bring Don's strong and creative voice to our primetime schedule."

With all this African American talent (including those not mentioned above) invading our television screens, I look forward to experiencing the fruits of each person's labor.


Good Thursday Morning!


60-year old Grace Jones returned to center-stage last fall, with her first album in about 20 years, titled Hurricane, which was released in November.

Critics unanimously exalted the work! I own it, and echo their sentiments.

Below is a video of the first release from the album, Corporate Cannibal, which I first saw last summer, and really dug! I haven't watched it since then, until this morning, when I saw something else that reminded me of it, and, I must say that I'm still just as captivated by it as I was when I first saw it.

There's a simplicity to its design (both the song and the video) that I find appealing, in a "why didn't I think of that" way. Then again, it is Grace Jones. And that's she's main attraction.

VIDEO - Barry Jenkins Talks Medicine For Melancholy

Check out to read In His Own Words: Barry Jenkins Discusses an Exclusive Clip from Medicine For Melancholy, posted today, in which Barry dissects and deconstructs a scene from his film, giving the reader some insight into his process.

The below clip is from a segment presented by Filmmaker Magazine. The film's trailer follows beneath that, for those who haven't seen it yet. If you listened to Monday's podcast, in which Brandon Wilson and I discussed our top 5 lists of films released in 2008, you would have heard me say that Medicine For Melancholy was on my list.

Here's the trailer:

SUNDANCE 2009 - VIDEO - Lee Daniels Talks More "Push"

Well, the madness begins tomorrow (Thursday) night, for 10 straight days, in Park City, Utah. Yes, the mother of all festivals opens its doors to the world, and I've already read quite a few blogs today by writers who are already in Park City, a full day before the festivities begin, prepping themselves for the exhausting experience. I wish I could have gone, but, I simply couldn't justify spending the amount of money I would have needed to spend to get my arse over there for a few days, and back. Maybe next year... of course, that's what I said last year :o)

Anywho... In recent years, Sundance has released short video segments like this one, showcasing the filmmakers with films at the festival. I was just notified of the below clip, featuring Lee Daniels, director of Push, (which I've already written about on this blog), talking about the film, the book it was based on, the cast of characters, and how much impact the story had on him.

SCOOP - Will Smith As Captain Nemo?

I last read a Jules Verne novel in grade school, probably 20 years ago... and that book told the story of Phileas Fogg and his assistant Passepartout, who attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager!

Believe or not, that Captain Nemo fellow is mostly alien to me... other than what I've gathered from the ether.

From SlashFilm:

The other day, we reported on McG’s new directing gig helming 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo. We expressed hope that Hollywood would man up and cast an ethnically correct (i.e. Indian) version of Captain Nemo, undoubtedly one of the most psychologically fascinating characters in literature. As usual, it seems our hopes were misplaced, for the most part.

Over at Latino Review, our colleague Kellvin is reporting that at the recent Terminator Salvation event, McG revealed who he really wants in the role of Nemo:

Man I’m trying to get Will Smith to do it, been trying to get a hold of him. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time already. That guy’s great.

While this might be better than M. Night Shymalan’s atrocious and much-maligned decision to cast four white leads for Avatar: The Last Airbender, it is nonetheless disheartening to see that a role originating from a South Asian character might go to someone who just happens to have the same shade of skin color. Putting aside arguments about ethnicity, the last time Smith played someone who was as tortured as Nemo was probably Seven Pounds, and we all know how that turned out (other instances might include The Pursuit of Happyness or Ali, but let’s not mention I, Robot or Hancock please). At the same event, McG explained that “The character Nemo in this film is more about obsession, he is obsessed and people tend to forget that when you become so obsessed you end up being the villain.” Would this really be the best type of role for Smith anyway?

MTV's movie blog has a similar post on this.

Alright, I'm off to go pick up a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Those of you who have read it, care to comment?


Good Wednesday Morning!

It's COOOOOOLD in NYC today - lows in the teens, and highs in the mid-20s. It's supposed to drop about 10 degrees by Friday, as we head into an even colder weekend!

I've had a really busy week thus far, so I haven't posted as much as I usually do. I work in the financial industry, and with world economies on thin ice, panic is rampant. This week at the office has been especially taxing. I can't wait until the weekend!

Anyway... below are the first 10 minutes from Martinique-born filmmaker, Euzhan Palcy's debut work, Sugar Cane Alley (Rue Cases-Nègres) - a lyrical village drama set in French-occupied 1930s Martinique. The story examines the relationship of a determined, impoverished 11-year-old and his equally difficult and shrewd grandmother, who sacrifices everything for the boy, to ensure that his life isn't as difficult and challenging as hers has been.

The 1983 film won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival that year.

The screenplay was based on a novel of the same title by Joseph Zobel, a Martinique-born author of several novels and short-stories in which social issues are at the forefront.

PICS - The Limits Of Control


The images below arrived in my email box this morning... they are pics of Isaach De Bankole, on the set of Jim Jarumusch's next feature, The Limits Of Control, in which Isaach De Bankolé stars as a mysterious lone wolf criminal undertaking a job in Spain. Filming began in February 2008, and encompassed locations in Madrid, Seville and Almeria.

Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Gael García Bernal round out the rather impressive cast.

De Bankolé isn't a familiar name, but his face might be. He's one of those character actors, similar to a Jeffrey Wright, who is usually relegated to the periphery in most films he's in, except for a handful of French films (He's from Côte d'Ivoire, the West African country, and former colony of France). This will be the 4th time Jarnusch has teamed up with him; the other 3: Night on Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Coffee and Cigarettes. He has also appeared in Lars von Trier's Manderlay.

He's married to the lovely songstress Cassandra Wilson, by the way.

Glad to see him in a starring role for a change. I'm a Jarmusch fan - especilly of his earlier works. His last 2 films did very little for me.

The Limits of Control will be released theatrically on May 22 by Focus Features - likely in limited release. Mark your calendars. It's on my "to-see" list.

Here are the pics... not much revealed...


SUNDANCE 2009 - Black Face Alert!

As the title suggests, I have my specs on the prowl for any films at this month's Sundance Film Festival, with black people in prominent roles, regardless of the faces behind the camera.

This one just landed on my desk.

It's called Mystery Team, and its synopsis reads as follows:
At age seven, Oakdale's Mystery Team was a band of kid detectives dedicated to solving child-sized mysteries (like who put their finger in the pie, and who stole the tricycle), and the town loved them for it. Now they're eighteen years old, about to graduate from high school, yet they're still storming the playground to bust little kids, and the town of Oakdale is sick to death of it. When a little girl sees their sign advertising "Mysteries Solved, Ten Cents," she asks the gang to find out who killed her parents. The Team embarks on a mystery that takes them deep into a violent conspiracy that sees their lives threatened, their friendship strained and tests their claim that they're "real detectives."
It's a comedy, of course!

The film co-stars Donald Glover (no relation to Danny Glover, to my knowledge; that's him on the left) - a comedian and comedy writer based in New York City. Donald is a founding member of the sketch comedy troupe the Wicked Wicked Hammerkatz (never heard of them, but I'll look them up). He studied improvisation with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in New York (familiar with them). He is also a writer for the hit TV show, 30 Rock on NBC, which won a few awards during last night's Golden Globes ceremony.

Glover, by the way, is also listed as co-writer of the Mystery Team screenplay.

Here's the trailer for
Mystery Team - it looks silly/funny/juvenile, like possibly a series of sketches that are better suited for short YouTube placement, than a 90-minute film with a true narrative. But, I obviously haven't seen it, so, I'm going solely based on the trailer below, which has been seen nearly 1 million times on YouTube, with close to 5,000 comments! So, clearly, there's an audience anxiously waiting for this:

PODCAST #41 - Golden Globes Briefing & Top 5 Films Of 2008

#41 - Golden Globes Briefing & Our Top 5 Films Of 2008

01/12/2009 08:00 PM EST
TRT: 60 Minutes

Episode Notes: Brandon Wilson ( and I briefly discussed the Golden Globes awards ceremony which took place last night, the 11th of January; and we each listed and discussed our top 5 films of 2008.

Listen below, or subscribe and download for FREE via iTunes:

MISCELLANY - Sundance Loosing Its Appeal, Netflix Bundling, Will Smith The Martyr

A few articles I read this morning worth sharing...

- Black Directors Look Beyond Their Niche. It’s been 10 years since Spike Lee, entrepreneur, provocateur and role model for aspiring directors of color, declared in The New York Times that it was an era of unprecedented possibility for African-American filmmakers.

But at the close of yet another decade, the promise still awaits fulfillment. Though some of the aforementioned directors have met or exceeded most of the critical expectations shown in their debuts, they have had mixed-to-sporadic success in getting their subsequent projects into theaters.

Ho-hum... nothing new. It seems like every year, we get one of these "state of blacks in Hollywood" essays, yet, not much changes.

- RE: Sundance, which debuts this Thursday... changes are afoot all over Park City. The new attitudes are enough to cause sellers and distributors to start asking what was an unthinkable question even a few years ago: What if Sundance isn't about the sales anymore?

"There's nothing that says that Sundance has to be the Andover or Exeter for the specialty film business's Harvards and Yales," says longtime producer and sales rep Jonathan Dana.

Recent history suggests that the Ivy League of distributors is indeed looking elsewhere. There wasn't a Sundance boxoffice hit to be found last year. Add it all up, and many are drastically downsizing their expectations before they arrive in Park City. Some are now completely bypassing the festival altogether! MORE HERE

- Netflix Inc. has come up with another way to get movies to people without sending DVDs in the mail.

In a partnership announced Monday, LG Electronics will start selling high-definition TV sets that stream Netflix videos directly from the Internet, without an additional device. The deal marks the first time Netflix's streaming service will be embedded in a television.

Makes sense to me. It's like buying a computer with all the tools you need to surf the web already included (wireless/ethernet card, web browser, etc), as opposed to buying the computer, and then adding the required parts later.

Bundling. It worked for Microsoft. MORE HERE

- From Fresh Prince to Saint Smith. Will Smith has gone from getting jiggy with it to being the chosen one - in every single film. What's he after, sainthood, The UK Guardian's Steve Rose asks.

Why doesn't Will Smith just come out with it and admit he's really the Messiah? He's too shrewd to say it out loud, of course, but he's been hinting at it for some time in his movies. In his latest, Seven Pounds, he stops just short of pulling out a crown of thorns and humming I Am The Resurrection, but the entire movie is one gigantic nudge towards Smith's increasingly Jesus-like quality.

... This new, mature Smith seems to be more saying, "I have transcended your earthly concerns. I exist on a solitary higher plane, just one step below God, and maybe Gandhi." HA! Although it is nice to see a black hero at the movies with a Jesus-complex, for a change. Smith was originally offered the role of Neo in The Matrix, but turned it down, saying that he wasn't ready for a role like that. MORE HERE

Fin for now...!

TELEVISION - Jill Scott Plays Detective

I wrote about this early last year, and haven't heard anything about it since my post... until now.

The program is called The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and stars Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, who owns the titular Botswana-based agency. It made history as the first major production to be filmed in Botswana, the landlocked nation in Southern Africa.

The Botswana government reportedly provided five million dollars of funding for the project which has some powerhouse names behind it, like The Weinstein brothers, who are signed on as producers of the series, and directed by the late British director, Anthony Minghella.

A 2-hour pilot was produced in 2007 of a story that is based on a set of novels by the same name, written by author, Alexander McCall Smith (who's white, and Zimbabwean by the way).

Minghella purchased rights to the novels in 2004 - the story of Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott's character), who, with her natural inquisitiveness and intuition, decides to put her talents to use by becoming her country's first ever female detective, using the little wealth left by her dead husband.

The 2-hour pilot premiered on March 23rd, 2008, Easter Sunday, on BBC One, to tremendous audience response, inspiring the Weinsteins to convince HBO to pick up 13 episodes based on the series of novels, for American viewers.

Also starring are Anika Noni Rose, who has acted on just about every stage - theatre (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Terrence Howard and others), Television (Third Watch, 100 Centre Street), and film (Dreamgirls, notably).

Idris Elba costars as well. I think we all know who he is.

An article about the production I read from March 2008, on the UK Guardian website, made me cringe a little. In the article, Jill Scott is interviewed, and she talks about how the creators of the show, asked her to get bigger in size to play the lead role. The article is appropriately titled, " Gimme those cheesy rolls: Soul singer Jill Scott tells Elizabeth Day how she ate up the part of Mma Ramotswe in the TV version of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." In it, Jill Scott says, she put on 30lbs for the role by eating at least 2 or 3 Philly cheesesteak sandwiches a week; and despite that heart-attack inducing diet, the producers of the show wanted her even more plump, so they added padding to her hips, ass, arms and the boobs!

OK! Just how big does this detective have to be? Doesn't that in some way hinder her ability to solve cases? Keep in mind, of course, that this was a series of novels written by a white man.

The episodes were shot almost entirely on location, in Botswana's capital city, Gaborone, and thus, a lot of local talent was used in the production, which is a wonderful thing. In fact, I read that the majority of the crew were native to the country, which lays the foundations for future film productions, as government officials hope to generate a local film industry.

I just learned this morning, according to EURweb, that the series is due to premiere on HBO in March, this year. The Weinsteins and HBO aim to launch The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with the 2-hour pilot followed by the remaining 13 episodes. HBO's website just says "Coming In March," with no specific day listed. I guess that info will be revealed in the next month, with January halfway through.

Jill Scott, on Friday last week, promoted the new HBO series at the Television Critics Association conference, where the star revealed she was six months pregnant with her first child.

And thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can watch the most (if not all) of the 2-hour pilot on YouTube! Where else?

Here are 2 samples:

You can watch it all now, or wait until March for a better experience on your television, and likely, eventually, iTunes.

Good Monday Morning!

No other website brings you the latest, most important news from all around the world like The Obenson Report does!

And this Monday morning, that hasn't changed.

I bring you, "The Penis Painter!"

Tim Patch is an English artist who paints pictures using his penis to apply paint to a canvas, rather than a brush. He'll occasionally use his buttocks to paint the background. His paintings come with a video of their creation, to prove their authenticity. Patch has been traveling the world painting as sort of a novelty act, commonly appearing in a silver top hat and bow tie only.

The evidence (click to enlarge):

I could say soooo many vile things about this, but I won't :o) It's about the art, right?


OUTLOOK - 2009 Year In "Black Cinema"

So... it's near mid-January, meaning we're into the second full week of the new year, with roughly 10 films opening in limited or wide release thus far. And I've seen none of them!

I intend to see a hell of a lot more films in 2009 than I saw in 2008; not necessarily because this year's releases will be any stronger than last year's. But rather, given that I do operate as a film journalist of sorts, with this blog, and my weekly podcast, it's wisest if I do get off my arse and take in a few - even the shitty ones - so that I can, at least, talk about them!

Some of those films will include a few, if not all of the titles listed below - a list of every film with a 2009 release date, featuring a predominantly black cast/crew (writer, director), or films that star a person of African descent. I guess you could call it 2009's "Black Film" list - those films that I'm sure will get plenty of coverage (both positive and negative) on blogs like mine, the Invisible Cinema blog, Must Love Movies and others alike.

Note: these are all studio releases. I'm certain that as the year progresses, a few independent films will shine, especially on the film festival circuit, beginning with the Sundance Film Festival which kicks off this Thursday.

And let's not forget our comrades in Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia - those filmmakers of the Diaspora whose works just might make enough of a splash at some international film festival, and garner the attention of American distributors, allowing those of us in the west to experience them at some juncture later in the year.

Here's the rather short list, including release dates, distributors, as well as major cast and crew. My comments follow beneath:

1/9 - Not Easily Broken Screen Gems (Sony) Dir., Bill Duke; Cast, Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Maeve Quinlan, Kevin Hart, Wood Harris, Eddie Cibrian, Jenifer Lewis.

1/16 Notorious Fox Searchlight Dir., George Tillman Jr.; Cast, Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Antonique Smith, Anthony Mackie, Natrui Naughton, Sean Ringgold, Marc Jon Jefferies

2/20 Madea Goes to Jail Lionsgate Dir. & Pro Tyler Perry; Cast, Tyler Perry, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Derek Luke, Robin Coleman, Jackson Walker, David Mann, Tamela J. Mann, Keke Palmer, Benjamín Benítez

3/27 Janky Promoters - Dimension Dir., Marcus Raboy; Cast, Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Terry Crews, Young Jeezy

4/24 Obsessed Screen Gems Dir. Steve Shill; Cast, Beyoncé Knowles, Idris Elba, Ali Larter, Christine Lahti, Bruce McGill, Ron Roggé, Jerry O'Connell

4/24 The Soloist DreamWorks Dir. Joe Wright; Cast, Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., Catherine Keener

5/8 Next Day Air Summit Entertainment Dir., Benny Boom; Cast, Donald Faison, Lauren London, Mos Def, Darius McCrary, Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Debbie Allen

6/12 Imagine That Paramount Dir. Karey Kirkpatrick, Cast. Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church

6/12 The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Columbia Dir., Tony Scott; Scr., David Koepp; Cast, Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzman, John Turturro

8/14 Dance Flick Paramount Dir. Damien Dante Wayans; Scr. David Bourla; Cast, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, Jr., Amy Sedaris,David Alan Grier, Chris Elliott

9/18 Armored Screen Gems Dir., Nimród Antal; Pro., Sam Raimi; Cast, Columbus Short, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, Fred Ward, Milo Ventimiglia

9/25 Fame Lakeshore Entertainment Dir. Kevin Tancharoen, Wri. Aline Brosh Mckenna and Allison Burnett; Cast, Debbie Allen, Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer

12/18 Avatar 20th Century Fox Dir. and Scr., James Cameron; Cast, Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver

12/25 The Princess and the Frog Walt Disney Pictures Dir., John Musker, Ron Clements; Cast, Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, John Goodman

That's all folks! 14 films out of the roughly 400+ that will reach theatres this year - or, about 3%.

It would be worthwhile to compare with previous years, but, I just don't have the time to put something like that together.

A few notes...

Avatar, a film that's on my list of most anticipated films of 2009, is questionable, since Zoe Saldana's character will be entirely computer generated.

The Sam Raimi produced Armored, starring Columbus Short is news to me... never heard of it until today. But the talent involved intrigues...

Eddie Murphy plays Alice In Wonderland in Imagine That, which looks like another Murphy flick aimed at youngsters.

Ice Cube is back again with more hijinx and hilarity in Janky Promoters.

Former music video director Benny Boom, makes his feature-film directorial debut with Next Day Air, a comedy about a misplaced box of cocaine, starring Donald Faison of Scrubs fame, along with Mos Def, Debbie Allen, Mike Epps and many others.

And lastly, Tony-awarding winning American singer and actress, Anika Noni Rose, provides the voice of the princess in Disney's 2D traditional animated film, The Princess And The Frog, notable for featuring the first black princess in a Disney film. I guess we should all be excited and thankful, right?

If I missed any films, let me know. As I said above, I expect the list to be much fuller by the end of the year, with a selection of independent films by black filmmakers that will raise eyebrows.

But do share your thoughts below, if you have any.

A toast to 2009... I guess... or not!

DID YOU KNOW...? - CNN's Got Black News Anchors

Something I only just realized, as I was wasting away, flipping channels, not quite sure what I was looking for, but hoping to find something worth watching, and not really succeeding...

CNN actually has 3 African American male news anchors! Seems like nothing to shout about, but I don't think any other network - specifically national networks FOX, CNBC, MSNBC, and whoever else I might be forgetting - has that many black anchors, male or female - or any other minority representation (Latino, Asian, Native American, etc).

Who are these 3 CNN news anchors? Meet them below:

First - Tony Harris, the oldest of the 3 anchors the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (ET) edition of CNN Newsroom each weekday. Based in the network's world headquarters in Atlanta, Harris joined the network in September 2004.

Second - Don Lemon anchors the weekend edition of CNN Newsroom. Based in the network's world headquarters in Atlanta, Lemon joined CNN in September 2006.

And third - T.J. Holmes, the kid in the group, is a news anchor for CNN/U.S. Based in the network's world headquarters in Atlanta, Holmes joined the network in September 2006 and anchors the weekend edition of CNN Newsroom.

If you didn't know, now you know. I'm sure women everywhere have been and still are swooning... :o)

via CNN