A Fresh Face

Baby Boy is director John Singleton’s transitional period between the hood and Hollywood. Since it was sandwiched between his hard R Shaft remake and action sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious. Baby Boy wasn’t on my radar until two of my favorite co-workers brought it to my attention. Although it’s rougher than I’m used to, I did end up liking Baby Boy for what it is. It’s tough, but it can be funny when it wants to be. The title refers to the young black Jody Summers being compared to a baby who refuses to grow up.

Despite having 2 kids by 2 different baby mamas, Jody continues to fool around while living with his mama. His only ambition is fixing bikes and selling women’s clothes. Despite his lifestyle, Jody at least tries to be better than what society expects him to be. Although the role was made for Tupac, he died before he had the chance to play Jody. So Baby Boy ended up being Tyrese Gibson’s debut performance. It’s arguably his best performance alongside Taraji P. Henson who also got the role early in her career.

Jody is molded by the people in his life. Peanut doesn’t have much of a role, but he truly loves Yvette. His mama gives good advice, but Ving Rhames plays a complicated potential father figure. Omar Gooding doesn’t quite live up to his brother, but Sweetpea is a memorable best friend. Snoop Dogg is particularly unlikable as Yvette’s ex-con ex-boyfriend. It’s not as hard-hitting as Boyz n the Hood, but Baby Boy is a hood film with something to say.

Baby Boy

Jody and Yvette fight

The Voyage of Jack Aubrey

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is an underrated return to seafaring epics. I mostly knew about it, because my mom was such a big fan of Russell Crowe in the 2000’s. My parents actually saw Master and Commander in theaters while my brother and I were in school. It’s a strong follow up to A Beautiful Mind that also happens to co-star Paul Bettany. Master and Commander was a modest success, but Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl overshadowed it as a more fantasy based sailing adventure. Although based on a series of novels by the late Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander failed to start a franchise.

It was however nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, but The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King overshadowed it by winning nearly every category it was nominated in. Billy Boyd ironically appears in both films. Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing were the only Oscar wins it could secure. They’re rightful wins since Master and Commander is very cinematic with a realistically immersive ship right out of the 1800’s. The HMS Surprise was a real boat, but Captain Jack Aubrey is entirely fictional. Crowe is a tough, but dignified British master and commander tasked with hunting down the French Acheron during the Napoleonic Wars.

Bettany plays Stephen, the ship’s surgeon and friend to Jack with a Charles Darwin-like desire to explore the Galápagos Islands. Both Crowe and Bettany learned to play classical instruments for their parts. The Naval crew is just as authentic with many children, teenagers, and seniors in command. There is music and merriment, but Captain Aubrey grows obsessed with capturing his prey. Violent storms and the threat of mutiny aren’t enough to stop him. The enemy is mostly kept in the shadows until the very end. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World brought much needed realism to a once thriving genre.

Master and Commander The Far Side of the World

Jack Aubrey sets sail

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

All the King’s Men (2006) is a perfect example of Oscar bait gone wrong. Proof that it’s not enough to have an all-star cast, a capable director, or a source material that already won several accolades. I haven’t seen too many bad dramas, but I know a bad remake when I see one. So many people expected All the King’s Men (2006) to sweep the Academy Awards before it even came out. Instead the movie bombed at the box office and holds a pathetic 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Director Steven Zaillian wrote a lot of great movies, but the biggest problem was execution. Even an impressive cast that includes Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, and Mark Ruffalo wasn’t enough to elevate it. The original is only 1 hour & 49 minutes long, yet it covers so much more than a 2 hour & 8 minute movie. I don’t know how it can feel rushed and drag at the same time? The story is supposed to focus on the rise and fall of politician Willie Stark, but a lot more attention is given to the judge that he blackmails into dropping his impeachment case.

Stark’s political campaign almost feels like an afterthought. So many characters are shortchanged in the process. All the King’s Men always took place in the South, but now everyone has a thick hit or miss Southern accent. Penn never feels sympathetic as Stark. His loudmouthed performance is matched by the melodramatic tone. The remake reaches peak pretentiousness when it switches to black & white during the climax. All the King’s Men (2006) backfired on all possible fronts.

All the King's Men 2006

Willie Stark address the people

Remake of: All the King’s Men (1949)

Frost Yourselves

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is a rare liar revealed story where both parties have ulterior motives. So at least the man and woman are equally at fault. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is surprisingly based on a comic book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long. They’ve apparently written an entire series of dating “How to’s,” but I guess this was the only one with rom-com potential. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is mostly responsible for popularizing Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in the genre.

Hudson is classy women’s magazine columnist Andie Anderson and McConaughey is hunky ad executive Benjamin Barry. When Kathryn Hahn’s character experiences another breakup, Andie gets the idea to write the titular column. All she has to do is date a guy and do everything in her power to lose him in 10 days. By some crazy coincidence, Ben makes a contradictory bet to make a girl fall in love with him within 10 days in order to score a prestigious ad campaign for diamonds.

The plot is seriously far fetched, but it grew on me. At first I thought I wasn’t gonna like Andie or Ben, because they’re both manipulative, but their tactics are hilarious. Andie tries to be needy, clingy, obsessive, and bipolar, but Ben continues to stay in the relationship. They only truly start to fall in love during a weekend getaway. The more serious they got, the less funny it was. Until the bullsh*t climax where they forcibly breakup only to get together by the end. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has its moments, but it’s not the best guide to a healthy relationship.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Ben and Andie attend a company ball

The Rat Symbolizes Obviousness

The Departed is the only Martin Scorsese movie to win Best Picture and Best Director. We all know it should’ve been Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas, but I’m glad it was something that emphasised what he does best. A hard R crime thriller with shocking gang related violence, heavy profanity, and morally grey characters. The Departed sounds like it was tailor-made for Scorsese, but it’s actually an American remake of the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs. Which technically makes The Departed the first remake to win Best Picture. I’ll admit my only knowledge of the movie was from the Simpsons parody episode “The Debarted.”

Scorsese elevates the foreign source material with a stellar all-star cast and a scenery change to Boston. “I’m Shipping Off to Boston” is the perfect song to kick things off. Jack Nicholson’s last great film role was playing Irish mobster Frank Costello. He’s a laid back gangster based on Whitey Bulger who takes a liking to young Colin Sullivan. Although Brad Pitt produced with the intention of starring, the role went to Boston native Matt Damon instead. Sullivan is the first rat who works as a mole for Costello inside the state police department. Scorsese’s new golden boy Leonardo DiCaprio plays dropout recruit Billy Costigan Jr. Costigan is the second rat who works undercover for the police in order to put Costello away.

Sullivan and Costigan don’t meet until the end, but they’re both flawed and desperate to maintain their cover. Their only direct connection is a psychiatrist played by Vera Farmiga that they’re both sleeping with. Aside from Costello, Costigan has to prove himself in front of his brutal right-hand played by Ray Winstone. The Massachusetts State Police has several big names including Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg. I’ll admit I sometimes get Damon and Wahlberg mixed up since they both have thick Boston accents. Wahlberg is surprisingly the only actor nominated for his role as the profane Staff Sergeant Dignam. The climax is intense, unexpected, and lives up to the title with characters departing left and right. “X’s” are a perfect way to signal death, but ending with a literal rat is a little obvious. The Departed is a well-crafted product of its environment.

The Departed

Costigan confronts Sullivan on a rooftop

Bill the Butcher

Gangs of New York is a story only Martin Scorsese could tell. Both as a native New Yorker and gangster enthusiast. Scorsese was fascinated by the history of New York and the 1927 non-fiction novel The Gangs of New York was the best way to explore it. Though it was a troubled production that took 2 decades to make, 3 years to film, and it was delayed 1 year because of 9/11. Gangs of New York is worthy of a Best Picture nomination, but it’s far from the masterpiece Scorsese was hoping for. Most of the cast does an admirable job, but Gangs of New York is really held together by one performance. Daniel Day-Lewis is dedicated as ever to playing the ruthless native New York gang leader Bill the Butcher.

William Poole actually existed, but he was renamed with the more on the nose name William Cutting. Day-Lewis was only nominated for Best Actor, but his charismatically unhinged performance sort of encompasses every role he ever won for. He has ties to Irish culture like Christy Brown, the mustache and warped religious mindset of Daniel Plainview, and the 1800s tall hat of Abraham Lincoln. Bill is far more violent in his rivalry with the Irish Dead Rabbits. This was the first Scorsese picture to star Leonardo DiCaprio. His Irish accent is more Americanized as he seeks revenge for his slain father.

Actual Irishmen like Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson play a part, but John C. Reilly and Henry Thomas do a fine job with their respective accents. The very English Jim Broadbent does surprisingly well with corrupt New York politician “Boss” Tweed. The only weak link is Cameron Diaz, because she feels a little too modern for a period piece. In the nearly 3 hour runtime, Gangs of New York manages to capture a seldom seen New York City from the 1800s and tackle rival gang wars, racism towards abolished slavery, hatred towards Irish immigrants, and anti-draft sentiment fairly well.

Gangs of New York

William Cutting rallies his gang

Piece of Meat

The Wrestler brought Mickey Rourke back into the ring. Boxing movies are a dime a dozen, but there really aren’t that many professional wrestling movies out there. Probably because most people think wrestling is fake anyway. The Wrestler feels realistic thanks to director Darren Aronofsky. It’s not disturbing like most of his films, but it is an emotional journey. The camera follows Rourke very closely in his big comeback as pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He’s got the long blonde hair of Hulk Hogan, but his glory days are long behind him.

Randy is old, broken down, and one heart attack away from dying. Forcing him to give up his wrestling career and move on with his life. Rourke is in impressive shape with a performance to match. He won so many awards, yet somehow didn’t win Best Actor. The Wrestler earns its R rating with very brutal and bloody wrestling matches. Randy’s main romantic pursuit is aging stripper Pam played by a very naked Marisa Tomei. Even at 44 years old, Tomei looks really good for her age.

She was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Most of the profanity comes from Randy’s strained relationship with his daughter Stephanie played by Evan Rachel Wood. Even when his life starts to get back on track, Randy manages to sabotage his job at the deli and his relationships with Pam and his daughter until wrestling is all he has left. It’s heartbreaking to see Randy risk his life by getting back in the ring, but everything is left on a suitably ambiguous note. The Wrestler puts up a good fight.

The Wrestler

Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s final leap

Where the Skies are So Blue

Sweet Home Alabama is sweet, homey, and a love letter to the state of Alabama. It’s one of many movies named after a popular song. “Sweet Home Alabama” has appeared in so many movies that it only made sense to center an entire movie around it. Although there is just as much attention given to New York. In fact, the 2002 romantic comedy is actually the first movie shot in the city since 9/11. Just as interesting is the movie filming inside Tiffany’s jewelry store for the first time since Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Reese Witherspoon plays classy New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael. She’s ashamed of her Southern roots, but it all comes flooding back when she returns to her sweet home Alabama. Sweet Home Alabama has a lot of the usual rom-com clichés. Apart from Melanie leaving the big city for her cozy home town. She’s also caught in a love triangle between Patrick Dempsey as her equally successful fiancée and Josh Lucas as her Southern childhood sweetheart/current husband.

Dakota Fanning plays young Melanie in an electrifying flashback. Melanie’s primary goal is to get Jake to sign divorce papers, but she finds herself falling in love with him and Alabama all over again. There’s a lot of love for Alabama, but talk about the confederacy and plantations can get a little uncomfortable. Of course “Sweet Home Alabama” is heard in the movie, but it’s not as special as it could’ve been. Other climactic clichés include stopping a wedding and kissing in the rain. Sweet Home Alabama is well-traveled, but filled with heart.

Sweet Home Alabama

Melanie and Jake dance to “Sweet Home Alabama”

Brought to You By Popeyes

Little Nicky is the comedy from Hell. It officially marked the downfall of Adam Sandler in the early 2000’s. Even when I was 5, I knew Little Nicky looked stupid. As a Christian, I had a feeling I would be offended as well. Little Nicky is so bad that I can’t really be offended by it. Sandler plays Nicky, the annoying one note weird talking son of Satan and an angel. Nicky lives in a very crappy looking Hell populated by equally cringy demons. Heaven isn’t seen until the end where angels have minor mistreatment.

Nicky is forced to go to Earth where he has to stop his evil brothers from damning all of humanity. It’s there that he wears heavy winter coats, works with a talking bulldog, falls in love, gains metalhead followers, and eats obnoxious amounts of Popeyes chicken. I have no clue why they agreed to appear in the movie, but I’m more baffled by all the celebrities they managed to get. Future award winner Patricia Arquette degrades herself as Nicky’s nerdy love interest. Harvey Keitel plays Satan and Reese Witherspoon plays Nicky’s angel mother Holly.

They even got poor Rodney Dangerfield to play Lucifer. I tell ya he gets no respect. Rhys Ifans and Tommy Lister Jr. put a little too much effort into playing Nicky’s demonic brothers. There are way more celebrity cameos that get stranger and stranger as the movie goes on. I didn’t understand Rob Schneider’s Waterboy cameo, but Carl Weathers reprising his role as the deceased Chubbs from Happy Gilmore is moderately clever. This was the first Adam Sandler comedy under the Happy Madison banner, but there’s no way he thought he was making a good movie. Little Nicky is freaking awful.

Little Nicky

Nicky eats Popeyes with Mr. Beefy

Some Thing Has Found Us

Cloverfield is the most top secret movie of the 2000’s. From the mind of producer J. J. Abrams, director Matt Reeves, and writer Drew Goddard. Much like the similar found footage movie The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield became a success thanks to its unorthodox marketing campaign. I remember seeing the first teaser with Transformers. There was no title or indication of the plot aside from the now iconic shot of a severed Statue of Liberty head being thrown into New York City. Leading to tons of online speculation that I was never a part of.

Despite a brisk 1 hour & 25 minute runtime, it took me a very long time to finally watch Cloverfield. Mostly because the reveal was spoiled for me several times. Abrams’ goal was to make a giant monster for America similar to Godzilla. Clover is an enormous extraterrestrial quadruped hidden for most of the movie. Cloverfield is the military designation given to its rampage filmed on a handheld camera. Marketing could’ve gone the extra mile by making the movie seem like it was about a bunch of twentysomethings throwing a goodbye party. It’s pretty much a complete 180 when tragedy strikes.

A small group of survivors brave the city streets in a desperate attempt to escape the chaos. Rob tries to find his girlfriend Beth with the help of brother Jason and friends Hud, Lily, and Marlena. Though not as unknown as other found footage movies, Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller were the primary actors I recognized. This was actually Miller’s very first movie as the somewhat distracting cameraman who won’t drop the camera no matter what. Cloverfield is bleak and very tense especially when Clover releases smaller parasitic creatures in the subway. There’s not much chance of survival, but there’s always hope. Cloverfield turned a simple concept into something worth talking about.

Cloverfield

Clover attacks New York

Followed by: 10 Cloverfield Lane