Thursday, July 14, 2016

Best Movies of 2016... So Far

Box Office Mojo is where I'm starting, and the first and easy conclusion is to say the Walt Disney Company is having the best year. Of the top five movies that have made the most money, Disney has four of them. The leader of the pack is the Pixar Animation Finding Dory. As of the second week of July, the sequel has made $425 million here in the United States. It's only made half that amount internationally, but the movie has yet to be released in the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany, three huge markets for the original Finding Nemo. By this time last year, Jurassic World was nearly at $600 million, but it seems unlikely that Finding Dory will rise to the heights of that film, but it does stand a good chance of cracking the all-time Top Ten. All it has to do is clear $448 million, which is currently being held by The Dark Knight Rises. It's difficult to figure out at this point, which is the best-reviewed film, but Finding Dory might also hold that spot. As of July 8, Finding Dory has the best Metacritic score of a movie in wide-release. Rotten Tomatoes has given Finding Dory a score of 95-percent out of 207 reviews.

Leonardo DiCaprio had his best year. He had a number-one film, The Revenant. He also won his first, Academy Award for acting in that movie, cementing him as Hollywood's golden boy. His speech at the Oscars was superb and he is a humble and humane gentleman, the classiest environmentalist around.

All that was great, but there was an elephant in the room. After the Oscar nominations were announced, people noticed that all the acting nominees were white people for the second year in a row, and a lot feel like this is unfair and revealing of Hollywood's race problem. There was a huge backlash on Twitter trending #OscarsSoWhite.

Comedian and Oscar host, Chris Rock made a joke at the awards, which offended Asian people. It opened some eyes to the lack or problematic representation of Asian people or culture. It opened two, upcoming films to tough criticisms. Tilda Swinton was criticized for her role in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson was also criticized for her future role in Ghost in the Shell. Both are white people portraying Asian characters, and reaffirmed the racist history of Hollywood whitewashing.

Ride Along 2 starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube was the only number-one film this year with a black person as the main character. The Jungle Book was number-one for three weeks straight, and that film followed a boy of Indian descent. Big films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Captain America: Civil War have diverse casts of various ethnicity. Yet, the white people are still front and center. Movies where black people or minorities are front and center are continuing to be rare. They exist. They exist every year, but whether Hollywood recognizes them remains the question.

Another thing that is rare is a collection of mainstream films in any year that are directed by women. There are plenty of female directors, but hardly any get to direct major motion pictures, certainly no blockbusters. Jodie Foster did direct Money Monster and Rebecca Miller has Maggie's Plan, but both are mid-level to independent films.

With the all-female Ghostbusters film that's soon-to-be released, the emphasis on more women in front of the camera needs to be matched with an emphasis on more women behind and controlling the camera. For example, who is the female version of Steven Spielberg or Zachary Snyder?

Homophobia is also alive and well. A lot of Hollywood films give lip-service to gay people, but a gay character as the protagonist in a wide-release is practically none. Films like Carol last year and The Imitation Game the year before have potential, but The Imitation Game downplayed its protagonist's homosexuality and still struggled to crack the Top 40 of 2014. Carol didn't even crack the Top 100 of 2015.

Gay characters are relegated to smaller films. Gay characters can be teased in blockbusters like Skyfall or even The Amazing Spider-Man or Deadpool. People can ship comic book heroes in Marvel Studios films but until we see James Bond or Peter Parker lovingly kiss a guy or a Star Wars character have a same-sex relationship, then no real progress has been made. On July 7, it was revealed in an article from Australia that the character of Sulu in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond will be gay but the article says that a big deal won't be made of it, which is the approach that Roland Emmerich took in the recent Independence Day: Resurgence and that wasn't received well because a big deal should be made of it because for too long it hasn't.

It's no surprise why a lot of big-budget, Hollywood films don't make my list of the Best Movies of 2016. Most of my favorites are independent films. With the exception of five, most were not playing in a theater near you. Most of my favorites only play in cities like New York. Thanks to video-on-demand and Netflix, a lot are available online within the click of a button.

Best Theatrical Release

EYE IN THE SKY by Gavin Hood
A WAR [KRIGEN] by Tobias Lindholm
WEINER by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS by Michael Showalter
T-REX by Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari
THE FITS by Anna Rose Holmer
DHEEPAN by Jacques Audiard
NAZ & MAALIK by Jay Dockendorf
ZOOTOPIA by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR by Anthony and Joe Russo
SWISS ARMY MAN by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE by Rawson Marshall Thurber
1982 by Tommy Oliver
YOSEMITE by Gabrielle Demeestere

Best Overlooked DVD / VOD

BONE TOMAHAWK by S. Craig Zahler
MISTRESS AMERICA (2015) by Noah Baumbach
CUT SNAKE (2015) by Tony Ayres
JOY by David O. Russell
THE FINAL GIRLS (2015) by Todd Strauss-Schulson

Monday, July 11, 2016

Best Music of 2016... So Far...

Drake, photo by Caitlin Cronenberg
When trying to decide what the best in music is, a good place to start is the top of the Billboard charts or in today's terms, at the top of iTunes or Tidal. A check of the headlines for the past couple months and one will see Canadian rapper Drake and his new album Views.

As of the first week of July, Drake's album has been #1 on the Billboard 200 for nine weeks in a row. According to Billboard, this is something a male artist has not done since Usher's Confessions back in 2004. If his album remains on top for 10 weeks in a row, he would have tied with the current record-holder of Adele's 21 album.

At the same time, Drake's single "One Dance" from that album has been #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks in a row. The music magazine notes that this makes seven weeks in a row that Drake has held both the Hot 100 and the Billboard 200, something a solo male artist has not done since Michael Jackson back in 1983.

However, Drake is not tops with all the critics. The best-reviewed album, according to Metacritic, is Lemonade by Beyoncé. Out of 33 reviews, she received nine 100's. Critic Peter Tabakis wrote, "It's a rare album that sounds this warm, this easy, this melodic, this fierce, this startling, this unforgettable." He concludes with "Lemonade is a career-defining record, like Thriller, Purple Rain, and Like a Prayer were for the pop giants of the 1980's."

Also, a clear favorite of music critics is A Moon Shaped Pool by the British, alternative band, Radiohead. Out of 41 reviews, six were perfect 100's for the group. Again, Tabakis calls the group, "the last important band left in the universe." On May 6, Radiohead released its first music video for the album. Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson directed and then gave a free, 35 mm print to select movie theaters for them to screen.

Despite previously spitting on it, Radiohead's latest album will stream on Spotify. One artist who was also staunchly against sites like Spotify or the idea of free, file-sharing was the late Prince. The rocker who passed away on April 21 from a drug overdose never allowed his music to stream online in a lot of places.

Following his death, movie theaters across the country screened Prince's signature film Purple Rain (1984). Not every musician has a high-profile movie that can do that. Therefore, musicians like Maurice White, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Nick Menza died this year and did so without the same fanfare.

David Bowie in video for 'Blackstar'
The same couldn't be said about the loss of David Bowie. Unlike a lot of musicians who are relatively young, Bowie didn't die of a drug overdose, and certainly unlike Prince, Bowie had a plan for what would happen after he passed. Prince reportedly didn't have a last Will. Bowie, however, planned for his passing, which included the release of his final album, Blackstar.

Who knows what material might be released posthumously from Bowie. This year, the late J Dilla released another album, The Diary. It's the sixth, full-length album from the Detroit rapper since his death in 2006. The Diary might be J Dilla's final record, but ironically it was intended to be his debut.

In a nod to NWA and Straight Outta Compton, J Dilla has a song on that album called "F--- the Police." Another west coast rapper who's still alive named YG made a more brazen song called "Police Get Away Wit Murder" on his album Still Brazy. He also has the song titled "FDT" and it's the F-bomb hurled at Donald Trump. In perhaps solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Sonny Smith, a very white music artist, created the song "White Cops on Trial" off his latest album Moods Baby Moods.

Other artists choose to call out real people or even fictional ones more affectionately. A band called Prettiots did two songs. One is called "Kiss Me Kinski" about the relationship between filmmaker Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski. On that same album Funs Cool, Prettiots also have "Stabler" about the character made famous by actor Christopher Meloni on the TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

In terms of music from TV shows or movies, the best in that regard has to be the soundtrack for Sing Street, which is a small, Irish film by John Carney. Carney mainly does musicals and always crafts really good songs. For his latest film, he has three standouts, including "Up" and "Drive It Like You Stole It" and "To Find You."

Best Folk / Country

A SAILOR'S GUIDE TO EARTH by Sturgill Simpson
BIG DAY IN A SMALL TOWN by Brandy Clark 
OUROBOROS by Ray LaMontagne
LET ME GET BY by Tedeschi Trucks Band
LITTLE WINDOWS by Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
MY WILD WEST by Lissie
THE WILD SWAN by Foy Vance
CLEOPATRA by The Lumineers 

Best Rock / Alternative

NONAGON INFINITY by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees
SYNESTHETICA by Radiation City
COMMONTIME by Field Music

Best Pop / Electronic

POTENTIAL by The Range
THE BRIDE by Bat for Lashes
LUKAS GRAHAM by Lukas Graham
PHASE by Jack Garratt
THANK YOU by Meghan Trainor
ALL I NEED by Foxes
TRAGAME TIERRA by Big Black Delta

Best R&B / Soul

LEMONADE by Beyoncé
BLACKSUMMERS'NIGHT (2016) by Maxwell
LOVE & HATE by Michael Kiwanuka

Best Rap / Hip Hop

COLORING BOOK by Chance the Rapper
MALIBU by Anderson Paak
SLAY-Z by Azealia Banks

Best Singles from Non-Listed Albums

"Every Night You've Got to Save Me" by Mass Gothic
"Beggin & Pleadin" by Brandy
"Help Me Run Away" by St. Lucia
"Better Look Back" by Lucius
"(I'm the One) Big Big Fun" by White Denim
"All Night" by Trashcan Sinatras
"I'm Leaving You" by Miles Davis & Robert Glasper f/ Ledisi & John Scofield
"Moonlight" by Ariana Grande
"Dawnstar" by Beth Orton
"Angel" by Laura Mvula
"Vivica" by Jessy Lanza
"Try Everything" by Shakira from Zootopia
"Drive It Like You Stole It" from Sing Street
"Nothing Left" by Kygo f/ Will Heard
"She Don't Belong to Me" by Tom Odell
"You Gotta Move" by Parker Millsap (cover song)
"Evan" by Little Scream
"To Love Somebody" by Karl Blau (cover of Bee Gees)
"Candyman" by Zedd & Aloe Blacc (anthem for M&M's)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Best Moments on TV of 2016... So Far

Scene from ESPN's O.J.: Made in America
As weird as it sounds, there has been one thing that has risen to the top of the television landscape and dominated it. That one thing has been OJ Simpson.

Over 20 years since Simpson's infamous, murder trial, the so-called "trial of the century," the acquitted black man has come roaring back into pop culture. It started on February 2 when FX premiered the 10-episode series, The People v. O.J. Simpson. It was a ratings smash and a critical success as well. It spawned a lot of conversation around racism and sexism in this country.

ESPN continued the conversation on June 11 when it premiered O.J.: Made in America, a 7-hour film, which played in select theaters but aired as a 5-part miniseries. It is currently the best-reviewed thing on television, according to Metacritic.

Martin Sheen is also reportedly going to narrate a docu-series on the Simpson case for ID channel. A web series called About Him, about a young, African-American exploring his sexuality, references the Simpson case in Episode 3, which was posted on YouTube on March 31.

The History Channel aired a remake of Roots starting on May 30, a 4-part series with Malachi Kirby filling in for Levar Burton in the iconic role of Kunta Kinte. It's odd but the original 1977 version featured OJ Simpson in a small role.

Yet, it wasn't the only TV show about slaves to make it on the air. Underground aired on WGN America. It told the story of runaway slaves. Given all the conversations about race that have been forced due to things like Black Lives Matter, this series and the Roots remake make sense. Yet, they weren't my favorite programs of this half-year.

The following lists were my favorite programs since the year started, but first up is the list of incidents on TV that were outstanding, water-cooler moments. Usually, they're live incidents, or one-time, unique things that echo or resonate in powerful ways. Or else, they're just weird or strange occurrences.

Best Moments of the Year

10. Beyoncé releases Lemonade on HBO (April 23)
9. Beyoncé performs during Super Bowl 50 (Feb. 7)
8. Series finale of The Good Wife airs with a surprising slap in the face (May 8)
7. SNL pays tribute to Prince with "Goodnight, Sweet Prince" (April 22)
6. Jon Snow returns to Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 2, "Home" (May 1)
5. "Onions" - Apple iPhone commercial (April 25)
4. Stage Crasher at the People's Choice Awards on CBS (Jan. 6)
3. Kendrick Lamar performs at 58th Grammys (Feb. 15)
2. Larry Wilmore at White House Correspondents' Dinner uses the N-word (April 30)
1. Jesse Williams gives amazing speech at the BET Awards (June 27)

Best Variety / Reality

Scene from 'Grease: Live'

Best TV Movie or Miniseries


Best Comedy

BLUE MOUNTAIN STATE (2010) (Netflix)

Best Drama


Best Individual Episodes from Non-listed Series

THE X-FILES: SEASON 10 - "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (Feb. 1)
HOUSE OF CARDS: SEASON 4 - "Chapter 42" (March 4)
CHELSEA DOES - "Chelsea Does Racism" (Jan. 22)
GIRLS - "Hello Kitty" (April 3)
GOTHAM: SEASON 2 - "A Dead Man Feels No Cold" (March 7)
UNDATEABLE - "The Backstreet Boys Walk Into a Bar" (Jan. 29)
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND - "Josh and I Work on a Case!" (Feb. 22)
THE CHARACTERS - "Natasha Rothwell" (March 11)
THE REAL O'NEALS - "The Real Grandma" (April 5)

Best Individual Performances from Non-listed Series

Danny Miller - EMMERDALE
Ben Whishaw - LONDON SPY
Calista Flockhart - SUPERGIRL
Daniel Dae Kim - HAWAII FIVE-0

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sexiest Stars of 2016... So Far

Alden Ehrenreich in 'Hail, Caesar'
20. ALDEN EHRENREICH - The 26-year-old from Los Angeles was cast to be the new Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars film in 2018. He was reportedly discovered by Steven Spielberg at a bat mitzvah. His first feature film was Tetro (2009), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He got a lot of positive notice for the YA adaptation of Beautiful Creatures (2013). He's worked with more big-name directors like Park Chan-Wook in Stoker and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine. His breakout role didn't come until earlier this year when he caught the attention of many in Joel and Ethan Coen's Hail, Caesar. Many film critics, either in the LA Times or ScreenCrush, said that the actor who looks like if James Dean and Sal Mineo had a baby "steals a movie from... Josh Brolin, George Clooney, [and] Scarlett Johansson." His next film is a lead role in Rules Don't Apply, which brings legendary filmmaker Warren Beatty back to the director's chair in nearly 20 years. With all this and being tapped as the next Han Solo certainly makes Ehrenreich Hollywood's current It Boy.

19. DAISY RIDLEY - While Ehrenreich is going to be in a future Star Wars, the 24-year-old from London, England, is right now in the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has become $2 billion blockbuster. She'll actually be seen again before Ehrenreich. Her next appearance as Rey, the potential Jedi, is scheduled for December 2017. Despite the newest and coolest, female, action star, People magazine voted her "World's Most Beautiful."

18. FALK HENTSCHEL - The 34-year-old, German hunk worked as a backup dancer for Mariah Carey and Britney Spears in music videos. He was inspired by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987). He later started doing martial arts. His first acting role was a small part in Arrested Development, cast as a "Hot Cop." His first role in a major motion picture was Knight and Day (2010), fighting opposite Tom Cruise. His first lead role was in Street Dance 2 (2012). He had a supporting role in the CBS series Reckless (2014) but now he's known as the comic book hero, Hawkman in CW's Legends of Tomorrow.

17. AJA NAOMI KING - I first noticed her in an independent film called Four (2013). The now 31-year-old got her MFA from Yale University's School of Drama in 2010. Her first series was opposite Meryl Streep's daughter in Emily Owens M.D., but she really made a name for herself in the Emmy-winning and hit ABC series How To Get Away With Murder, opposite Viola Davis. I might have overlooked her this year, if it wasn't for the fact that she's featured in the Sundance Film Festival award-winner, The Birth of a Nation, by Nate Parker where Vulture magazine calls her the breakout of that film.


16. BENJAMIN WALKER - He's a 2004 Juliard graduate who made his Broadway debut in 2007 with the revival of Inherit the Wind. He played the titular character in the controversial, rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in 2009. He also played another American president in the film Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012). I saw none of those things. I took note of him in Kinsey (2004), playing the younger version of Liam Neeson, and in The War Boys (2009), a kind of teenage heist movie. Like with Aja Naomi King, he has a connection to one of Meryl Streep's daughters. He was married to one, but the 34-year-old from Georgia makes this list due to being placed as the romantic lead in The Choice, a Nicholas Sparks bomb-pic, while also showing off his amazing body in only his tighty-whities in the Broadway musical American Psycho.

15. JAIME ALEXANDER - She's the star of the hit NBC series Blindspot where she plays a woman who wakes up naked with no memory and realizes she's basically a super-hero. It's almost an echo of the role she had nearly a decade ago. In ABC Family's Kyle XY, she played a girl who wakes up naked with no memory and realizes she's basically a super-hero. It's nothing like the super-hero that she played in the big-screen adaptation of Thor (2011), but it's close enough.

14. COLTON HAYNES - The 27-year-old from Kansas is a farm boy turned male model. He appeared in ads for Abercrombie & Fitch. Many first took note of him in ABC's The Gates, a summer 2010 series where he played a werewolf. He went-on to have a supporting role in MTV's Teen Wolf in which he played a werewolf-like creature. He became a DC Comics character in CW's Arrow. He makes the list due to his impressive Instagram photos (like the one below), but check out a candid Entertainment Weekly article on him that provides some insight into his personal life.

13. DILSHAD VADSARIA - She's a 30-year-old beauty from Pakistan who has lived in Chicago, Richmond and Philadelphia. She attended the University of Delaware and got a regular role in ABC Family's Greek in 2007. She got a recurring role in ABC's Revenge starting in 2012 and she starred earlier this year in the cancelled FOX series Second Chance.

12. ROME FLYNN - Many took note of him in VH1's Drumline: A New Beat. Currently, he's starring in the CBS daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful. He's Cuban, Irish and African in descent. He's a self-taught, guitar player and is probably the freshest face on this list. He's the second-youngest person on this list but has probably had the least level of exposure.

11. BRANDY NORWOOD - The 37-year-old from Mississippi now calls Los Angeles her hometown. She got a record deal with Atlantic Records in 1993 at age 14. Her debut album went quadruple platinum, selling six million copies. Her 2nd album sold 16 million and her duet with Monica on "The Boy Is Mine" won her one and only Grammy Award. Her first TV series was ABC's Thea also in 1993. She took on the titular role of UPN's Moesha in 1996, a show that was built around her. After that series ended in 2001, she would have roles here and there, but ten years later she would have another series built around her, BET's Zoe Ever After, which premiered earlier this year.

10. VINCENT RODRIGUEZ III - He plays Josh Chan in CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He's a proven triple-threat as an actor, singer and dancer. He's Filipino-American. He's a graduate from the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in 2003. He did regional and musical theater for a decade before landing his first TV role. According to his website, he's a cross-fit enthusiast, has two black-belts and plays several instruments. He also is a teacher with an acting workshop for young people in the Bay Area.

9. JENNIFER LOPEZ - She's 46 but still extremely hot. The Puerto Rican from the Bronx was a Fly Girl on In Living Color back in 1991. Her first leading role was in Selena (1997). She's the first Latina to earn over $1 million with Out of Sight (1998), opposite George Clooney. Her debut album was On the 6 in 1999. In 2001, her 2nd album J.Lo was #1 on the Billboard charts in the same week her film The Wedding Planner was #1 in the box office, making her the 1st woman to do that. Over the decade, she has become the highest-paid, Latin entertainer, building a successful, business career. She was the inspiration for Sir Mix-a-Lot's, 1992 hit, "Baby Got Back" as she is celebrated for her curvaceous figure, having been named "Sexiest Woman" by Details, FHM and People magazines. She blew a lot of people away this year with a stunning turn in NBC's Shades of Blue, a cop show co-starring Ray Liotta.

8. JOHN KRASINSKI - The 36-year-old from Massachusetts is best known for his comedic role in NBC's The Office. Like Jennifer Lopez, he starred opposite George Clooney, but as a handsome football player in Leatherheads (2008). He gave Bradley Cooper a run for his money in Aloha (2015), as a handsome Air Force pilot. It was reported that he was in the running to play Captain America but that seemed like an unlikely role until he made the cover of Men's Health magazine and a glimpse was given of his beefcake status in this year's 13 Hours.

7. GAL GADOT - The 31-year-old is reportedly among the top ten, highest-earning models in Israel. She's done ads for Gucci, Captain Morgan and Jaguar. She won Miss Israel at age 18 before joining the military. She served 2 years as an enlisted soldier for Israel and was a combat instructor. A casting agent got her to audition for Quantum of Solace (2008). As a result, she got a role in Fast & Furious. Like Falk Hentschel, she had a role in Tom Cruise's Knight and Day, but what makes her a household name is her role in this year's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice as Wonder Woman, a role she'll reprise next year in her own solo film.

6. STEPHAN JAMES - He's the youngest on this list. He's only 22 and from Canada. He starred in two seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation. His first major film role was Home Again (2012) but he first caught people's attention playing civil rights leader John Lewis in the Oscar-winning Selma (2014). In 2015, the Toronto International Film Festival named him one of TIFF's Rising Stars. During Black History Month, the CBC named him a Culture-Maker for his role in The Book of Negroes. This year, he played Olympic athlete Jesse Owens in the big-screen adaptation Race.


5. MISTY COPELAND - The 33-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri is a ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theatre and she's the first, African-American woman promoted to principal dancer in the 75-year history of that company. She started ballet at age 13, which is later than most but she rose because she was a prodigy. She was named by Time magazine in 2015 as one of the 100 Most Influential. She performed on Broadway and with Prince. She's the subject of a documentary A Ballerina's Tale, which was released on DVD and VOD earlier this year.

4. ADAM SENN - The 32-year-old from Paris, France, grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He was discovered and recruited to be a model out of high school. He modeled for campaigns like Dolce & Gabbana. He was cast in VH1's Hit the Floor where he proves he's not just a pretty face and hot body.

3. MORENA BACCARIN - The 37-year-old from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, graduated from Juliard. She co-starred in the series Firefly in 2002 and the ABC remake V in 2009. She earned an Emmy nomination for her role in Showtime's Homeland. She's currently co-starring in FOX's Gotham and had a supporting role in the blockbuster Deadpool earlier this year.

2. JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN - He's the oldest person on this list. He's 50 and from Seattle. He started acting in 1991. He's done dozens of features, with his best-known being Watchmen (2009). He's also done dozens of TV shows, from The Burning Zone in 1997 to Grey's Anatomy in 2006. However, I had to include him because Twitter fell in love with this guy hard for his sexy role in the final season of The Good Wife this year, as well as his surprising appearance in The Walking Dead. Yet, the tweets about him during his time on The Good Wife couldn't be denied.

1. DESHAUNA BARBER - The 26-year-old from Georgia won Miss USA 2016. She is the 8th African-American to be crowned Miss USA. She's a military brat who grew up in four, different states and DC. She joined the Army Reserve at age 17. She graduated Virginia State University with a degree in business management. She worked as an analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce. She also was a quartermaster and logistics commander who got promoted to rank of Lieutenant. She got her Master's from the University of Maryland.

Special shout-out goes to the sexy athletes who will be competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or simply Rio 2016, starting August 5. Despite all the problems and controversies surrounding the upcoming games, I thought it at least prudent to spotlight some of the athletes who will be, if nothing else, looking gorgeous. Some of whom include the U.S. Men's Gymnastics team as well as the hottest water-polo player to ever exist, Victor Gutierrez. There's something freakishly weird about a lot bodybuilders, but take note of Howie Tung. The hottest, young, British actor has got to be Parry Glasspool on the series Hollyoaks, which can be viewed on Hulu but check out clips on YouTube. I haven't really gotten into OWN's The Haves and the Have Nots but Kristian Kordula is too pretty to be ignored.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Review - Those People

The title of Joey Kuhn's film has an air of prejudice and aloofness or else it's highly standoffish. Whether you're a wealthy person looking down or you're a poor person looking up, the title and the overall tone of the film apply. Given the imagery and the majority of the setting, one might assume Kuhn is siding with the spoiled brats, the children of the rich and Manhattan elite, or at least he's trying to make one such spoiled brat sympathetic, while so many around him struggle to survive, or struggle to just find a job. That could be problematic for some viewers because they might shrug their shoulders by the end or balk at the conclusion, but Kuhn writes and directs this piece so sensitively and captures what is every movie's saving grace, and that is amazing performances. Kuhn's cast is not only beautiful but superb, and the acting from the three principals are some of the best I've seen all year.

Jonathan Gordon, in his feature debut, stars as Charlie Kinberg, a college student who is aspiring to be a painter. He's Jewish and gay and not particularly bothered by either, except it might contribute to the torch he's carrying. Jason Ralph, who has an extensive TV career, stars as Sebastian Blackworth, the spoiled brat in question who is the son of a Bernie Madoff-type still in the immediate wake of his imprisoned father's crime. Haaz Sleiman, who has an even more extensive credit list, also stars as Tim Malek, a Lebanese immigrant who is aspiring to be a concert pianist.

Gordon is so open-hearted in his performance, leaning toward ebullience. He effortlessly inhabits his confection of a character, a sweetheart whose eyes reveal all. The mark of a good actor is how well or how much his eyes give him away, and through his eyes, Gordon can hide nothing, but that's how he'll reel you in and it's why, even in his first leading role in a feature film, he's truly a star, shining brightly.

For an actor like Ralph, it's less about the eyes and more about the body language and how he delivers lines. It's clearer that for Ralph it's how he moves himself. Whether it's how he stands or slouches, whether how he leans either toward or away from someone, or whether he faces them or not, a large part of his acting is about his physical being and placement. As such, he is quite graceful, and deliberate, especially in his diction, easily inhabiting his Gilbert and Sullivan-loving character and behaving mostly as if he's just stepped off the stage of his beloved The Pirates of Penzance.

Sleiman is graceful and deliberate as well. He first impressed in his breakout film The Visitor (2007). Elements echo but his style is certainly more refined as compared to nearly a decade ago. He definitely brings a strength and a confidence or a kind of fortitude to both roles, if not every role. It makes him as solid as a rock as an actor, practically unflappable. He's also suave for sure and warmly charming with such a smooth and soothing voice that he disarms any and all in his path.

Ostensibly, this movie might seem like any other gay film reckoning with a love triangle between these three men, but Kuhn's writing and direction transcends such tropes. It's not just about figuring out who Charlie, the one in the middle, is going to choose. It's about Charlie figuring out what love even is and how it can manifest differently in different people. It's also not just about Charlie but Sebastian as well. His daddy issues put into question what he thinks love is or how it should be.

The film is like a slice of life and even if the thin narrative, constituting four months, isn't enough for one's taste, it shouldn't matter. Each scene is so rich with great acting from this incredible cast that the joy doesn't come from the minor, plot mechanics. The joy comes from mostly watching the actors exist and simply breathe on screen. They are all so compelling. At times, it didn't matter where the story was going. I just loved seeing them interact. I could literally watch them read the phone book and still be so compelled.

Yet, Kuhn's cinematography is nothing to dismiss. The camerawork, the colors and the lighting are so inviting and cozy. Even a scene in the evening where two characters run naked on a beach, possibly in upstate New York on what purportedly was a chilly, November night, didn't feel cold. The scene was hot and not just in the perception of temperature.

This movie is incredibly sexy, and it's not in the naked bodies on display or in coitus. It's in the heartfelt emotions that pulse through the screen, as everything about the film makes you feel it's beating rhythm. It's also like being wrapped in a full blanket. Kuhn and cast have done a fantastic job here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

May 6th in NY/LA theaters.
May 13th on Vimeo.
June 14th on DVD/VOD.

Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence

The film that made Will Smith a movie-star finally gets a sequel some 20 years later. Unfortunately, Will Smith isn't in it and his character is killed off. That factoid seems like it should mean something, but it doesn't. Yet, as the film goes along, we see more deaths and not just the nameless and faceless millions who perish in mass when the alien invasion begins but actual or supposed characters in this narrative played by actors who get close-ups. Yet, as each character died, I felt nothing for them. I didn't care in the least. That's when it dawned on me that this film is horribly written and directed in such a way that nothing matters. It's all just empty spectacle.

The movie juggles way too many people. Neither of whom are able to be fully, fleshed-out characters because there isn't enough time for them and time that could have been given to them is instead utilized for ridiculousness that only drags this thing along. Most of the cast, except Will Smith, who were in the 1996 film, returns, including Vivica A. Fox of which there was absolutely no need.

Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games and The Expendables 2) stars as Jake Morrison, a lieutenant and fighter pilot who works on the moon. In the 20 years since 1996, the Earth has used captured alien technology to grow their capabilities. Humans now have better weapons and space-craft that can hop from the Earth to the moon in a matter of moments. Jake can operate all this technology, but the only, real thing we know about him is that he's an orphan. His family was presumably killed in 1996 and he has a girlfriend, along with a best friend who's also a fighter pilot.

His friend is Charlie Miller, played by Travis Tope (Boardwalk Empire). Later, Charlie develops a crush on a Chinese pilot named Rain Lao, played by Angela Yeung Wing. Both these characters feel like padding or placeholders. They are not developed or are interesting at all. They should have been cut from this movie. They are absolute wastes of time.

Jessie T. Usher (Survivor's Remorse) co-stars as Dillon Hiller, the fighter pilot who has become a captain, promoted over Jake due to a mistake that Jake made that nearly killed Dillon. There is some tension between them as a result. It leads to Dillon punching Jake. Instead of the two of them dealing with their issues, the movie abandons them emotionally. Dillon is supposedly the son of Will Smith's character. Instead of him dealing with that or addressing that relationship, the movie leaves Dillon as a one-note figure. A potential, Will Smith substitute is left as a discarded shell, and Jessie T. Usher's performance is nowhere near as dynamic or charismatic as Will Smith.

Last year, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it basically was a carbon copy of the first. The same could be said of this, except this movie feels derivative of so many things, including Star Wars. There is a scene toward the end that is very reminiscent of the rebels trying to destroy the Death Star. It then pivots and becomes like the ending of James Cameron's Aliens. Director Roland Emmerich does rip off Cameron and George Lucas, but he is able to have some fun with it and put his own spin on it.

Yet, what kills the movie is not only the atrocious acting but more specifically the atrocious writing, which again abandons the characters. It's ironic that Brent Spiner who plays Brakish Okun is in this movie. Spiner is probably best known for starring in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and there have been two Star Trek movies about large vessels coming to Earth and trying to dominate it, as is the premise here, but each of those Star Trek movies puts characters and character-development first, focusing on only a couple, and not haphazardly juggling a dozen or more, as is the problem here.

I get the impulse to want to flesh out every person who passes on screen, but, as the director, Emmerich shouldn't give into that impulse every time. He has to maintain focus. He has to maintain economy. We never get to know or feel anything about anybody because he bounces between ten too many, and it felt like certain people were thrown in just to satisfy certain demographics and then do nothing with them, while other demographics were completely ignored.

There is the aforementioned, Chinese girl, Rain Lao, who is in this movie but she's given nothing to do. She seems like she's only there to satisfy the Chinese demographic, given China has become a major film market, industry-wise. Her presence ticks a box and nothing else. Actually, her presence is more offensive because she's mainly just an object of sexual desire for Charlie, so she's basically fetishized. I'm not sure which is worse.

I suppose it's commendable that Emmerich has such a diverse cast, but one demographic he skips is the gay demographic. Emmerich is an openly gay filmmaker whose last film was Stonewall (2015), which was about the defining moment in the LGBT movement. If any filmmaker is primed to put gay or lesbian characters in an action blockbuster, it's Emmerich. There is a moment when it looks like Spiner's character is going to kiss a guy, but alas no! For all we know, Brakish had a strong bromance and wasn't actually gay. There are even two guys who are paired, an African warlord named Dikembe, played by Deobia Oparei, and a dorky white guy named Floyd, played by Nicolas Wright, and at one point by the end it seems like they might also kiss, but again no! It would have been nice to see overtly gay expressions in a mainstream action film but here instead it's just a ton of missed opportunities.

There was also no depth to this film. The movie is sheer superficiality put on display. An example is a scene when General Adams, played by William Fichtner, tells the world to pray for them to succeed in their mission. There is then a shot of Tibetan Monks, a shot obligatory to pander to China, but I don't recall seeing shots of priests or rabbis or imams. It raises the question of how has religion been affected by the discovery of alien life. Yet, this movie has no real interest of exploring that. It wants to remain empty and hollow in that aspect.

One Star out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and destruction and some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.

Movie Review - The Finest Hours

This film tells the story of the 1952 rescue of a group of men who were trapped on board an oil tanker that became severely damaged and adrift at sea. The movie competently shows what happened and what the men experienced or had to do to survive. Yet, Disney produced the movie and for the entire time, it feels very Disney. Sometimes, Disney can be edgy for its animated films or go to dark places. The stakes can feel harrowing in some of its animations, but none of that is present here. Pun-intended, this movie feels watered-down. It doesn't help that the movie starts and proceeds on a stupid note.

Chris Pine (Star Trek and Into the Woods) stars as Bernie Webber, a member of the Coast Guard stationed in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which is a town located in the middle of Cape Cod. He seems like a capable sailor, but he's also extremely nervous and shy about meeting and talking to a girl. Holliday Grainger co-stars as Miriam, the future wife of Bernie, but when she encounters him for the first time in 1951, she's the one who has to disarm and charm him. She's even the one who asks him to marry.

Traditionally, men asked women to marry. For Miriam to be the one to ask is proof that she's a bit progressive, although secretly there were probably tons of women who proposed to men, even in the 1950's. She maybe isn't an outlier, but she's either smart or just forward.

What makes the moment interesting is that Bernie says no. He turns her down. She changes his mind, but not before he expresses that being a sailor's wife isn't going to be easy. She seems to understand what he means and why he's hesitant. She doesn't ask him to switch careers.

However, when the oil tanker gets into trouble and Bernie is ordered to go out into the storm and the dangerous situation, then all of a sudden Miriam gets indignant. For the rest of the film, she looks so naive and stupid, as if she completely didn't realize what she was doing when she attached herself to this man who did somewhat warn her. What she does in this movie is tantamount to telling and yelling at a fire chief for sending firefighters into a burning building to save the people inside. It's what first responders and military members are there to do.

It's not to say that she can't worry and be sad that her future husband is being put in harm's way, but her behavior smacks of her being so stupid that she doesn't see who he is and what he does. No one, at any point, even talks to her or tries to communicate that the men on the oil tanker have loved ones too. It's extremely selfish.

Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James) also stars as Ray Sybert, an engineer on the oil tanker who takes a strong leadership role once the tanker becomes damaged and starts to sink. There is some drama among the trapped men about if Ray should take that role or not. Ultimately, he does and the rest of the film are the mechanics and the process by which the men keep the tanker afloat until help arrives.

Those mechanics and the process can be interesting, but the screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias, never really allows us to get to know much of those men on the tanker, except Ray. Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl and Fright Night), the camera lingers on men like Tiny, played by Abraham Benrubi (ER), and Eldon, played by Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash), but Gillespie never wants to spend quality time with them to understand them more fully. Instead, Gillespie would rather waste time with Miriam's selfishness.

There's also this dilemma that is presented in the last act of this film. It's an interesting dilemma. Once Bernie braves the treacherous waters to reach the oil tanker, the lifeboats have been destroyed and there are 32 men who need help but Bernie only has room for half that number. Now, this could have been a dilemma that could have yielded drama on the level of James Cameron's Titantic, but the filmmakers here really do nothing with it. It's an issue for all of a second, and then it's dismissed.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.