Reviewed by Deborah Young
Is it possible to capture the heart of an artist on film? Probably not.
But the filmmakers behind the newly released biopic Ray sure seemed
to try. The film combines some of the most popular songs of Ray Charles
Robinson (a.k.a. Ray Charles) with flashbacks of what might be some of
his lifes most defining moments. And theyre not all pretty.
The movie depicts Charles as a charming man, brilliant musician, shrewd
and sometimes ruthless businessman and, at times, a tortured soul. Charles
music is the focal point of the movie. But viewers also get glimpses of
the musicians painful childhood during which he witnessed the death
of his brother and went blind before he turned eight, his heroine abuse
and his relationships with his wife and mistresses.
But the film doesnt linger long on Charles relationships.
During its 152-minute runtime, the film returns again and again to Charless
music after very brief forays into his personal life. In fact, the filmmakers
seemed to be trying to explain Charles music with snippets of detail
from his life.
This approach resulted in the dramatic simplification of Charless
life. The filmmakers failed to capture complexities such as Charless
feelings about spending so much time away from his family and the paradoxes
of his relationships with his friends and lovers.
The movie does, however, succeed in bringing the music to life and in
showing why Charles was considered by some to be a musical genius. Viewers
who dont know much about Charles music will discover an innovative
musician who combined gospel and R&B to create a new sound. Theyll
also discover a versatile performer who sang country, blues, jazz and
R&B, and a shrewd businessman who managed to retain the rights to
his masters (which was unheard of back then and not very common now).
Jamie Foxx, whos been praised for his astute portrayal of Charles,
gets Charles physical mannerisms and speech patterns down. He gives
the audience a complex Charles whos sometimes charming, sometimes
cruel, sometimes fearful and ultimately, endearing.
But Foxxs performance was not the only one worthy of mention. Although
the parts of the female characters were small, Regina King (who typically
plays no-nonsense homegirls) brings her usual sassiness to the role of
Margie Hendricks, one of Charless mistresses. And newcomer Sharon
Warren manages to combine restraint and strong emotion in her portrayal
of Charless mother, Aretha Robinson.
Foxx may well be nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Ray,
but the real accomplishment of this movie is that it presents the life
and music of the legendary artist in a way that makes the music more accessible
to people who arent Ray Charles fans. The movie doesnt capture
the heart of the artist on film, but it certainly captures the spirit
of his music. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5; Posted 11/1/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
A curious and haunting science fiction drama, Primer won the
top prize at this years Sundance Film Festival. That alone is an
impressive accomplishment. When you realize that it was done for a mere
$7,000, it becomes an amazing achievement.
Shane Carruth, a mathematician who is reportedly a self-taught filmmaker,
served as writer, producer, composer, editor and star of this ambitious
and intelligent mind-bender. Shot with a 16mm camera and later blown up
to 35mm, Primer may serve as a primer for all poor, wannabe directors.
Carruths story deals with four unusually smart men who are also
neophyte entrepreneurs. Aaron (Carruth) and his buddies Abe (David Sullivan),
Robert (Casey Gooden) and Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya) manufacture computer
error-checking devices in a garage.
While working on some side projects with their excess materials, Aaron
and Abe stumble upon a discovery that could have earth-shaking consequences.
Keeping the finding to themselves, Aaron and Abe keep tinkering until
they come up with a device that may or may not be a time machine.
Using the apparatus, they create doubles of themselves that
appear in slightly differing moments in time. At first, Aaron and Abe
use it to play the stock market and make some fast dough. As things progress,
they are faced with dangers and ethical and moral dilemmas that they never
The resulting events create an anxious atmosphere where the two friends
find themselves at odds over what to do with their knowledge.
Carruth manages to create a strong sense of verisimilitude that is the
hallmark of all good science fiction. As bizarre and unthinkable as a
time machine might be, Carruth makes it all seem quite plausible.
With all time travel stories, however, there are plot holes. The film
takes some strange twists and turns that are as odd as they are confusing.
Viewers will find the resulting ambiguity to be either refreshing or annoying.
Some may want to see it again while others will simply dismiss it.
But a film this smart cant be easily dismissed. The moral conundrums
that the film poses should prove irresistible fodder for post-movie coffee
And, as Carruth aptly pointed out when he accepted his award at Sundance,
he made the film for roughly the price of a used car. Sometimes
when an artists hands are tied, the creativity that results from
those limits can be quite remarkable.
Like it or hate it, Primer will make you think. Thats rarely
a bad thing. PG-13) Rating: 4; Posted 10/29/04
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Saw contains a ton of typical horror movie imagery. There are
dark rooms, booby-trapped hallways, gruesome crime scenes, rotting corpses,
screechy rusty sound effects, talking mean-spirited puppets and eerie
atmospheric rooms of death. First-time director James Wan is clearly playing
by a rule first set down by David Fincher in Se7en that
everything must be old, bloody, filthy and decrepit.
Two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and John (Leigh Whannel) wake
up in a locked dilapidated bathroom. Reinforced ankle chains bind them
to opposite ends of the room and limit their mobility. Both men have no
idea how or why they got there, and in the center of the room is a corpse
with a gun in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. When both men
discover in their pockets tapes with instructions, they realize there
is a possibility of survival but only if they play by a sadistic madmans
The title refers to the only visible way either man could escape. Both
men have access to hacksaws that dont cut through the ankle chains
or locks. As Dr. Gordon dryly explains, He doesn't want us to saw
through our chains! He wants us to saw through our feet!
The bathroom scenes are terrifying, carefully paced and well acted. As
clues and hidden objects are revealed the stakes go up and the pacing
and intensity increase. The dialogue between these two characters is most
effective when both of them do not know whether the other is an ally or
This vacillating trust ultimately drives the movie. Theres also
a feeling of dread that permeates the whole project, while curiosity and
camp makes the gruesomeness somewhat tolerable.
Saw is also filled with a lot of typical horror movie pitfalls.
Characters break down into blind panics and get stupid. Theres a
side story about an obsessed burnt out detective (Danny Glover) that trips
up the movie on more than one occasion. Theres even a child
in peril scene that is more offensive than scary. Shamefully, weapons
are wrestled out of peoples hands four times in this picture!
Most importantly, Saws third act is so ludicrous that it
all but destroys any sense of believability. Saw has a damn scary
premise, and its carried off beautifully until the end when it becomes
overburdened by its own sensationalism, gore and bravado. If the film
had contained more scenes of intensity and less action, gore, twists and
shocks, maybe it could have been a classic of the genre. (R) Rating: 3;
Thou Art Loosed
Reviewed by Deborah Young
At the beginning of Woman Thou Art Loosed, Michelle Jordan (played
by Kimberly Elise) walks toward the altar in a packed church. The choir
is singing softly. The preacher is pleading for people to come forward
and lay their burdens down. Michelle continues her halting steps, her
eyes softening as though theyre about to melt with grief, her mouth
tightening as though damming sorrow. She seems ready to break into tears
and fall forward onto her knees.
But she doesnt. Instead, she reaches into her purse and pulls out
a gun. Her expression hardens. She fires several shots. The audience scatters.
The screen goes black.
Its a great opening scene and a shocking one, shocking because it
marries the concept of life-saving grace with the too-common reality of
This film, based on a novel and stage play by Bishop T.D. Jakes, has been
compared to Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ, and there
are obvious similarities between the two films. Both express a Christian
viewpoint. Neither turns the lens from the dark side of human nature,
and both were promoted through churches. But theres a major difference
in the focus and themes of the two movies. The Passion of the Christ
focuses on love-motivated sacrifice, but Woman Thou Art Loosed
takes an unflinching look at the rage that can simmer in a damaged soul.
Elise carries the movie with a measured portrayal of Michelle, a young
woman hardened by pain. Her mothers boyfriend, Reggie (played convincingly
by Clifton Powell) molested her when she was only 12. Then Michelles
lonely mother, Cassey (Loretta Devine), chose to ignore the abuse and
ultimately favored the abuser over her own child.
The movie gives us insights into Michelles life through her conversations
with Bishop Jakes while shes on death row and through flashbacks
to Michelles childhood and to the days preceding her crime. The
filmmakers managed to provide a realistic glimpse of sexual abuse and
the permanent damage it can inflict. But the strength of the film is that
it doesnt simplify the problem with one-dimensional characters.
Elises Michelle is sometimes hard, her words sometimes sharp and
biting. But she is also vulnerable, charming and understanding at times.
In turns she shows compassion for her mother, anger at her mothers
apparent betrayal and finally, blind rage.
Elise has played a range of challenged women from the developmentally
disabled Loretta Claiborne on the small screen and to John Qs
Denise Archibald, the morally outraged and financially challenged mother
of a dying boy, on the large screen. She manages to pull off the complexities
of this role with admirable style. Her facial expressions tell a story
beyond words, and she delivers her lines with just the right measure of
The supporting cast also delivers strong performances. Debbi Morgan handles
the role of Twana, a friend of Michelles mother, with her typical
air of wise sophistication. Loretta Devine brings life and complexity
to the character of Michelles single mother Cassey. Michael Boatman
uses his broad smile and easygoing manner to make the small role of Todd,
Michelles childhood friend, memorable. And Bishop T.D. Jakes dramatizes
his role as a soft-spoken, compassionate preacher with the finesse and
understated style of a seasoned actor.
With all of these strong elements, the movie should be a hit with both
secular and religious audiences. But the long and frequent church sequences
will be a turnoff to some people who might have enjoyed the core story.
The revival sequences at the church ran a total of about 20 minutes too
long, and snippets of Jakes sermons hammered home points that would
have worked better as dialogue. But overall, the film addressed a common
but difficult and sometimes shocking topic with intelligence and compassion.
(R) Rating: 2.5; Posted 10/29/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Hows this for hyperbole? The trailer for the new film The Brown
Bunny reportedly claims that it is The most controversial American
film ever made.
Yes, there is a bit of controversy surrounding this curio, and that is
its only real attraction.
When Roger Ebert saw Vincent Gallos film at Cannes, he said it
was the worst film ever shown as the festival. Gallo angrily responded
by saying that Ebert was a fat pig with the physique of a slave
trader. Ebert countered by saying, "Although I am fat,
one day I will be thin, but Mr. Gallo will still have been the director
of The Brown Bunny.
Furthermore, Gallo reportedly put a hex on Ebert, wishing
Ebert got cancer. Ironically, Ebert did.
Gallo has since re-edited his highly controversial movie and the recovering
Ebert admitted that the new version is a great improvement. But The
Brown Bunny is still a mind-numbingly dull exercise in self-indulgence
that borders on self-delusion, and most of the controversy comes from
Gallos erratic behavior. (He promptly fired both Winona Ryder and
Kirsten Dunst from the project after they had already filmed several scenes.)
Gallo, a one-time model whose disheveled, grungy look was the embodiment
of heroine chic, has been acting for some time. His first
feature film as a director, Buffalo 66, was a long-winded drama
set in his hometown. By comparison to The Brown Bunny,
Buffalo 66 was an exercise in concision.
In Gallos self-indulgent home movie, he plays Bud Clay, a motorcycle
racer who embarks on a road trip from the East Coast to LA in order to
be reunited with his lost love.
Model Cheryl Tiegs appears as a woman he meets at a rest stop and Chloë
Sevigny plays Daisy, his LA girlfriend. The film is achingly monotonous
in spite of their presence, with Gallo indulging in endless shots of him
driving, looking glum and occasionally weeping.
Gallo has a knack for being able to establish a keen sense of the passage
of time. The action in The Brown Bunny takes place over several
days, and boy does it seem like it.
In fairness, there is a kernel of originality at the core of The Brown
Bunny. The films payoff contains an idea that could have made
the film worthwhile. If it had been a short subject, it might have had
In spite of the well-publicized hardcore oral sex scene at the climax
no pun intended The Brown Bunny is an exercise in
tedium. (Not Rated) Rating: 1; Posted 10/29/04