Basquiat

Dir: Julian Schnabel, 1996. Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman. Drama.

In Julian Schnabel’s intimate portrait of an artist, Jeffery Wright exploded on the film scene as Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist turned international painter. The story is about his rise and fall amidst the New York elite, his friendship with Andy Warhol, and the women he loves.

After a successful painting career, Julian Schnabel (Oscar nominee for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) made his feature debut as a writer-director in this tribute to the life of his friend. His screenplay is simple, but efficient and his direction is gentle and compassionate -- bringing out wonderful performances from a brilliantly cast group of actors. He also does a great job of incorporating the music to define the times and emotions of the moment.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 27, 2009 12:32pm

Shaft

Dir: John Singleton, 2000. Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Toni Collette. Black Cinema.

About the only thing this Shaft remake has in common with the original Richard Roundtree cop classic is that great Isaac Hayes theme song and similar funky score (and Roundtree pops up in a supporting role in this one). Both Shafts are swinging ladies men and both have to deal with race issues being African-American cops in a hostile world and working with a corrupt police force. What makes the remake stand out as more than just a serviceable late night TV time killer is the presence of two great unlikely villains teaming up, played by two great actors, Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright, working at their scenery chewing best.

The original Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks is usually unjustly labeled "blaxploitation," but it’s degrading because Shaft was actually much closer in class and style to an acclaimed crime film like The French Connection than say, some jive like Superfly. Shaft became a minor cultural phenomenon, birthing two decent sequels and even a short-lived television series. The inevitable remake comes 30 years later, and though it might not have delivered as a franchise starter, it does deliver perfectly as a solid action guilty pleasure.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jul 4, 2011 4:51pm

The Manchurian Candidate

Dir: Jonathan Demme, 2004. Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber. Mystery/Thriller.

Based on the 1962 John Frankenheimer Cold-War classic, The Manchurian Candidate is the story of a group of soldiers who, upon returning home from war, suffer painful flashbacks of torture and brainwashing. “Major Ben Marco” (Washington) grips to reality trying to get at the truth before a possible corporate-designed “sleeper” (Schreiber) is elected to the White House.

Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), helms one of the better remakes of classic cinema. The director is really able to illustrate the paranoia, warped sense of memory and the spiraling down into madness -- using the main character (Washington) as a mental road map.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 17, 2009 1:46pm
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