Soul to Soul (Fallen, 1998)

Fallen_PosterHomicide Detective John Hobbs is witnessing the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese. Reese goes from mocking everyone to terror, claiming innocence as he dies. Not long after, killings bearing the mark of Reese begin to occur.  Is it a copycat? Something more sinister?

In fact, as Hobbs tries to put all the pieces together, he finds himself pulled into a world of angels and demons and possession. He discovers that Reese was a host to an ancient evil that has survived…and can be anyone…and it seems to have a fondness for torturing Hobbs.

The film is directed by Gregory Hoblit, who had directed the film Primal Fear just two years.  Like that film, this one works within a clever conceit to surprise the viewer in the end.

It is full of terrific actors to support Washington, including John Goodman and late James Gandolfini.  The conceit of the story allows for a lot of suspense throughout, as Washington is never sure who he is dealing with. The audience is never left in the dark, as the film has Demon Vision, where we can see things through the eyes of the demonic entity.

I really enjoy Fallen and feel it is a bit underrated. It works effective as a thriller with a solid creepy vibe.

All Stand Together Pt 5 (The Magnificent Seven, 2016)

Magnificant_Seven_2016While there had been a two season TV series in the late 90’s, the Seven Samurai inspired franchise had remained quiet. Certainly, plenty of films have used the “group of gunslingers or outlaws step up to help people in need.  It is one of the most popular western motifs.  But it took until 2016 for it to come back to life.

Set in 1879, Tycoon Bartholomew Bogue has overtaken the town of Rose Creek.  He owns the Sheriff and has had his men deputized. Forcing the people into labor, they are living in misery.  After he has some of the towns people killed to “lay down the law”, they seek the help of Sam Chisolm, a U.S. Marshall.  Chisolm starts recruiting people, starting with gambler Joshua Faraday, who is trying to get his horse back, but lacks funds. As they work their way back, they reach out to various individuals…a Mexican Outlaw named Vasquez, an old trapper named Jack Home.  He also brings in former Confederate officer named Goodnight Robicheaux and his partner Billy Rocks. Finally, they bring in exiled Comanche Warrior Red Harvest.

This film has a very conscious eye towards diversity.  Billy Rocks is a Korean immigrant skilled both with knives and guns.  Chisolm is a black man. And even the Confederate is explicitly portrayed as “not the racist kind”.  He clearly has a longstanding friendship with Chisolm and his relationship with Rocks is an equal partnership.

But this works in the favor of the film.  These characters all come from desperately different backgrounds, but come together to form a solid unit that trusts each other.  I found myself genuinely liking these characters.  Granted, a certain amount of this is due specifically to the cast.  Denzel Washington tends to bring a sense of authority to every role.  Chris Pratt of course has a likeable sweet boyishness that tends to run through his roles. Byung-Hun Lee is just kind of a dashing hero type.  You can always depend on D’Onofrio and Hawke to deliver terrific character performances.

And Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue? He is a clear cut, unambiguous bad guy. He does not even see himself as the hero of his story.  He just believes in “might makes right”.  When we are introduced to him, he steps into a church and shows no sense of respect for the faith of the parishioners.

Overall, this film is quite exiting and smartly chose to create an entirely new set of “Seven”.  It is also a bit darker and grittier.  That is not to say it is not fun, it definitely has it’s moments of levity.  I feel like the addition of a revenge element for one of the Seven was unnecessary, and even kind of undermines the idea of the willingness of these guys to sacrifice themselves for the town.

But director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter and the Equalizer) delivers a pretty solid energetic modern western with the Magnificent Seven.


So, last Sunday’s Oscars happened.  There was much questioning in advance of how Chris Rock would address the #OscarsSoWhite controversies.  Some felt he should drop out.  Some felt he should use the the night to stick it to Hollywood racism.  And, he did pretty good.  Rock had some good jokes that called out the racism at play…Hollywood’s “Sorority style Racism” as Rock noted.  But Rock’s bits could have been better.

It started to become apparent that Rock’s calls to diversity were somewhat single dimensional.  In fact people on twitter started noting that Diversity is a bit bigger than Rock’s focus.  Aasif Mandvi tweeted:

hey , diversity is not just and .

He was met with a response that stated that because Chris Rock is black, he was focusing on black performers.  Which, to be frank, is a pretty bullshit excuse.  Rock was hosting the Oscars to a broader public.  Asians and Latinos (just to name two groups left out) had every right to be frustrated by Rock’s extraordinarily narrow observations.

In a bit of irony, Rock’s race themed bits all highlighted white versus black.  He only spoke of black actors vs white actors.  There was a distinct lack of diversity.  Heck, it even looked as if he  and his writers lifted the Martian Gag from the Nightly Show.*

All of Rock’s bits would have been funnier with an expanded racial scope.  Of course, pointing this out has gotten some hit with accusations of saying the same thing as “All Lives Matter”.  Which is absolutely false.  Let me cut folks off at the pass.  This is false.  Period.  There is no discussion to be had.  Pointing out that other races were not recognized by Rock is not the equivalent of saying all lives matter.  Why don’t we look at some facts  about Oscar Diversity.  It is not a pretty picture.

There has not been an Asian Best Actor nomination since Ben Kingsly in 2003.  There has not been an Asian Winner since 1982, which was also Ben Kingsly.  It was 26 years earlier that there was another Asian nominated.  That was Yul Brenner in 1956.  And he won.  You have two Asian winners in the Best Actor category.  There was one Asian woman nominated for Best Actress.  Merle Oberon in 1935. Not a single Asian Actress has been nominated since.  Not even from the Joy Luck Club, which got no nominations for it’s actors.

Surely it is better for the supporting roles, right?  Between 1957 and now?  Best Supporting actor has nominated Asian Actors six times.  Of those six?  Two are Ben Kingsly.  The only win was Haing S. Ngor for the Killing Fields in 1984.  The last nomination was Ken Watanabe in 2003.

Supporting Actress?  Since 1957? Again, six.  The last being Hailee Standfield in 2010’s True Grit.  Only one win, that was to Miyoshi Umeki in 1957.

So, what about Latinos?  Surely, they fared way better in acting nominations and wins, right?

Well, for best actor?  Five since 1950.  Last nomination was Demián Bichir in 2011.  Last win? 1950’s José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac.  For supporting role, there six nominations. One was for José Ferrer in 1948.  Anthony Quinn was nominated and won twice.  Andy Garcia and the other two went to Benicio del Toro, who won in 2000 for Traffic.

Best Actress had three nominations between 1998 and 2004.  That is all, no wins.  Just three nominations in the history of the Oscars.  Supporting Actress?  Six nominations between 1954 and 2013.  And I bet that 2013 nomination would catch people off guard, because it is Lupita Nyong’o.  She and Rita Moreno are the only wins.

Native Americans have three nominations in the history of the Oscars.  Three.

While looking for that last one I found this article which sums all the information up nicely.

Chris Rock focused heavily on the lack of Black actors.  Since 1958, there has been 18 nominations.  This includes Will Smith (Twice), by the way.    Morgan Freeman was nominated three times.  Denzel Washington four times.  There have been four wins (Sidney Poitier, Washington, Jamie Fox and Forrest Whitaker).  Best actress has only had ten nominations since 1954 and only a single win (Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball in 2001).

Best supporting actor has seen sixteen nominations and four wins since 1969.  The wins were Louis Gossett Jr., Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr and Morgan Freeman.  Best supporting actress?  Eighteen nominations with six wins (Hattie McDaniel, Whoopie Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o) between 1939 and 2013.

Going by the actual numbers, those individuals who were telling Asians, Native Americans, Latinos and other minority groups to just accept that they were being ignored?  They have the bigger gripe.  Asians, Latinos, Native American performances are far less recognized.  In comparison, black performers are getting more of the opportunities.

Hollywood needs more diversity.  Hollywood needs to expand it’s recognition.  But Rock made his bits all about black actors, every single bit featured only black actors (or in one case Black “Man on the Street” interviewees), and Rock gave no recognition to the lack of diversity other races (who have had even less recognition in Oscar History).  But he did manage a racist Asian joke.  Way to go with the appeal to diversity.

*The Nightly show did the “What if Mark Watney Was Black” gag a few weeks back.  It is entirely possible that the Oscar version was recorded in “competition” and it was coincidence…but it was the exact same joke, just the Oscar version got the original white actors.

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