Tag Archive: cuba gooding jr


The Butler (2013) Forest Whitaker (Screengrab)

A couple weeks, one of my aces out here threw out this analogy, which I’m sure he stole from someone else, and now (since I know alot of you are not in Hollywood) I’m stealing this analogy to start this review.  If 12 Years a Slave gave you the ‘origins’ of the black experience in America, and Fruitvale Station covered what’s happening right now, then Lee Daniels The Butler is the perfect middle part of the trilogy.  We can be optimistic/cynical about if this keeps going, but none of us can argue about 2013 being a good year for black actors and filmmakers putting product through the traditional system.

On to this film, The Butler is based on the true story of a White House butler who served under numerous presidents in the mid 20th century, which coincided quite nicely with the Civil Rights Movement.  Forrest Whitaker plays the title role here.  He’s won the Oscar before, and even though (like Chewie in 12 Years) his performance and role are less about being ‘showy’ and more about being the centerpiece of the story, my gut tells me he’ll get another Best Actor nom for this film.

And when I say Forrest was the centerpiece of this cast, I’m not kidding.  Off the top of my head, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Jane Fonda (playing Nancy Reagan which is hilarious), Terrence Howard, Minka Kelly…the supporting cast is stacked here folks.  I want to single out two other people though.  Oprah is an actress.  I know you know that, but especially if you only know her as ‘OPRAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ then it may naturally slip your mind, she’s a good actress.  The other cat I need to pay respect to is Cuba Gooding Jr.  He didn’t really steal any scenes per se, but (especially in my militant days) I know I’ve made my fair share of cracks about the brother and the choices he’s made.  But first showing up as Nicky Barnes in American Gangster, and now this role reminds me, Cuba can go.  Like all of us really, just have to give the man material.

As far as Lee Daniels goes, this is his best film.  He said as much after the screening, but I’m not blowing smoke as a co-sign.  In terms of sheer scope/ambition, he ‘should’ get a Best Director nom.  But across the board, I know this is going to be a tough year.  So we shall see.

Bottom line, definitely recommend seeing when you get a chance.

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Honorable Mention

One of the side effects of being in the house so much lately is catching up on movies on TV/DVD.  One of the films I caught maybe should have been on my 25 Most Important Black Film list from a couple years ago.  Maybe.

Regardless, I’m not changing the past, but will give this a film (and maybe others down the line) an honorable mention.

Men of Honor is based on the true story of the first African-American diver in the Navy.  Starring Robert Deniro and Cuba Gooding Jr, Men of Honor is a formula film that shows you why there is a formula.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance: The previously mentioned storyline makes it more than relevant.  You toss in the black director (George Tillman Jr. of Notorious and Soul Food), and you have yourself a black film boys and girls.

Legacy: It’s definitely a family friendly film and very rewatchable.  As I talked about the film with one of my fellow film geeks, the question was raised, “Was this Cuba Gooding Jr’s last good lead performance?”  Discuss.

Craft: You have two Academy Award winning actors.  One of the beauties of Men of Honor is how DeNiro and Cuba Gooding Jr. (both of whom know how to show out) let the story be the star of the film.  Score one for Tillman here.

Crossover: Even now, Men of Honor isn’t what people think of when they say ‘urban film’.  It was distributed by a major studio and top billed by one of the greatest actors of our lifetimes.  In many ways, it’s the type of ‘urban film’ Hollywood would love to recreate.

Apollo: While the climax of the film (Breashear earning his way back into active duty) would be the obvious choice, I’d say the scene where he earns the crew’s (and audience’s) respect by taking his diving school final (and passing even though he gets sabotaged) is great melodrama.  It seems somewhat implausible but hey, that’s why they’re called movies.

On that note, more later…

boyz-n-the-hood

Boyz N The Hood was the debut film by writer/director John Singleton.  The semi-autobiographical tale revolves around three young black men, Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, and their daily lives growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While the phrase ‘black film’ can take on many different meanings (as this countdown hopefully illustrates), Boyz N The Hood is the type of film that is universally agreed to represent the ultimate prototype.  Black director, black writer, black cast, black soundtrack, black setting, black story.  Spike had already proven there was a modern audience for black film; in mimicking the rise of West Coast hip hop, John opened America’s eyes to a very real ‘street’ sensibility that was getting louder and prouder.

Legacy:     So many careers and trends can be traced to this film.  John Singleton obviously, but also Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Cuba Gooding Jr. started their rise with this film.  The good and bad ‘hood’ films (Menace II Society, and countless others) wouldn’t have gotten made without Boyz.  While Spike was the clear pioneer, John’s success told both Hollywood and future filmmakers that there was room for more than one black storyteller at a time.  That might be the greatest legacy.

Craft:  Rewatching it years later, there are points where the film is undeniably ‘preachy’.  (And the Wayans absolutely slaughtered this point to death in their parody, Don’t Be a Menace).  That aside, the film’s structure is fairly classical.  Three brothers, one undeniably good (Tre), one undeniably bad (Doughboy), and one good who has some ties to the bad (Ricky).  The presence of the father figure (Furious) is somewhat on the nose, but no one can take away from the great performance of Laurence Fishburne.

Crossover:  Without a doubt.  Boyz N The Hood was on its own regard a crossover phenomenon.  John Singleton became the first African-American, and the youngest person of any color to be nominated for Best Director.  As referenced in the Legacy section, Ice Cube has gone from Doughboy to the star of Are We There Yet?  Anyone who saw that coming is a bold faced liar.

Apollo:  Ricky’s slow motion demise is still incredibly powerful.  If I may, I’d like to use this space for something more personal.  I was still a kid when this film came out.  Spike’s films had already planted the seed in my head, and I heard about all this new black kid out of USC doing it, so of course I wanted to see the film.  Now I might be slightly off with this number, but the number of times I personally remember my father going out to the movie theater has to be around…5?  He has movies he likes now, but they’re not his thing, they’re my thing.  So there we were one Saturday afternoon (in Oak Park Mall for you Kansas City people) watching Boyz.  My Pops taking me to something I was interested in wasn’t a big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always known.  So when Furious made his speech to Tre about listening to him (and watching what happens to Ricky and Doughboy who didn’t have that male influence), it was just part of the movie to me.

Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the table, I have so much appreciation for what I had.  Obviously having a man in the house doesn’t mean automatically mean a boy grows up into a good brotha, not having a man doesn’t mean a boy won’t turn out well.  But it’s a conversation I’ve had over and over again with some of my closest friends: having a good man involved in the life of a boy can go a long, long way in creating a good man.  (I’m deliberately avoiding the father-daughter influence; go listen to some old John Mayer for that.)  As a wrap I’ll say for its various flaws, Boyz N The Hood is one of the better, three-dimensional black films ever made.

The countdown will continue with another landmark film.  Until next time…

coming_to_america

Debatably the most popular black film of all time, Coming to America is the story of Prince Akeem, who, in lieu of his arranged marriage as the Prince of Zumunda, elects to go to Queens in search of true love.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (cough, cough), it’s hard to imagine the biggest black movie star today (Will?) getting this movie greenlit and made the way it was made.  LOOK AT THIS CAST LIST:  Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Samuel L. Jackson, Eriq LaSalle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Garcelle Beauvis, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (you may not automatically remember who they were in the film, but trust me, they were all in there).  That cast list is symbolic of the one word I would use to describe this film: loaded.

Legacy:  Again, impossible to pick one thing.  People give The Nutty Professor credit for this, but every fan of this film knows Eddie originated his ‘playing multiple characters in one scene’ routine with the barbershop here.  I believe the Very Smart Brothas made this point before I did, but this is easily the most quotable black film of all time, if not the most popular.  “My name is Peaches, and I’m the best…”  You know the rest.  Does that even break the top 10 of the best lines from this film?

Craft:  Film geek time.  For the million and one jokes we could spend all day quoting back and forth, the reason this film endures (in my humble opinion) is because it is a genuinely good romantic comedy.  That’s the heart of it.  Without that, you’ve still got a really funny film but not an all time classic.  I know Shari Headley was one of my earliest crushes and started me on the path of favoring the cute girl with a head on her shoulders over the sexpot with wind blowing between the ears (and I know through conversation I wasn’t the only brotha who felt like that).  Even the throwaway ‘Trading Places’ joke was a very nice homage for Eddie Murphy fans (would they even let the joke slide in these days?  Everything is so corporate).  I’m getting off track but John Landis (also the director of Thriller) was/is a hell of a director.

Crossover:  I don’t know how to fully explain this to a generation who only knows Eddie Murphy through marginal family films, but he was THE MAN in the 80s.  The Man!  And a big part of that was because of Saturday Night Live; he was a massive crossover success before this film (and in fact certainly helped it get made).

Apollo:  Soul Glo and the jheri-curled stained couch?  A little.  “She’s your Queen to Be?”  Somewhat.  Me and those close to me live by a Code.  Among the rules of that Code is this: “Don’t make your homies look bad.”  But there are exceptions to the rule of course.  In our first year in L.A. me and my roommate at the time agreed that if we were on some studio lot, and Eriq LaSalle threw a milkshake on one of us and sped off in his luxury car, there would be no fault if the other cat fell out laughing.  That (in my humble opinion) is one of the best ‘Apollo’ moments in any movie (and some of you may not think that’s the best Apollo moment in this movie).

The top 5 films kicks off with a film that was as prestigious as it was popular.  Until then, this is Malik ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Aziz signing out.

“Sexual Chocolate.”

SEXUAL CHOCOLATE!!!! 

(dropping keyboard as I stare at the screen…)

(pointing at the screen and exiting stage left…)