Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship (2002) Warner Brothers
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Washington, Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington
Directed by: Steve Beck
Rating: 1.5/4

Despite its' poignant ending which includes a suggestive supernatural twist, 'Ghost Ship' is about as empty as a sunken vessel. My apologies for the horrendous analogy, but this film is truly an unfortunate attempt at breathing new life into the tired genre of horror.

Director Steve Beck first started his career as a Visual Effects Supervisor working on such movies as 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'The Abyss'. In this film, he takes his love for aquatic shots and desecrates an even more desecrated plot with silly banter, horrible acting and ambitious angles that result in a flawed film. The only element that redeems this film from being an annihilation of the human intellect, is its' interesting and somewhat surprising ending. Make no mistake, we are not talking about a 'Sixth Sense' ending, but as the audience becomes conditioned to predictable, formulaic dribble in this film which offers nothing new to this wasted genre, suddenly comes this twist ending that seems grandiose due to the context it is situated in.

Director Beck's first feature was 'Thir13een Ghosts', and while it was a stylish and empty film, 'Ghost Ship's visuals are mundane and dry, even with the abundance of water occupying the frame. Producers Robert Zemeckis (yes that Robert Zemeckis) and Joel 'The Matrix' Silver continue churning cost conscious horror fare from their Dark Castle Entertainment division. This is the third feature after 'House on Haunted Hill' and 'Thir13een Ghosts'. The result: the least satisfying of the three but with a creepy ending that is brought to life by the infusion of a refreshing heavy metal score that replaces the tiresome unoriginal and repetitive score of Music composer John Frizzell.

The film opens with an eye-opening counter-horrific credit sequence reminiscent of the 1950's Frankie Vallie pictures. Pink titles underlined by a nostalgic score introduce us to the film as even the film's title is presented in a pink bubble gum font. That sets the stage for a malicious and violent opening sequence where the camera pans over all the victims in a 1950's cruise liner who await a gruesome death. Cut to present day as actor Gabriel Byrne cannot find himself another 'The Usual Suspects' script and has to settle for a seemingly out of work actor position in this film. Also, fresh from her departure from ER, Julianna Margulies is introduced as a tough talking tom-boyish character who fears nothing, but who will as the visions commence later on in the film.

All these characters compose the core of a salvage crew who set out to sail after this 1953 Ocean liner, which mysteriously disappeared. As the crew attempts to tow the liner back to shore, they notice the most surreal and violent events ever witnessed. Mind you, not all of our cast of characters make it out alive to see the reason behind the boat's disappearance retold in an impressive timely and flashy edited sequence. Flashy is not an adjective one would want to associate with this film.

The film is generic and tiresome except as aforementioned for the final 20 minutes. While it does not offer anything new to the genre, it insults the audience with the less is more take that eventually offers absolutely nothing.

`Ghost Ship' will probably satisfy the hard core horror fans due to its' extreme and vicious massacres, yet the film offers no horror and suffers from its' own ambitious yet unfulfilled suggestivity.

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American Gangster

American Gangster (2007) Universal Pictures
2 hrs. 36 mins.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Carla Gugino, Armand Assante, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Clarence Williams III, Ruby Dee, Idris Elba, Ted Levine, John Hawkes, Dania Ramirez
Directed by: Ridley Scott
This film is rated: R

The sprawling drug-pushing drama American Gangster definitely has its explosive (not to mention its exploitative) buttons to push. How can a sensationalistic street-wise saga go wrong when it features all the flashy panache of an urban narcotics-craving nightmare? Taut, titillating and tenacious in its filmmaking flashiness, America Gangster is a boiling biopic that creates a celebratory seediness in reference to crime, capitalism and the corruptible spirit of the crooked consciousness. The brutal storytelling methods behind this gritty crime actioner is quite interesting in its slick and stylized outrageousness but the film teeters on occasionally being bloated in search for its consistent hedonistic pulse. Nevertheless, the rambling American Gangster wears its badge of wickedness and struts caustically as a dynamic drug-dealing quagmire for little-minded lost souls looking for that big score.

Ultimately, American Gangster has its keenly distorted eyes set on making a sinister mark at the Academy Awards as with last year’s showing of Martin Scorsese’s equally insidious street smart showcase The Departed that finally landed the legendary filmmaker his elusive golden statuette. Well, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian have crafted the thrilling theatrics by nostalgically turning the regional ribaldry of The Big Apple into a personal playground for the perverse and the privileged. In a nutshell, that would describe the ambitious agenda of real-life “black Godfather” Frank Lucas —an “unconventional” businessman (read: heroine pusher) that made his unspeakable fortune out of catering his overseas Vietnamese-grown junk and peddling his salacious stash to his Harlem hometown in the seventies. Lucas’s empire—built on the backs of the city’s weak-minded and opportunistic—is an astounding testament to the vulnerable condition of the indelible human sense of decency and dignity.

Skillfully, American Gangster is a shrewd commentary on the shady scope of the “American Dream” where seizing the moment translates into stepping on the toes of the desperate and devious in order to succeed in a so-called prosperous country that’s bombarded by a false sense of conviction and/or entitlement. It is basically to control how you selectively walk in life or be walked on as a permanent faceless casualty. Clearly, American Gangster is the epitome of the sharp-minded influences of mobster/drug-induced ditties from yesteryear. The bombastic blueprint for Scott’s time-bomb tapestry recalls such polyester period pieces such as “Superfly”, the “Godfather” films, “Serpico”, “The French Connection”, “Hell up in Harlem”—just naming a few references that would give cause for the potency of American Gangster’s cinematic credentials.

Cleverly, Scott has rounded up two of the cinema’s finest leading men in the Oscar-winning salt-and-pepper pair of Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. Both actors are stimulating in conflict and contempt and elevate this crime-ridden caper beyond its authentic, blistering boundaries. Washington, in particular, embodies the dapper and distinguished pusherman Frank Lucas with an indescribable sophistication that’s very scary underneath the surface. Because Washington’s Lucas is so charming for the ladies and compelling to the guys you never really see how sinister his characterization is behind the Fortune 500 facade. Lucas was an overachiever and a smooth operator so it’s easy to see how natural it was for this high-priced hoodlum to amass such a wealthy existence over the likes of the unsuspecting wounded—mainly his own perishing people.

Lucas (Washington) came into prominence in the late 60’s when employed under the tutelage of crime kingpin Bumpy Johnson (for babyboomers, Clarence Williams III from TV’s “Mod Squad”). As a driver and bodyguard for Bumpy, Lucas took advantage of his inside know-how soon after his boss died. Lucas cunningly went right to the source and dealt with his suppliers without getting stuck in the “middle man” mode. In this case, Lucas made contact with an astute Vietnamese contact that instructed him how to smuggle his “product” into the States thus providing a “natural high” for his corrosive clientele. This routine gradually made Lucas the envy of all his cocky competitors as he rose from the ranks of Bumpy Johnson’s shadow to become the multi-millionaire of the Harlem drug trade.

In addition, Lucas took his cue from hiding his “high risk activities” from the authorities and based his behind-the-scenes operation in the form of using his family as a smoke screen. This inspiration was necessary for how it provided the Italian mob to structure their sordid affairs by investing in the surrounding of relatives as a misleading front. Lucas’s “family” circle consisted of a glowingly pretty young trophy wife (Lymari Nadal), a mother he worships unconditionally (Ruby Dee) and his kid brother (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Washington’s co-star from “Inside Man”). Frank Lucas is ruthless in terms of drug distribution and murder but is a contented family man that is a sucker for his kin. Go figure, huh?

In contrast to Lucas’s brush with fortune and a spirited family, righteous cop Ritchie Roberts (Crowe) is good at what he does professionally but personally, his domestic life is in shambles. His ex-wife (Carla Gugino) is giving him a mess of trouble regarding their son and other related strife concerning their split. As if this wasn’t enough, Roberts has to deal with an assorted bunch of on-the-take police officers that see his nobility as a liability to them. The only thing that drives Roberts is his gumption to bust the polished pusher Lucas and link him to the city’s rapid-fire drug infestation. Thankfully, Roberts will try to take down Lucas with the federal task force but there’s little that can be down to repair his stature as an attentive husband and father.

Will Frank Lucas stay ahead of the game and play by the same dangerous rules? Can Ritchie Roberts catch Lucas and bust up his bustling drug empire while seeking redemption for his out-of-control livelihood at the home front?

Overall, American Gangster oozes a distinction for personalized warfare both on the cynical sidewalks and in the mindset of perpetual prisoners of their own uncontrollable devices—the escapist allure of drugs as a coping mechanism to numb all elusive hope. More important, the comparable deviance between Washington’s Lucas and Crowe’s Roberts is uncanny and parallel in forethought. Scott suggests that these men—one troubled saint, one textured sinner—may be on the same page when all is said and done from clearing out the heavy-handed angst. Lucas enjoys the fruit of his success and grabs the gusto at the expense of societal weaklings willing to sell their empty psyches to make his pockets burst at the seams. Roberts has the pious platitudes to cure the deteriorating world around him but can’t muster up the same enthusiasm for saving his personal universe for familial bliss.

The atmospheric violence and glamorized scheming of the 1970’s-era coated American Gangster undoubtedly sizzles and rattles the sensory cage. Washington continues to artistically shine as one of America’s finest performers in terms of his adventurous take on characterizations which leaves audiences spellbound. From his Oscar-winning turn as a crooked cop in Training Day to a vacant father figure in He Got Game, Washington proves that being charismatic and creepy is an effortless gesture. As for Crowe, he doesn’t get to chew up much scenery in comparison but you do feel for how ragged he is based on his own percolating predicament.

With a capable supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Dee, Ejiofor, Nadal and Josh Brolin (as a bad cop) the story is padded decently with off-kilter personalities that made up the wasted worlds of Lucas and Roberts. What feels rather forced—or out of this frantic fable’s elements—are the ridiculous over-the-top machinations of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s “Mr. Untouchable” Barnes, a fierce rival to Lucas’s citywide concerns. Armand Assante is on board as the main “token” Italian mafioso to contrast with Washington’s GQ black badass Lucas. Inevitably, the inclusion of hardcore thumping tunes on the soundtrack along with a sampling of today’s thug-loving artists (RZA, Common, T.I.) join in the foray to add needed vibes of the film’s inner city urgency.

Respectfully, American Gangster probably wouldn’t make folks forget the hearty genre it’s aping with brazen appeal. Scott’s elaborate epic takes its toll in its excessive running time—something that an editor could have fixed to contain the suspense in a lesser toned-down tale of metropolitan turbulence. Still, intriguing performances by Crowe and especially Washington uplifts this drug-oriented drama from its nefarious knees.

American Gangster dares to look in the menacing mirror and reflect the scabrous priorities that define some handsomely yet disillusion others hauntingly.

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Malcolm X

The Life Of An African American Nationalist Leader

Denzel Washington played the role of Malcolm X in Spike Lee's 1992 award winning film.

Malcolm X is arguably one of Spike Lee's best films, and Denzel Washington played the role of the charismatic leader to perfection. Highly dramatic with some romantic overtones and a large dose of political ideology that swings well beyond the boundaries of racism, the film explores the life of the man who would rise to become one of the most controversial figures of the 1960s. He was loved by African American citizens across the United States, but eventually turned his back on the Nation of Islam and was labelled a traitor. This led to his assassination in February 1965.

Malcolm X - Early Years

Born Malcolm Little in 1925, the film is very candid about the turmoil in his early years. His father, a close follower of the teachings of a prominent black activist named Marcus Garvey, advocated total separation between the white and black population. Malcolm would integrate this philosophy into many of his speeches later in his life. His father's work attracted the attention of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and he suffered a gruesome death when he was run over by a trolley. The young Malcolm was sure his father's death was not an accident, but the real killers were never brought to justice.

While living in the Harlem district of New York he hung around with an unsavoury assortment of pimps, hustlers and drug addicts. In 1946 he and his sidekick Shorty (played by Spike Lee) were convicted of burglary and thrown in jail. While incarcerated he heard of an organization called the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. By the time he was released from jail Malcolm was a new man. His religious conversion was nothing short of miraculous, and for the rest of the film it's hard not to believe that Denzel Washington and Malcolm X are not the same person. His fiery and passionate speeches to the African-American community are captivating and fervently anti-white. "I charge the white man to be the greatest murderer on this earth, I charge the white man to be the greatest kidnapper on this earth, and he can't deny these charges......" Those words echoed loud and clear from Malcolm X's podium well into the 1960's. He was the Nation of Islam's chief spokesman, and the organization welcomed thousands of new members year after year.

Malcolm Separates From the Nation of Islam

A reflective tone takes over for the last forty minutes of the film. Malcolm X separates himself from the Nation of Islam and after a trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, he returns with a new outlook on racial integration. This time, he sends his message to people of all colours, much to the chagrin of his former saviour Elijah Muhammad. Although this event was not shown in the film, Malcolm X led the Unity Rally in Harlem, New York in 1963. It was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in U.S. history.

Malcolm was shot dead by three members of the Nation of Islam in February 1965. He is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Discussions about race are front and center in hollywood today. Learn what Denzel Washington and other stars are saying about BLM.