November 19th, 2007

Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

Washington and Crowe duel again in an "American Gangster"

"American Gangsters" is the most serious motion
picture Hollywood has released since "Zodiac."
Based upon a true story from the 1970s, "American
Gangster" reveals what happened to the narcotics
underworld and the people who managed the growing
national addiction.

The "American Gangster" is Frank Lucas (Denzil
Washington), the cab driver of Bumpy Johnson
(Clarence.Williams III), the legendary black gangster who protected the
interests of Harlem. As Bumpy deplores the new
generation of depersonalization, the Harlem hero dies
in the arms of his prodigy, Frank Lucas. With the
mind of master chess player and the courage of a marine, Lucas picks
up where Bumpy leaves off and becomes the new gangster
chief of Harlem. Through ingenious use of government
corruption, Lucas masterminds a heroin connection
between Thailand and the Bronx with the American
military as a partner. Keeping his private life clean
of drugs, Frank Lucas manages to help his family and
move his mother (Ruby Dee) into a North Carolina
mansion.

As a family man, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is a
disaster. Estranged from his wife Laurie (Carla
Cugino), Richie Roberts forgets his court appointed
custody time with his son. Yet as a police officer
attending law school, Richie Roberts is one of the
best undercover cops in New Jersey. During an aborted
drug sting, Roberts and his partner discover one
million dollars in cash. With every opportunity to
turn the money in, Richie convinces his partner to
turn the loot over to the police. Considered an
internal affairs snitch at first, Richie Roberts is
noticed by the new Nixon Administration's war on
drugs. Given federal backing, Richie Roberts is
assigned the task of catching the big sharks of
organized crime.

Last seen together in the science fiction flick
"Virtuosity," the teaming of Denzil Washington and
Russell Crowe suggests another powerful showdown on
the big screen. The showdown never happens and the
two actors do not share a scene together until the
final ten minutes of the film, much like the teaming
of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in "Heat." Both
actors dominate their respective storyline and lead
a magnificent ensemble cast.

Director Ridley Scott must had seen "Cotton Comes to
Harlem," a black exploitation flick directed and
written by the late Ossie Davis. Ossie's wife, Ruby
Dee, portrays Denzil's mother, a woman of poverty who
is angered- not that her son is a successful drug
pusher - but that he got caught by law enforcement. Cuba
Gooding Junior portrays the flashy Nicky Barnes, an inspiration
for Ron O'Neal's "Superfly." Though his screen time is short,
Clarence Williams is an inspired casting choice that
adds to the dimension of "American Gangster."

In terms of law and order, Richie Roberts meets his
alter ego in Trupo (Josh Brolin), a corrupt New York
police officer who accepts bribes. This corruption of
a human being earns more audience disdain than the
drug pushers. Given his work in "Grindhouse," Brolin
seems to master this type of sleazy roles as of late.
Richie Robert's undercover squad is full of reliable
character actors (John Hawkes, Ted Levine).

Overall, "American Gangster" is a good movie.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, the pacing is a bit
slow. Ridley Scott provides everything one would
expect from a movie about organized crime;
Machiavellian maneuvers, gangland shoot outs in the
streets, clever heists and politics of corruption.
One powerful montage presents the Lucas family having
a large family Thanksgiving, in contrast with Richie
Roberts eating a lox sandwich by himself. When Frank
Lucas follows in the footsteps of Bumby by providing
turkeys for the poor, he is also the instrument of
their destruction by making heroin easily accessible.
While the film ends with a sense of reconciliation, it
is too bad that "American Gangster" did not conclude
with a stronger statement about an individual who
appears to perform good deeds, but is actually the
devil in disguise.
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"Beowulf" howls at the IMAX

Thirty three years ago, my cousin Ronnie gave me a
book titled, "Monster's Who's Who." Written by
Dulan Barber and published by Crescent Books, I was
struck by the story of Grendel, a monster who killed
twenty men a night. A heroic warrior named Beowulf
ripped Grendel's arm out of his socket and the beast
went home to his mother and died of grief. The mother
sought revenge and kidnapped Beowulf. Waking up in
her lair, Beowulf fought the “monstrous hag” and
killed her. Beowulf then brought Grendel's head back
to the great hall and mounted it as a trophy.

Despite the egghead poetry from the first epic written
1000 years Anno Domini, the narrative of "Beowulf"
had potential big screen interpretation. Besides the
two previously mentioned battles, the finale featured
a soaring battle between Beowulf and a dragon.

Given his literary adaptations of "Forest Gump,"
"Contact," and "The Polar Express," Director
Robert Zemeckis seems like a natural Director to
translate the "Beowulf" epic poem to the big screen
(a really big screen in 3 D if you see it at the IMAX
Museum of Discovery). Mixing mainstream entertainment
with philosophical depth, Zemeckis's visualization
explains why we study this English epic for over 100
years.

This rousing film opens in the Danish stronghold of
King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), a drunken glutton who
is childless with his Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright
Penn). Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his army of Geats
arrive and maim the contentious Grendel (Crispin
Glover). Beowulf then challenges Grendel's mother
(Angelina Jolie) alone in her lair.

While he remains true to the narrative facts, Zemeckis
and screen writers Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman provide
historical details and unique character motivations.
Far from being a monstrous hag, Grendel's Mother takes
on a siren quality. With Barbie Doll-like nudity,
Angelina Jolie is at her seductive best. In this
retelling of "Beowulf," one discovers that Grendel's
Mother had been seducing mankind since paradise was
lost. In fact, Grendel's mother is from the family of
Cain, the brother who slew Able in the Old Testament.

The final act features a fantastic battle between the
golden fire breathing dragon and an aged Beowulf. This
final battle is worth the price of an IMAX ticket.
Being a flying dragon, one witnesses an aerial assault
upon Mead Hall. As Beowulf attempts to protect his
damsels in distress, the golden dragon made the
audience jump with his sneaky behavior.

The final act also features an aging Beowulf showing
compassion towards his enemies. Instead of smiting
the poor defeated soldier, Beowulf gives the man some
gold with a new story to tell. At another point in
the storyline, when one follower of Beowulf
embellishes his heroism and glory, a wiser Beowulf
says, "It is too late for lies."

Queen Weathlow wears a crucifix and her staff follows
in her liege. King Hrothgar mentions that their gods
are giving way to the Roman god known as “Christ
Jesus.” As with the final frame of "Forest Gump,"
"Contact" and "Castaway," Robert Zemeckis allows
the audience to draw their own conclusion about the
meaning of "Beowulf."

While this ending may be a letdown for
some, "Beowulf" should satisfy the community of
literature majors with those seeking a good old
fashion action flick.While the film lacks the
narrative discipline of "300,"
"Beowulf" succeeds in capturing the spirit
of an oral legend that has been passed down for 1,100 years.