I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Family That Preys (2008)

During the wedding reception of Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) and Andrea (Sanaa Latham), the bride reconnects with the son of the woman who paid for the nuptials. William Cartwright (Cole Hauser) tells the couple he can help them get jobs in the company. His mother, Charlotte (Kathy Bates), is the best friend of Andrea's devout Christian mom, Alice (Alfre Woodard). William looks Andrea over. He likes what he sees.

The story fast forwards four years later. Andrea is working for the Cartwrights in their finance department. Her husband also works for them as one of the construction workers. Chris wants to have his own construction business with his brother-in-law Ben (Tyler Perry). Ben is married to Andrea's sister Pam (Taraji P. Henson). Andrea is not supportive of this. In fact, she doesn't seem to be interested in anything that she does not perceive is going to push her star up. Her snotty attitude has long been a source of tension between her and her sister.

Meanwhile, William wants to have more power at the company. He is angry when Charlotte hires Abby (Robin Givens) as the COO -- a position he had his eye on. Charlotte maintains that William does not have enough experience to take on the responsibility. It is revealed that he has made a business deal without consulting Charlotte. According to Abby, the deal will mean financial problems for the company. She suggests that Charlotte sell her shares in the company to finance the deal. William sees this as his chance to grab the reins of power.

Charlotte, weary of conflict with her son, invites Alice to go on a road trip with her. While they are gone, ugly whispers about William and Andrea grow louder on the job. Things begin to fall apart when Chris discovers Andrea has a separate bank account. She makes good money, more money than her husband, but not enough for her to have put that much cash away. Where did that money come from?

The film has two different plots going on. The buddy story with the moms, and the drama plot involving their children don't necessarily mesh well together. I liked the friendship between Alice and Charlotte, and I could understand how they could have become friends. A movie could have made out of their relationship alone.

Ms. Latham plays bitchy in this one, a depature from other roles she's had. She was in Love and Basketball (2000). Ms. Henson was in Talk To Me (2007), alongside Don Cheadle. Mr. Dunbar was in "Soul Food" (2000-2004), the TV series based on the hit film. Ms. Woodard is a respected actress who has appeared in many projects including a season on the popular TV comedy/drama "Desperate Housewives". Ms. Bates is an Oscar winner for her role as a crazed fan in the movie Misery (1990).

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Motives (2004)

Emery Simms (Shemar Moore) and his wife Constance (Vivica A. Fox) appear to live a charmed life. He's a successful restaurant owner, and she is the director of a social service organization. But the opening scenes reveal that Simms is hooked up in some shady dealings. An arguement with one of his associates ends up in murder. Simms employs his long-time friend and attorney Brandon (Sean Blackmore) to cover things up -- again. Constance is not completely aware of all her husband's dirty dealings, but she knows he's up to something. She is tired of his negative publicity affecting her career.

A couple of suspicious police detectives who have it in for Simms -- Pierce (Victoria Rowell) and Morgan (Mel Jackson) step up their surveilance after Derrick Woods (Guy Torry) confronts Simms at his restaurant. Woods is the ex-boyfriend of Allannah James (Golden Brooks), a woman whom Simms enters into an affair with. Woods is not a nice guy, but then Allannah isn't all that good, either. She owes Woods some money, and he wants it back. She overstays her welcome in a college dorm where she's bunking with a student (Keisha Knight Pulliam). Simms puts Allannah up in a condo he owns, and continues to believe he's got everything in check. Things begin to spin out of control, and someone is playing somebody like a deck of cards.

Not a bad story in the film noir category. Good looking Moore (Diary of A Mad Black Woman, 2005) knows how to hide menace under a facade of charm. Torry is a comedian who also acts; he was in Poetic Justice (1993). Ms. Rowell was a cast member on the soap "The Young and the Restless" along with Moore. Ms. Fox was in Soul Food (1997). Ms. Brooks was a cast member on "Girlfriends" (2000-2007) and Mel Jackson was a regular on "Living Single"(1993-1998). Ms. Pulliam was the adorable Rudy on the sitcom "The Cosby Show" (1984-1992).

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Runaway Jury (2003)

Footage of a child's birthday party is juxtaposed with scenes of the child's dad, Jacob Woods (Dylan McDermott), arriving at his office. It is a typical Monday morning. Suddenly, gunshots boom throughout the office amid screams of the staff. Woods makes a wrong move and loses his life.

The story then picks up two years later. Celeste (Joanna Woods), Jacob's widow, has retained the services of attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman). She is suing the gun company that manufactured the weapon that the gunman used on her husband. The gun company has their lawyer, Durwood Cable (Bruce Davidson), of course. But they've also retained the services of a slick jury consultant, Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman). The gun merchants want to make sure the verdict turns out in their favor. If Celeste wins, it'll mean all gun companies will be open to being penalized when their products are used in crimes. Fitch's job is to assure the right jurors are sitting on the trail, and he's not above using trickery to make that happen.

Fitch and his staff don't have high hopes for Nicholas Easter (John Cusack), because they don't think he's going to help the gun merchants' cause. Easter is choosen anyway, and it soon becomes apparent that he planned it that way. He's working with his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who tells both Rohr and Fitch that she can swing the jury their way -- for a price. We know Rohr and Fitch's agendas. But what do Easter and Marlee hope to gain from jury tampering?

A good main cast, peppered with actors in smaller, but no less important roles, makes for a tight film that focuses on a hot button issue. Hackman has always been very good at playing underhanded, sneaky men who don't give a damn about who they bulldoze to move ahead. Hoffman plays his role as a Southern gentleman (the film takes place in New Orleans) with principles. Cusack and Weisz keep the audience guessing about their true motives up to the end.

Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") plays a jury consultant on Rohr's side. Nora Dunn ("Saturday Night Live"), Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, 1983), Bill Nunn (Do The Right Thing, 1984), and Luis Guzman (Out Of Sight, 1998), are a few of the jurors. Bruce McGill, who appears as the judge presiding over the case, was in the classic comedy Animal House (1978). Cusack, and Beals are from Illinois -- Cusack from Evanston, and Beals from Chicago. Piven was born in New York, but raised in Evanston, IL. Hackman was born in California, but was raised mostly in Danville, IL.

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