Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei

December 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Directed by Jon Watts

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the superhero action film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After 17-year-old Peter Parker has been exposed as the alter ego of Spider-Man, he enlists the help of mystical superhero Doctor Strange to make people forget this secret identity, but Doctor Strange’s spell brings several allies and enemies back from various dimensions of the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will appeal primarily to people who like nostalgia-filled superhero movies and who are fans of this movie’s star-studded cast.

Tom Holland and Alfred Molina) in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like an artist’s greatest-hits box set offered to fans who already own every album by the artist, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is best appreciated by people who’ve already seen all the previous “Spider-Man” movies. It’s filled with insider jokes that will either delight or annoy viewers, depending on how familiar they are with the cinematic Spider-Verse. Simply put: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic superhero feast for fans, but it should not be the first “Spider-Man” movie that people should see. There are too many references to other Spider-Man movies that came before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that just won’t connect very well with people who have not seen enough of the previous “Spider-Man” movies.

Fortunately for the blockbuster “Spider-Man” movie franchise (which launched with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man), most people who watch “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will have already seen at least one previous “Spider-Man” movie. Maguire also starred in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.” Andrew Garfield starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two of the reboot movies: 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Another “Spider-Man” movie reboot series began with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, starting with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and continuing with 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third “Spider-Man” movie directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the same writer/director team behind 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” There were six screenwriters (including Watts, McKenna and Sommers) for 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which was also directed by Watts. The trio of Watts, McKenna and Sommers for three consecutive “Spider-Man” movies has been beneficial to the quality of the filmmaking.

Each “Spider-Man” film that this trio has worked on truly does feel connected to each other, compared to other franchise films where different directors and writers often change the tone of the sequels, and therefore the sequels feel disconnected. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also makes several references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which Spider-Man/Peter Parker (as portrayed by Holland) was a big part of, in his alliance with the Avengers. It’s another reason why it’s better to see previous Marvel-related movies with Spider-Man in it before seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Because Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ most popular character, you’d have to be completely shut off from pop culture to not at least know a few things about Spider-Man, such as he got his agility superpowers by accidentally being bit by a radioactive spider. Just like many superheroes, Peter is an orphan: His parents died in a plane crash, so he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Even with knowledge of these basic facts about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it really is best to see all or most of the previous “Spider-Man” films, because the jokes will be funnier, and the surprises will be sweeter.

Speaking of surprises, the vast majority of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has spoiler information. However, it’s enough to give a summary of what to expect in the first 30 minutes of this 148-minute film without revealing any surprises. The beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off: Peter Parker—an intelligent and compassionate 17-year-old student who lives in New York City’s Queens borough—has been exposed as the secret alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. The culprit who exposed him was the villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s seen briefly in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in the opening scene that shows the aftermath of this exposé.

All hell breaks loose, because Mysterio has twisted things to make it look like Spider-Man is a villain, not a hero. Peter and his girlfriend MJ (played by Zendaya) are caught in the middle of a crowded New York City street when Peter’s Spider-Man identity is exposed. And the backlash is immediate. Before getting into any harmful physical danger, Spider-Man puts his superhero skills to good use by whisking himself and MJ to safety.

However, the Department of Damage Control quickly detains Peter, MJ, Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) and Peter’s aunt May Parker (played by Marisa Tomei) for questioning. And who shows up to give some legal advice? Attorney/blind superhero Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), who makes a very brief cameo. Matt says, “I don’t think any of the charges will stick. Things will get even worse. There’s still the court of public opinion.”

There’s not enough evidence to hold Peter and his loved ones in the interrogation rooms, so they go back home and ponder their next move. But how long can they stay safe, when people know where Peter lives and where he goes to school? Spider-Man has been branded as a troublemaker by certain people, such as fear-mongering journalist-turned-conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons), who no longer works as the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper. Jameson is now anchoring TheDailyPlanet.net, a 24-hour news streaming service.

However, Spider-Man is still a hero or an anti-hero to many more people. When Peter goes back to school the next day, he’s treated like a celebrity. Students surround him to take photos and videos with their phones. Faculty members fawn over him. Conceited and bullying student Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), one of Peter’s nuisances at school, tries to latch on to Peter’s newfound fame by now claiming to be Peter’s best friend. Flash has already written a tell-all memoir to cash in on Peter’s celebrity status.

Peter, MJ (whose real name is Michelle Jones) and Ned are in their last year at Midtown School of Science and Technology. They have plans to go to the prestigious Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) together after they graduate from high school. But due to their high-profile brush with the law, the three pals are worried about their chances of getting into MIT.

This hoped-for MIT enrollment becomes the motivation for Peter to go to fellow New York City-based superhero Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to ask for his help. Peter wants Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that people will forget that Peter is really Spider-Man. Doctor Strange is reluctant, but he gives in to Peter’s pleading. As Doctor Strange is casting his Spell of Forgetting, Peter interrupts several times to tell Doctor Strange to exempt some of Peter’s loved ones (such as MJ, Ned and May) from the spell.

Doctor Strange is extremely annoyed, so he cuts the spell short and is able to contain the spell’s powers in a cube-sized box. But some damage has already been done: The spell has opened the multi-verse where anyone who knows who Peter Parker can be summoned and go to the dimension where Peter is. And some of these individuals are villains from past “Spider-Man” movies. Doctor Strange gives Peter/Spider-Man the task of capturing these villains to imprison them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon that looks like a combination of a high-tech jail and a mystical crypt.

The return of some of these villains has already been announced through official publicity and marketing materials released for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” so it’s not spoiler information. These villains are:

  • Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), from 2002’s “Spider-Man”
  • Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, also known as Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), from 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”
  • Flint Marko/Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church), from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”
  • Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans), from 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”
  • Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), from 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some other surprises, some of which have already been leaked to the public, but won’t be revealed in this review. A few other non-surprise characters in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” include Doctor Strange’s portal-traveling sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong), as well as Harold “Happy” Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s loyal driver who is now taken on minder duties for Peter. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Happy and May had a fling that ended. Happy fell in love with May and wanted a more serious romance with her, so he is still nursing a broken heart about it in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The movie’s action sequences are among the most memorable in “Spider-Man” movie history, in large part because of the return of so many characters from the past. A lengthy part of the movie that takes place on the Statue of Liberty will be talked about by fans for years. Because so much of “Spider-Man” relies heavily on people knowing the history of this movie franchise to fully understand the plot developments and a lot of the dialogue, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will probably be a “love it or hate it” film.

The movie’s mid-credits scene directly correlates to the mid-credits scene for 2021’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” And the end-credits scene for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a glimpse into the world of Doctor Strange. People should know by now that movies with Marvel characters have mid-credits scenes and/or end-credits scenes that are essentially teasers for an upcoming Marvel superhero movie or TV series.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some wisecracking that seems a little too self-congratulatory, but those smug moments are balanced out with some heartfelt emotional scenes. And all the jumping around from one universe dimension to the next might be a little too confusing to viewers who are new to the Spider-Verse. Some people might accuse “Spider-Man: No Way Home” of overstuffing the movie with too much nostalgic stunt casting as gimmicks. However, die-hard fans of the franchise will be utterly thrilled by seeing these familiar characters and will be fully engaged in finding out what happens to them in this very entertaining superhero adventure.

Columbia Pictures will release “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Soul,’ starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey

December 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) in “Soul” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Soul”

Directed by Pete Docter; co-directed by Kemp Powers

Culture Representation: The animated film “Soul” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American and white, with a few Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An aspiring jazz musician has a purgatory-like experience where he fights to save his life while encountering a cynical soul that doesn’t want to be born in any body.

Culture Audience: “Soul” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in philosophical stories about the meaning of life that are wrapped in a bright and shiny package of a Disney/Pixar animated movie.

Counselor Jerry (voiced by Richard Ayoade), Counselor Jerry (voiced by Alice Braga), 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), Terry (voiced by Rachel House) and Counselor Jerry (voiced by Fortune Feimster) in “Soul” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

Pixar Animation Studios has long been the gold standard for groundbreaking and crowd-pleasing movie animation, with several Oscars and blockbuster films to prove it. Pixar launched in 1986, and was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2020 that Pixar released its first movie with an African American as the lead character. That movie is “Soul,” which does what Pixar does best: blend stunning visuals with sentimental, family-friendly messages. However, the movie isn’t quite the innovative cultural breakthrough that it’s hyped up to be.

“Soul” (directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers) follows a lot of the same thematic tropes that are in a lot of Pixar movies: Someone has to cope with death and/or find a way back home. In order to reach that goal, the protagonist encounters someone who usually has an opposite personality. For any variety of reasons, the two opposite personalities are stuck together on a journey. And they spend most of the story bickering and/or trying to learn how to work together.

In “Soul,” the main protagonist is Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged, aspiring jazz pianist in New York City who hasn’t been able to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional musician. Instead, to pay his bills, Joe has become a teacher of band music at a public middle school called M.S. 70, where almost all of the students in his class are less-than-talented at playing music. Joe isn’t particularly happy with how his life has turned out, but he hasn’t lost his passion for playing jazz. It’s a passion that almost no one else shares in his life.

Joe tells his students about the life-changing experience he had as a boy when his father took him to a nightclub to see jazz performed live for the first time. It was the first time that Joe understood the joy of turning a passion into something that can be shared with others. Joe describes to his students how he felt when he saw the jazz musicians expressing themselves in their performance: “I wanted to learn how to talk like that. That’s when I knew I was born to play.”

Joe then says to a student, “Connie knows what I mean. Right, Connie?” Connie (voiced by Cora Champommier) deadpans in response: “I’m 12.” This won’t be the last time Connie will be in the movie, since she represents whether or not Joe has made an impact on any of his students.

Joe, who is an only child, is somewhat of a disappointment to his widowed mother Libba (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), who owns a custom tailor shop. Libba has grown tired of seeing Joe in a series of dead-end, part-time jobs that don’t pay very well. Joe’s father was also an aspiring musician, but he gave up his music dreams because of the financial obligations of raising a family. Joe is a bachelor with no children, so it’s been easier for him to not feel as much pressure to get a full-time job that pays well.

One day, M.S. 70’s Principal Arroyo (voiced by Jeannie Tirado) tells Joe that the school would like to offer him a full-time job as the band teacher. However, Joe isn’t all that excited about the offer, because it means that he’ll have less time to pursue what he really wants to be: a professional musician playing in a real band. Privately, he thinks about whether or not he should accept the offer.

When Joe tells Libba about this job offer, she thinks he’s crazy not to take the offer right away. Libba reminds Joe that a full-time job comes with insurance benefits and a retirement plan, which are things that she thinks Joe needs to have now that he’s reached a certain age. Joe reluctantly agrees to take the school’s full-time job offer.

But then, something unexpected happens that changes his life when he gets a chance to become a professional musician. A former student of his named Lamont “Curley” Baker (voiced by Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, also known as Questlove) calls Joe and tells him that he’s now a drummer for the Dorothea Williams Quartet, a famous group that is in the city for a tour performance. Curley thanks Joe for his mentorship and excitedly mentions to Joe that the band’s regular pianist suddenly “skipped town” and can’t be found.

Curley says that Joe would be the perfect replacement for this pianist for the band’s show that will take place that evening at the Half Note, a popular jazz nightclub. Curley invites Joe to go to the nightclub for an audition. Curley says that if Dorothea Williams likes what she hears from Joe, then Joe could become the permanent pianist for the Dorothea Williams Quartet. Needless to say, Joe is ecstatic but also nervous.

Dorothea (voiced by Angela Bassett) is a hard-to-please taskmaster. And she’s not impressed that Joe has been working as a school teacher, because she thinks it means he isn’t talented enough to be a professional musician. But once Dorothea hears Joe play, she changes her mind and says he can perform with the band that night. She keeps cool about it and doesn’t want to lavish too much praise on Joe.

Joe is so excited about this big break that he calls people on his phone to tell them the good news, while he’s walking down various streets. Joe is so distracted that he doesn’t notice several things that could get him injured. He narrowly misses getting hit by a car when he walks into traffic. He avoids getting hurt by construction work happening on a street where he walks.

But a misfortune that Joe literally falls into is a deep and open manhole that he doesn’t notice while he’s talking on the phone. Joe wakes up in a purgatory-like environment where he finds out that he “died” from this fall. His soul and other souls (which look like ghostly blue blobs) are headed to a place called the Great Beyond, which is implied to be heaven.

However, Joe doesn’t want to accept this fate, and he runs away and tries to hide. What he really wants to do is go back to Earth, have his soul reunited with his body, and recover from his injuries in time to make it to the Dorothea Williams Quartet performance. He believes that this performance is his only shot at fulfilling his dream of becoming a professional musician.

Joe tries to hide in the purgatory, but he’s quickly discovered by spirit-like entities called counselors that look like two-dimensional, bisected figures. Several of the counselors (with male and female voices) are named Counselor Jerry. Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade voice the two Counselor Jerry characters that have the most interaction with Joe. Braga’s Counselor Jerry character is empathetic and patient. Ayoade’s Counselor Jerry character is wisecracking and neurotic. Other actors who are the voices of Counselor Jerry characters include Fortune Feimster, Wes Studi and Zenobia Shroff.

Joe finds out that he hasn’t died yet, but his body is in a “holding pattern,” and he’s in a place called the Great Before, also known as the You Seminar. It’s a place where each soul is numbered and assigned a unique personality before being sent to Earth to inhabit a body. In addition to personality traits, each soul must have a “spark,” in order to be ready to be sent to Earth. In the You Seminar, each soul is assigned a mentor to inspire that spark. (The word “spark” in the movie is another way of saying a person’s biggest passion in life.)

Joe already knows what his spark is (playing music), but through a series of events, he ends up becoming the mentor for a soul whose name/number is 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who is an especially difficult soul because she doesn’t want to be live in anybody on Earth and she wants to stay where she is. She’s very stubborn and likes to cause a lot of mischief. (Technically, 22 could be interpreted as having no gender, but since a woman was chosen to voice the character, 22 will be referred to as “she” and “her” in this review.)

Joe finds out that 22 has had several mentors who tried and failed to help 22 find her spark. The mentors include Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Marie Antoinette, Nicolaus Copernicus and Muhammad Ali. There’s a brief montage sequence that shows how 22 aggravated and disappointed all of her famous mentors. And 22 is so insufferable, cynical and bratty that even Mother Teresa ran out of patience with her.

And so, the rest of the movie is about these two souls who have different agendas and have to find a way to work together. One soul desperately wants to go back to Earth to reunite with his body, while the other soul desperately does not want to go to Earth to avoid inhabiting any body. There’s also a running joke in the film about a very nitpicky, uptight spirit named Terry (voiced by Rachel House), who works as an accountant in the purgatory and notices that a soul (Joe) is missing from the expected Great Beyond population. Terry goes on the hunt to find this missing soul.

“Soul” has a lot of metaphors not just about life after death but also about life on Earth. There’s a subplot about “lost souls” on Earth. And during Joe and 22’s time together, they encounter a soul who’s an aging hippie type named Moonwind (played by Graham Norton), who is the captain of a ship of souls.

What works very well in “Soul,” as is the case of almost every Pixar film, is how the film looks overall. When Joe describes the elation he felt the first time he discovered his passion for music, the screen lights up with an engaging vibrancy of sights and sounds. There are also some almost-psychedelic representations of what the You Seminar looks like that give “Soul” an immersive quality. The human characters look very lifelike. And it all adds up to a very memorable animated film.

“Soul” is not without flaws, however. The movie has a few plot holes that aren’t really explained. For example, there’s a scene in the movie where 22 tells Joe that souls without a body do not have the use of human senses, which is why 22 doesn’t know what it’s like to smell, taste or touch. However, it’s never explained why 22 (and other souls without bodies) have the senses of sight and hearing. Why bother saying that souls in this story cannot have human senses, when the souls can obviously see and hear?

Docter won an Oscar for the 2015 Pixar film “Inside Out,” another existential movie with a plot revolving around the concept that people are unique because of personalities and interests. “Soul” has lot of philosophies about what makes someone human and what a human being’s purpose is in life. Both movies can be enjoyed by people of different generations. However, the storyline of “Soul” is riskier and potentially more alienating.

“Soul” is not a religious movie, but it’s literally a spiritual movie. Its plot and characters are based on spiritual beliefs that when people die, their souls go to another place that can’t be seen by living humans, or souls could be stuck on Earth as “ghosts.” Therefore, what happens in “Soul” won’t have as much of an emotional impact on atheists or other people who believe that death is final and who think that there is no such thing as a soul that can leave a body.

There’s a reincarnation subplot to the “Soul” that isn’t as funny as it could have been, mainly because one of the characters is reincarnated as a cat. There have already been plenty of movies that have over-used the gimmick of a non-human animal that can talk and think like a human. The world has more than enough “talking animals” movies.

As for “Soul” being touted as a racial breakthrough in Pixar animation, the movie falls short of many expectations that Joe’s life as an African American musician would be in the movie more than it actually is. This part of Joe’s identity is only shown as “bookends,” in service of a story that’s really about how Joe can help redeem 22, so that she will want to become a fully formed person with a “spark.”

In fact, Joe’s quest to go back to becoming a living, breathing human being often takes a back seat to 22 and her shenanigans. Joe doesn’t become completely sidelined, since he’s still the main character who’s in almost every scene of the movie. But there are many moments in “Soul” where it feels like the filmmakers deliberately made 22 the scene stealer, while Joe passively reacts to whatever 22 does or wants.

These creative decisions are a bit problematic when Disney and Pixar seem to have a self-congratulatory attitude in promoting “Soul” as the first Pixar movie to celebrate African American culture. Well, it’s not exactly a celebration. It’s more of a polite acknowledgement, because for most of the movie, Joe isn’t even in his own body.

It should be noted that “Soul” was written by Docter (who is white), Powers (who is African American) and Mike Jones (who is white). The vast majority of people on the “Soul” creative team are also white, including producer Dana Murray and chief composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Jonathan “Jon” Batiste,” who is African American, did the jazz compositions for “Soul,” but not the overall music score. The music of “Soul” is perfectly fine, but it just seems a bit “off” that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to hire any of the numerous qualified African Americans to be the chief composers for this movie about an African American musician. Make of that what you will, but that’s why people say that representation matters.

And it seems like such a waste for “Soul” to not feature the singing talents of Foxx, who plays a musician but not a singer in this movie. (Foxx is a piano player in real life too.) He does a very good job in the role, as do the other “Soul” cast members. However, Joe is at times written as a sidekick to 22, when 22 should be the sidekick throughout the entire time that Joe and 22 are together. It isn’t until the last 20 minutes of “Soul” that the Joe character reclaims the spot as the central focus of the story.

“Soul” certainly meets Pixar’s high standards of a visually compelling film that tackles heavy emotional issues in an entertaining way. The movie has a lot of musing about the meaning of life and positive messages about self-acceptance. These themes in “Soul” are, for the most part, handled well for a movie whose target audience includes a lot of kids who are too young to have deep, philosophical debates. Just don’t expect “Soul” to have major representation of African American culture in the way that Pixar’s “Coco” celebrated Mexican culture.

Disney+ premiered “Soul” on December 25, 2020. The movies was released in cinemas in countries where Disney+ is not available.

Review: ‘Project Power,’ starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Colson Baker, Amy Landecker and Courtney B. Vance

August 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Project Power” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

“Project Power”

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the action thriller “Project Power” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash:  An underground drug called Power, which has the ability to give people superpowers for five minutes each time the drug is ingested, is at the center of a power struggle between criminals, cops, a man on a revenge mission and the teenage rebel enlisted to help him.

Culture Audience: “Project Power” will appeal mostly to people who like “race against time” stories that have sci-fi elements, numerous fight scenes and gory visual effects.

Dominique Fishback in “Project Power” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

How do you get a superpower? In fictional stories, there are so many ways. And in the world of the action thriller “Project Power,” getting a superpower means swallowing a capsule pill called Power that can have one of two results: give someone a superpower for five minutes or immediately kill the person who ingests it. And in the world of “Project Power,” people are each born with a superpower that they won’t know they have until they take the Power pill that will unleash the power. When the pill kills someone instantly, it’s usually a bloody and gruesome death, such as someone’s body self-exploding.

Is it worth the risk to take the Power pill? That’s a dilemma that characters in this movie, which is set in New Orleans, constantly have to face when they have access to Power. Of course, this is the type of drug that’s not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so the underground/illegal status of the pill makes it even more valuable, especially to criminals. It’s why in the beginning of the movie, New Orleans is pretty much under siege by criminals who are taking the drug to commit and get away with violent crimes.

It’s during this chaos that three people’s lives collide: Frank (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who’s secretly ingesting Power to fight criminals; Robin (played by Dominique Fishback), a feisty teenager who’s been selling Power; and Art (played by Jamie Foxx), a military veteran who likes to call himself “The Major” who’s out for revenge. (The reason for Art’s vendetta is revealed in the movie.)

Frank knows Robin because she’s the one who sells Frank his Power pills. To ensure her loyalty, he also buys her a motorcycle for her birthday. Frank’s superpower is that he’s bulletproof and can can heal quickly from any injuries.

Frank is involved in a big chase scene with a robber, and it becomes almost impossible for Frank not to hide that he’s taken a Power pill, based on the superhuman way that he was able to be immune to deadly bullets. It might only be a matter of time before Frank’s boss Captain Craine (played by Courtney B. Vance) notices that Frank has superhuman abilities on the job.

Meanwhile, Art rolls into the area from Tampa, Florida, because he’s on a revenge mission. He has to do some investigating into who is responsible for a crime that he’s avenging. He knows that the people he’s looking for are involved in dealing the Power drug. Art stops by the apartment of a lowlife named Newt (played by Colson Baker), who takes a Power pill when he figures out that Art is looking for him and there’s going to be a big fight. This showdown between Art and Newt kicks off a series of high-octane action scenes that involve a lot of mayhem, blood and destruction.

Art and Robin “cross paths” when Art kidnaps her and basically forces her to help him on his mission to find the crime lord responsible for overseeing the illegal sales of Power in the area. Why? Because Robin is a local drug dealer of Power, and Art figures that she can be easily pressured into giving up information that will lead to the higher-ups on the drug-dealing hierarchy.

When she finds out the reason why Art is hell-bent on revenge, Robin becomes more sympathetic to him and a willing ally. But Frank is after Art because he’s convinced that Art is one of the bad guys. And so, Robin is somewhat caught in the middle, and she has to decide which person she can trust more.

The two chief villains of the story are Biggie (played by Rodrigo Santoro), who’s a typical scumbag type who inevitably takes someone hostage in the movie, and Gardner (played by Amy Landecker), the type of boss who walks around in power suits and gets other people to do the dirty work. There’s nothing inherently scary or memorable about these two generic villains.

“Project Power” (directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) is the type of movie where the characters are constantly chasing after or at the mercy of something that can “get into the wrong hands.” The main reason why people will want to see “Project Power” is to see what type of superpowers that characters will get to when they take the pill. The movie is essentially a showcase for these visual effects and chase scenes.

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see an African American teenage girl have a prominent role in an action flick, when this type of role usually goes to male actors. On the other hand, “Project Power” (written by Mattson Tomlin) falls back on some over-used and negative stereotypes that African American teens in urban areas are criminals, because Robin is basically a drug dealer.

And the movie has this other tired cliché about African Americans: This teenage drug dealer is also an aspiring rapper. If this role had gone to someone who isn’t African American, it’s doubtful that the character would be a drug dealer/wannabe rapper. There’s a scene in the movie where Robin does a freestyle insult rap to a teacher who tries to discipline her.

The movie also has Robin as another African American negative stereotype: She’s the product of a financially deprived, broken home: She lives with her single mother Irene (played by Andrea Ward-Hammond), who’s struggling with an unnamed illness, and Robin has to be her caretaker. Andrea has no idea that her daughter is a drug dealer, even though it’s obvious that Robin’s minimum-wage, part-time job at a fast-food joint isn’t the reason why Robin has enough cash on her to help with the household bills.

All of these negative stereotypes would be extremely annoying if not for the fact that there is some redemption for Robin, and “Project Power” doesn’t spend a lot of time on these lazy and unimaginative clichés. What saves this movie from being a mindless set of action sequences is that Foxx and Gordon-Levitt have a push-and-pull rapport that is very entertaining to watch. Fishback also has some moments where she’s a scene-stealer.

“Project Power” also has some not-so-subtle messaging about how power (or the idea of having power) can be so addicting that people will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means risking death. There are some scenes where superpowers that are only supposed to last five minutes seem to go longer than five minutes. But most people watching this movie aren’t going to sit there and nitpick by keeping track of the length of time that the superpowers are really in effect. They just want to a lot of thrilling action scenes and at least one “freak creature” that hasn’t been seen before in a movie.

Netflix premiered “Project Power” on August 14, 2020.

Review: ‘This Is Stand-Up,’ starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Sebastian Maniscalco and D.L. Hughley

April 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

D.L. Hughley in “This Is Stand-Up” (Photo courtesy of Comedy Central)

“This Is Stand-Up”

Directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton

Culture Representation: This documentary is a compilation of interviews, performances and off-stage footage of a racially diverse group (white, African American, Latino and Asian) of well-known, mostly American stand-up comedians.

Culture Clash: The general consensus in the documentary is that being a professional stand-up comedian goes against what most people consider as having a “normal life.”

Culture Audience: “This Is Stand-Up” will appeal primarily to people who are stand-up comedy fans, even though the documentary ignores many problems (such as sexism, joke stealing and monetary rip-offs) in the business side of stand-up comedy.

Garry Shandling in “This Is Stand-Up” (Photo courtesy of Comedy Central)

“This Is Stand-Up” is kind of like the documentary equivalent of speed-dating. The movie packs in many famous stand-up comedians, who deliver a lot of personality soundbites, but ultimately there’s not a lot of depth or anything new that’s revealed for people who already know about the stand-up comedy world. Although a few of the comedians talk about their personal struggles, most just share anecdotes and advice, and the documentary doesn’t acknowledge the sexist and cutthroat side of the business.

Filmed over five years, “This Is Stand-Up” (directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton) has a “who’s who” of stand-up comedians (almost all American) who are interviewed in the documentary. They include Judd Apatow, David A. Arnold, Dave Attell, Maria Bamford, Bill Bellamy, Gina Brillon, Cocoa Brown, Cedric The Entertainer, Tommy Davidson, Mike Epps, Jamie Foxx, Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Griffin, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, D. L. Hughley, Mia Jackson, Jim Jefferies, Jessica Kirson, Bert Kreischer, Bobby Lee, Carol Leifer, George Lopez, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jay Mohr, Jim Norton, Rick Overton, Paul Provenza, Chris Rock, Bob Saget, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Owen Smith, Kira Soltanovich, Beth Stelling, Taylor Tomlinson, Theo Von and Keenen Ivory Wayans. (Noticeably missing: Dave Chappelle.)

Toogood and Lloyd are Brits who previously directed the documentary “Dying Laughing,” which had a limited theatrical release in 2017. “Dying Laughing” was an interview-only film about stand-up comedians, and featured many of the same people as in “This Is Stand-Up,” such as Seinfeld, Hart, Silverman, Rock, Shandling, Schumer and Cedric The Entertainer. “Dying Laughing” also had more international representation, since it included comedians from Canada (such as Russell Peters), the United Kingdom (Billy Connolly) and Australia (Jim Jeffries).  In “This Is Stand-Up,” Jeffries is the only non-American comedian interviewed in the movie. British comedian Ricky Gervais is shown as a guest on Norton’s SiriusXM radio show, but he’s not interviewed specifically for this movie.

Although it’s important for the documentary to include on-stage footage of the comedians, the best parts of the movie are when the comedians are shown off-stage. Stand-up comedy routines on stage can easily be accessed on the Internet, so “This Is Stand-Up” shines when it has exclusive footage of what the comedians are like in their homes or backstage. Mohr, Tomlinson and Kresicher are among those interviewed in their homes, while some of the memorable tour footage includes Maniscalco and  the “Kings of Comedy” team of Hughley, Lopez, Cedric The Entertainer and Eddie Griffin.

“This Is Stand-Up” is also a good introduction to hear some origin stories from famous comedians if you’ve never heard before how they got interested in doing stand-up comedy. (Die-hard fans of these comedians probably know these stories already, but the documentary assumes not everyone will know about these comedians’ backgrounds.) Silverman says, “When I was 3 years old, my dad taught me to swear, and he thought that was hilarious. I got crazy with power over that. I got addicted to that feeling.”

Schumer says her first introduction to performing in front of an audience and getting laughs was when she was in school plays—but she was getting laughed at for the wrong reasons. It made her angry until a teacher pointed out to her that people laughing at her performance is a good thing because laughter makes people happy.

Foxx remembers being the type of kid who was always mouthing off in class. Instead of sending him to the principal’s office, one of his teachers set aside time in class for Foxx to tell stories. According to Foxx, it was such a hit that other teachers would visit the classroom to watch him perform.

Maniscalco says that he was the opposite of the class clown. He describes himself as a shy and quiet kid who preferred to observe people. And for Rock, his first inclination to perform on stage was inspired by his grandfather, who was a reverend for their family’s church. Rock says that he saw how his grandfather was the center of attention, and it was the kind of attention that Rock wanted too.

In fact, almost all of the comedians in the documentary say in one way or another that being the center of attention is their main motivation for doing stand-up comedy, despite it being a very emotionally demanding way to make a living. Lopez comments, “What I like about comedy is that it’s given me a great life. And now, I know I’m important.”

However, it’s not a revelation that comedians are very insecure in their real lives. Most have openly admitted to being insecure and/or emotionally damaged. And many have even used their insecurities as the basis of their on-stage personas. It’s also clear from watching this documentary that most of the comedians use comedy as a way to fill a deep emotional void to make themselves feel wanted in this world.

Von (who first came to national prominence in the 2000s as a star of the MTV reality show “Road Rules”) is one of the comedians in the documentary who is followed on tour, instead of just doing an in-studio interview. He talks about his financially deprived background and unhappy childhood, which are the foundation for much of the material in his stand-up act. But he also opens up by saying that part of his motivation for doing stand-up comedy is so his mother will approve, since he says he’s never seen her laugh.

The problem with how the filmmakers deal with these stories and anecdotes is that there’s no outside verification. The documentary does not interview anyone who knew these comedians “way back when” or even people who helped give these comedians their big breaks. Everything in the film exists in the vacuum of what the comedians want to say, without including hardly any other perspectives.

One of the exceptions is when the documentary goes to the home of Kreischer and shows some of his life with his wife and two young daughters, who are all interviewed on camera. He gets visibly uncomfortable when his daughters admit that they don’t like it when he’s away on tour. Family members of the other comedians are not interviewed in this documentary.

The nature of stand-up comedy is for comedians to often exaggerate about their lives in order to be funny. “This Is Stand-Up” takes everything that these comedians say at face value and doesn’t dig much deeper. For example, several of the comedians, such as Hart and Bellamy, talk about the importance for comedians to find their unique voices and identities, but the movie doesn’t give examples of how these comedians have evolved.

Hart says, “It takes a little time to develop who you are or who you want to be. I was definitely guilty of that in the beginning of my career. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t know I could be myself.” That’s all well and good, but if we’re being honest, that’s pretty generic and vague advice.

The comedians talk a lot about how honing the craft of stand-up comedy involves a lot of practice at open-mic nights for little to no money. And getting to the level of headlining a show can sometimes take years. Comedians such as Seinfeld don’t believe there should be any shortcuts to stand-up comedy fame—people have to pay their dues on stage in front of live audiences, not in front of a mirror or on a YouTube channel.

There’s also an entire segment of the documentary devoted to how to deal with heckling and bombing on stage. Shandling talks about once being so paralyzed with humiliation after bombing from a show that he stayed in a car and couldn’t move for about 15 minutes. Rock’s advice for comedians is to resist the inclination to talk faster when being heckled and instead to slow down and take back control.

However, there’s no mention in the documentary about all the sleazy things that comedians encounter on the way to the top—the rip-offs, the unscrupulous managers/agents, or even the difficulty in getting managers or agents in the first place. And because there’s a limited number of comedy clubs in any given big city, it’s a very insular network where the venue owners and concert promoters have a lot of control.

The documentary includes a diverse mix of comedians, yet doesn’t mention a big problem in stand-up comedy: sexism against women. And the movie has an unrealistic portrayal of stand-up comedians as this “we all support each other” community. (The movie uses “The Kings of Comedy” tour as an example.)

Although there can sometimes be camaraderie among comedians, the reality is that stand-up comedy is and can be very cutthroat. This documentary doesn’t even mention the widespread problem of comedians stealing each other’s jokes. And this documentary completely ignores the bitter rivalries that happen in stand-up comedy.

Seinfeld, one of the highest-paid stand-up comedians of all time, echoes what many of the comedians say in the film: Preparing a stand-up comedy show is a lot harder than people think it is. He says, “I adore the rigorous difficulty of creating and preparing a joke.”

He also says that there are four levels of comedy: (1) Making your friends laugh; (2) Making strangers laugh; (3) Making strangers laugh and getting paid for it; and (4) Making strangers laugh, getting paid for it, and then having them talk like you after seeing your show.

The documentary also covers the issues of social commentary in stand-up comedy and “how far is too far.” When asked if any topic is off-limits in stand-up comedy, there’s a montage of comedians who say “no.” Hughley says, “I’ll never apologize for telling a joke.”

Griffin adds, “It’s always comedy’s job to speak knowledge to power about what people are upset about, because comedy has always been about the people.” He compares stand-up comedians to being the modern equivalents of court jesters.

Silverman (who’s no stranger to controversy) comments on how smartphones and social media have impacted stand-up comedy: “It’s especially daunting now, because people are recording with their stupid phones and posting stuff. There’s more at stake to failing than just in the safe walls of a comedy club. That said, you have to not care.”

Although “This Is Stand-Up” fails to address the predatory side of the business (maybe that’s why managers, agents, promoters and venue owners weren’t interviewed), at least the documentary does include the reality that stand-up comedy takes a toll on comedians’ personal lives. Depression, divorce and substance abuse are common with stand-up comedians, as these problems are in many professions that require frequent traveling. But they’re especially toxic for comedians, who are more inclined to be insecure than most other people.

Brillon comments on what stand-up comedians experience in their personal lives: “Relationships suffer—not just romantic relationships, but family relationships, because stand-up becomes the longest relationship in your life—and the most abusive. And you still love it and go back to it.”

Mohr, who’s been very open about his struggles with mental illness and drug addiction, says that for him, stand-up comedy is his greatest love and biggest addiction. Even if he wanted to stop, he says, he’s compelled to keep going: “To be a stand-up comic, you have to be completely unreasonable, unwell and unhinged.”

Haddish explains why stand-up comedians are driven to do what they do: “When you’re on stage, it’s like being next to God … Comedy is the most fantastic medicine you can imagine, not just for the audience, but for the comedian.”

“This Is Stand-Up” might not be very revealing about a lot of showbiz realities, since documentaries and biographies about several famous comedians have already uncovered the dark sides to stand-up comedy. This documentary is, as Toogood describes it in a Comedy Central press release, “a love letter” to stand-up comedians—at least the ones who are famous enough to be in this film. If you want some in-depth insight into on all the sleaze and heartaches these comedians had to go through to get to where they are now, then you’ll have to look elsewhere for those real stories.

Comedy Central premiered “This Is Stand-Up” on April 12, 2020.

2019 Toronto International Film Festival: ‘In Conversation With’ celebrities announced

August 20, 2019

TIFF logo

The following is a press release from the Toronto International Film Festival:

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival​​ unveiled its In Conversation With… slate.  Honoring five remarkable, multi-talented industry heavyweights, this year’s lineup stands out for the richness  and diversity of the experiences that these accomplished artists will share with Festival goers. TIFF audiences  will have the opportunity to hear about the fascinating careers — both in front of and behind the camera — of  Michael B. Jordan & Jamie Foxx, Antonio Banderas, Allison Janney, and Kerry Washington during intimate  onstage conversations at TIFF Bell Lightbox.    “Through our In Conversation With… series, TIFF is proud to give fans and film lovers an opportunity to connect  with and learn from the most talented artists working in film and television today,” said Christoph Straub, Lead  Programmer, In Conversation With… and Senior Manager, Adult Learning, TIFF. “This year’s lineup includes  award-winning creators who have helped shape the discourse in the entertainment industry, moving it forward  and charting new territory on the big and small screens. We are incredibly honoured to have these leaders join  us for a series of empowering and exciting conversations.”    This year’s series will also be more accessible to all audiences, as open-captioning will be offered onscreen in  real time.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5–15, 2019.    The In Conversation With… programme includes:

In Conversation With… Michael B. Jordan & Jamie Foxx 

Michael B. Jordan Jamie Foxx (Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)

Hollywood megastars Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are both at the top of their game. They first gained  fame for roles on television: Foxx with ​”In Living Color”​ in 1991 and later ​”The Jamie Foxx Show​,” and Jordan with  his heartbreaking turn as Wallace in HBO’s ​”The Wire​.” In 2013, Jordan made his major feature-film breakthrough  in Ryan Coogler’s acclaimed ​”Fruitvale Station​.” He has collaborated with Coogler on two more game-changers:  “Creed​,” their acclaimed expansion of the ​Rocky​ saga; and the mega-hit ​”Black Panther​.” In 2016 Jordan founded  his production company, Outlier Society, in order to focus on more eclectic and diverse stories and voices.  Outlier Society recently co-produced HBO Films’ Emmy-nominated adaptation of ​”Fahrenheit 451​,” which netted Jordan a Producers Guild Award. Foxx is renowned for powerful lead performances in ​”Ray​,” for which he won an  Academy Award, Michael Mann’s neo-noir ​”Collateral​,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “​Django Unchained​.” TIFF proudly  presents this conversation with two iconic artists and producers about their creative process, their desire to tell  inclusive stories, and ​”Just Mercy​,​” their highly anticipated new film premiering at the Festival.

In Conversation With… Antonio Banderas 

Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory” (Photo courtesy of El Deseo)

Antonio Banderas is a superstar of international and Hollywood cinema. An alumnus of the famed Cervantes  Theatre in Málaga, Spain, Banderas burst onto the film scene with performances in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Labyrinth of Passion”​ and ​”Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown​,” paving his way to a series of acclaimed  roles in Hollywood films directed by the likes of Jonathan Demme (​”Philadelphia”​), Neil Jordan (“​Interview with the  Vampire”​), and Robert Rodriguez (​”Desperado”​). Deftly moving between blockbuster (“The Mask of Zorro”​; the ​”Shrek” franchise) and independent films (Julie Taymor’s ​”Frida”​), and with his recent portrayal of Picasso in the National Geographic miniseries “​Genius​,” Banderas has cemented his iconic status as one of the most versatile  performers in film and television. TIFF is proud to welcome this award-winning actor, producer, director, and  humanitarian for an inspiring conversation about his career in front of and behind the camera, his numerous  philanthropic efforts, as well as his highly anticipated films at this year’s Festival: Almodóvar’s ​”Pain and Glory​,” for which he won Best Actor at Cannes, and Steven Soderbergh’s ​”The Laundromat​.”

In Conversation With… Allison Janney 

Allison Janney (Photo by Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Allison Janney swept the 2018 Awards season with an Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe Award, Critic’s  Choice Award and SAG Award for her acclaimed portrayal of Tonya Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden in “​I, Tonya​.” Janney will next be seen opposite Hugh Jackman in director Cory Finley’s upcoming film, ​”Bad Education​,” written by Mike Makowsky about the true, twist-filled conspiracy that occurred during his middle  school years in Long Island in the early 2000’s. The film will have its world premiere at this year’s Toronto  International Film Festival. Additionally, Janney stars alongside Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and Charlize Theron in Lionsgate’s “Bombshell” film directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph about the fall of  Roger Ailes at Fox News.  Janney lent her voice to MGM’s animated feature film ​The Addams Family​ with  Charlize Theron and Oscar Isaac.  She recently wrapped production for Tate Taylor’s ​”Breaking News in Yuba  County,”​ opposite Mila Kunis, Awkwafina, and Regina Hall. She has previously starred in ​”The Help,”​ based on the  best-selling novel of the same name, where the cast won ensemble awards from the Hollywood Film Awards,  SAG, National Board of Review and Broadcast Film Critics and the film was nominated for an Academy Award  for Best Picture.  She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the Independent Spirit Awards in Todd  Solondz’s film, ​”Life During Wartime​.” Janney also delivered outstanding performances in the Oscar nominated  “Juno​,” the movie version of the Tony Award winning play ​”Hairspray​,” “Girl on The Train,​” Tim Burton’s ​”Miss  Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children​,””The Hours​”and ​”American Beauty​.” On television, Janney has won seven  Emmy Awards for her work on CBS’ “​Mom​,” Showtime’s groundbreaking drama ​”Masters of Sex​,” and for her  indelible portrayal of CJ Cregg in Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed series ​”The West Wing​.”

In Conversation With… Kerry Washington 

Kerry Washington (Photo courtesy of BFA)

Award-winning actor, producer, director, and activist Kerry Washington is always charting new territory. Following a number of guest-starring roles in network television and a breakout role in ​”Save the Last Dance​,”  Washington starred opposite Jamie Foxx in ​”Ray”​ (2004), and quickly added a string of notable roles in such  acclaimed features as ​”The Last King of Scotland​,”​”Miracle of St. Anna​,” and 2012’s ​”Django Unchained​.” That same  year, she landed the lead role of Olivia Pope in Shonda Rhimes’ series ​”Scandal​,” on which Washington also went  on to work as a producer and director. When ​”Scandal”​ premiered, Washington became the first Black woman in  nearly four decades to headline a network television drama. A fearless and outspoken advocate for civil rights and liberties, she served on President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and is leading by  example, producing diverse and inclusive content for various platforms through her production company Simpson Street. In this in-depth conversation, Washington will speak about her remarkable career, the Festival  premiere of “​American​ ​Son”​ — in which she reprises her lauded role from the Broadway production — and her  highly anticipated adaptation of Celeste Ng’s ​”Little Fires Everywhere​.”

For synopses, images, and more information, see ​tiff.net/icw

Festival tickets go on sale September 2 at 10am (TIFF Member pre-sale August 31, 10am–4pm). Buy tickets  online at tiff.net, by phone at 416.599.2033 or 1.888.258.8433, or in person at a box office. See box office  locations and hours at ​tiff.net/tickets​.

TIFF prefers Visa.

Social Media:   @TIFF_NET   #TIFF19  Facebook.com/TIFF

About TIFF 

TIFF is a not-for-profit cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world  through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film  Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and  entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates  an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors  including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the  Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more  information, visit tiff.net.    TIFF is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC, L’Oréal Paris, and Visa, and Major  Supporters the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada, and the City of Toronto.

2018 BET Awards: Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B are the top winners

June 24, 2018

BET Awards

by Carla Hay

With two awards each, Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B were the top winners at the 2018 BET Awards, which took place on June 24 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Neither artist was at the award show, which was hosted by Jamie Foxx. Kendrick Lamar won the awards for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist and Best Album for “DAMN.” Cardi B won the prizes for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist and the Viewers’ Choice Award for “Bodak Yellow.”

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Anita Baker was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. Foxx, Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi and Yolanda Adams, paid tribute to Baker with a medley of her hit songs. In addition, for the first time, BET selected six individuals—James Shaw Jr., Naomi Wadler, Mamoudou Gassama, Justin Blackman, Shaun King and Anthony Borges—to be honored as Humanitarian Heroes.

Other performers included Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, Migos, Meek Mill, Janelle Monáe, H.E.R., Ella Mai, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, YG, Miguel, Jay Rock, SiR, Sly Pyper and Tye Tribbett.

Presenters included John Legend, Tyra Banks, Terry Crews, Anderson.Paak, Lakeith Stanfield, Tyler Perry, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Questlove, Wale, Markelle Fultz, Black Thought, T.I., Kevin Hart, LL Cool J, Chloe x Halle, Yvonne Orji, Bobby Brown, Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Mike Colter, Woody McClain, Jacob Latimore, Gabrielle Dennis, Tyler Perry, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg, Tika Sumpter and Omari Hardwick.

Debra Lee, former chairman/CEO of BET Networks, was given the BET Ultimate Icon Award. Lee had been with BET since 1986, until she announced her exit in May 2018.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2018 BET Awards:

*=winner

Best Female R&B/Pop Artist Award
Beyoncé*
SZA
H.E.R.
Rihanna
Kehlani

Best Male R&B/ Pop Artist Award
Bruno Mars
Chris Brown*
The Weeknd
Khalid
Daniel Caesar

Best Group Award
Migos*
A Tribe Called Quest
N.E.R.D.
Rae Sremmurd
Chloe X Halle

Best Collaboration Award
Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B – “Finesse (Remix)”
DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”*
DJ Khaled featuringJay-Z, Future & Beyoncé – “Top Off”
Cardi B featuring 21 Savage – “Bartier Cardi”
French Montana featuring Swae Lee – “Unforgettable”
Kendrick Lamar featuring Rihanna – “LOYALTY.”

Best Male Hip Hop Artist Award
Drake
Kendrick Lamar*
DJ Khaled
Jay-Z
J. Cole

Best Female Hip Hop Artist Award
Cardi B*
Nicki Minaj
Remy Ma
DeJ Loaf
Rapsody

Video of the Year Award
Drake – “God’s Plan”*
Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B – “Finesse (Remix)”
DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”
Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Migos featuring Drake – “Walk It Talk It”

Video Director of the Year Award
Benny Boom
Director X
Ava Duvernay*
Chris Brown
Dave Meyers

Best New Artist Award
SZA*
H.E.R.
Daniel Caesar
GOLDLINK
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie

Dr. Bobby Jones Best Gospel/Inspirational Award
Lecrae featuring Tori Kelly – “I’ll Find You”*
Snoop Dogg featuring B. Slade – “Words Are Few”
Ledisi & Kirk Franklin – “If You Don’t Mind”
Marvin Sapp – “Close”
Tasha Cobbs Leonard featuring Nicki Minaj – “I’m Getting Ready”

The Best International Act Award
Booba (France)
Cassper Nyovest (South Africa)
Dadju (France)
Davido (Nigeria)​*
Distruction Boyz (South Africa)
Fally Ipupa (Congo)
J Hus (U.K.)
Niska (France)
Tiwa Savage (Nigeria)
Stefflon Don (U.K.)
Stormzy (U.K.)

Best Actress Award
Tiffany Haddish*
Lupita Nyong’o
Issa Rae
Angela Bassett
Letitia Wright
Taraji P. Henson

Best Actor Award
Chadwick Boseman*
Michael B. Jordan
Donald Glover
Sterling K. Brown
Denzel Washington
Daniel Kaluuya

Young Stars Award
Yara Shahidi*
Ashton Tyler
Caleb McLaughlin
Lonnie Chavis
Marsai Martin
Miles Brown

Best Movie Award
“Black Panther”*
“Girls Trip”
“A Wrinkle in Time”
“Detroit”
“Mudbound”

Sportswoman of the Year Award
Serena Williams*
Venus Williams
Skylar Diggins-Smith
Candace Parker
Elana Meyers Taylor

Sportsman of the Year Award
Stephen Curry
LeBron James*
Kevin Durant
Dwyane Wade
Odell Beckham Jr.

Album of the Year Award
“DAMN.” – Kendrick Lamar*
“Ctrl” – SZA
“4:44” – Jay-Z
“Culture II” – Migos
“Black Panther: The Album” – Kendrick Lamar & Various Artists
“Grateful” – DJ Khaled

BET Her Award
Janelle Monae – “Django Jane”
Lizzo – “Water Me”
Mary J. Blige – “Strength of a Woman”*
Remy Ma featuring Chris Brown – “Melanin Magic (Pretty Brown)”
Chloe X Halle – “The Kids Are Alright”
Leikeli47 – “2nd Fiddle”

Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award
SZA featuring Travis Scott – “Love Galore”
Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”*
Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Drake – “God’s Plan”
Migos feat. Cardi B & Nicki Minaj – “Motor Sport”
DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”

2018 BET Awards: Jamie Foxx announced as host

May 22, 2018

BET Awards

Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx (Photo courtesy of Grey Goose)

The following is a press release from BET:

BET Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIA, VIA.B sted NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), today announced Academy Award-winning actor and Grammy award-winning musician Jamie Foxx as this year’s “BET Awards” 2018 host. Returning to the stage as host for the second time after nearly a decade, Foxx joins an A-List roster of comedians and entertainers who have lit the room, including Leslie Jones, Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, Chris Rock, Mo’Nique, Kevin Hart and Chris Tucker. This year’s broadcast celebrates 18 years of dynamic performances, groundbreaking moments, the hottest talent in the game, and entertainment’s most thought-provoking players. Most importantly, the “BET Awards” continues to tackle culturally relevant topics and conversations, setting the standard for one of the most intently unconventional, news-provoking and talked-about broadcasts. The “BET Awards” 2018 will air LIVE on Sunday, June 24 at 8 pm ET from the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, CA on BET.

An award-winning actor, musical artist, and renowned comedian, Jamie Foxx is one of Hollywood’s rare elite multi-faceted performers. Getting his start on the comedy circuit, Foxx burst into the mainstream with, “In Living Color” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.” He most recently appeared in Edgar Wright’s critically acclaimed, “Baby Driver,” alongside Ansel Elgort, and currently executive produces and hosts interactive game show, “Beat Shazam,” now in its second season. In November, Jamie will star in Lionsgate’s Robin Hood opposite Taron Egerton and Jamie Dornan. Foxx also recently wrapped production on his directorial debut, All-Star Weekend that he also wrote and stars in.

As previously announced, DJ Khaled dominates this year’s nominations with a total of 6 including ‘Video of the Year,’ two for ‘Best Collaboration,’ with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller for ‘Wild Thoughts,’ and with Jay-Z, Future and Beyoncé for ‘Top Off,’ ‘Album of the Year,’ and ‘Coca-Cola Viewer’s Choice.’ Kendrick Lamar follows with five nods including ‘Best Collaboration,’ with Rihanna for ‘Loyalty.,’ ‘Video of the Year,’ ‘Album of the Year,’ and ‘Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice.’ Other leading nominees include Migos, nominated for four awards including ‘Best Group,’ and ‘Album of the Year,” and SZA, also nominated for four awards, including ‘Best Female R&B/Pop Artist’ and ‘Best New Artist.’

BET Networks recognizes artists, entertainers, and athletes across over 19 categories with the “BET Awards” 2018 nominations. The nominations are selected by BET’s Voting Academy, which is comprised of fans and an esteemed group of entertainment professionals in the fields of television, film, music, social media, digital marketing, sports journalism, public relations, and the creative arts.

The “BET Awards” 2018 will premiere around the world on BET’s international networks. It will air in the UK on June 26th at 9:00PM BST, in Africa on June 26th at 8:00PM CAT, in France on June 26th at 9:00PM CEST and in South Korea on June 26th at 9:00PM KST. Internationally, fans in 100 countries can also stream the “BET Awards” 2018 live with BET Play, BET International’s subscription video on demand application. The iOS and Android app, which also features current and classic BET television series, documentaries, stand-up comedy and legendary musical performances, will carry a live feed of the red carpet and the Awards, and is available for download now in the iTunes and Google Play stores for $3.99 a month following a seven-day free trial.

Connie Orlando, Executive Vice-President, Head of Programming at BET will serve as Executive Producer for the “BET Awards” 2018 along with Jesse Collins, CEO of Jesse Collins Entertainment.

Jamie Foxx hosts digital talk show ‘Off Script’ for conversations with celebrities

May 4, 2018

Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx (Photo courtesy of Grey Goose)

The following is a press release from Grey Goose:

 GREY GOOSE vodka announces the launch of OFF SCRIPT, a new eight-part digital series hosted by Academy Award winner, Jamie Foxx. Set in a custom built and luxury fitted trailer, the series follows Foxx as he goes “off script” to have one-on-one conversations with A-list talent, including Jeremy Renner, Vince Vaughn, Denzel Washington, Gabrielle Union and many more. In each episode, Foxx and his guest will have a free flowing and spontaneous conversation about their lives and the iconic films that shaped their careers.

“I’m so excited to be joining the amazing OFF SCRIPT production team. I can’t wait to dive into interesting conversations about film with some of my most respected peers in the entertainment industry,” said Jamie Foxx. “What I love most about this series is that viewers are going to walk away feeling inspired by the personal stories from our guests and the movies that influenced them.”

OFF SCRIPT provides a rare peek into the captivating lives and brilliant imaginations of some of the biggest names in film. Through Foxx’s perceptive interview style, viewers will come away with an intimate understanding of their favorite actor’s creative breakthroughs and influences.

“Jamie Foxx is one of the film industry’s brightest stars with infectious charisma and charm that will capture the hearts of everyone who watches OFF SCRIPT.” said Yann Marois, Senior Vice President of GREY GOOSE vodka. “GREY GOOSE has a long history of supporting film and bringing great stories to life, and we look forward to continuing this exciting new storytelling avenue with Jamie.”

OFF SCRIPT represents the next step in a continually growing trend of iconic brands as creators. GREY GOOSE first entered this arena with the hit series “Iconoclasts,” launched in partnership with Sundance Channel. With OFF SCRIPT, GREY GOOSE is assuming a true production role with full ownership over the creation and execution of the series. A natural extension of the brand’s longstanding dedication to supporting iconic film, OFF SCRIPT is an innovative digital series that will meet consumers where they consume content. The series will spark culturally relevant conversations that galvanize audiences through subjects that are universally relatable.

The show is produced by GREY GOOSE (Iconoclasts), in partnership with JASH, a Group Nine Company (Jimmy Kimmel Live!Late Show with David Letterman), and The Sunshine Company(Gucci Chime for Change, Balmain Wonderlabs). OFF SCRIPT is digitally distributed exclusively across Oath platforms including HuffPost, Yahoo Entertainment and AOL.com, and across social platforms by Group Nine (Thrillist/NowThis). Viewers can also see the OFF SCRIPT series on www.greygooseoffscript.com. Group Nine Media acquired JASH in November 2017. Foxx is represented by CAA, LBI Entertainment, and Ziffren Brittenham.

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