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DVD Review: Secretary Is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Breakthrough Performance!

If you want to watch a dark romantic comedy rent or buy a copy of the 2002 independent film “Secretary” on DVD. Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in the lead role as Lee Holloway. Lee Holloway is a depressed, lonely, suicidal, young woman she recently was released from a mental institution. Lee feels there is a void in her life she has emotions of melancholy and despair. The movie Secretary explores the alienation young adults encounter after graduating from high school. Where does your life go after school ends? How do you find yourself? What is your true identity?

Lee is having a hard time transitioning back to the real world her parents marriage is also on the rocks. Lee is not sure if the real world is where she belongs she doesn’t feel loved. Whenever Lee is unhappy and depressed she mutilates herself with a knife because she believe she deserves to experience the feelings of bitterness and unhappiness. Lee is bored with her life and restless.

Lee meets a young man Peter he is boring and Lee isn’t really interested in him. Lee figures since she’s bored she might as well date Peter since he does give her some affection and attention. Peter doesn’t excite Lee though. Peter asks Lee to marry him and she agrees only because she feels she should. Peter seems like a nice guy but Lee keeps on wondering if they are more exciting men out there? Lee decides she wants a better life and she begins takes a typing course discovering she’s good at it. Lee decides to apply to an secretary job for an attorney Edward Grey.

James Spader’s character Mr. Grey is a recluse, he is also into S&M. Mr. Grey is attracted to Lee the feelings are mutual but Mr. Grey cannot muster the courage to tell Lee that is deeply in love with her. Mr. Grey admonishes Lee for typos and spelling errors and this turns both of them on. Mr. Grey tells Lee to assume certain S&M positions and smacks her behind. Mr. Grey is all about being the dominant man and he wants a secretary to submit to his sexual fantasies. Mr. Lee and Grey don’t have actual intercourse but they play a lot of mind games. Mr. Grey is the aggressor and Lee is in the submissive role. Some feminists are outraged at the movie Secretary because they think the movie is sexist and dehumanizing to women.

Some people might not like Secretary because the movie is extremely sexual and very frank about the issues of sexuality. Mr. Grey has a hard time connecting with women he doesn’t want to have intercourse with Lee but he is sexually aroused when she is submissive. Lee is also turned on by Mr. Grey she masturbates in her bedroom rubbing her fingers between her crotch screaming the words “I’m your secretary!”, “I’m your secretary!”. “I’m your secretary!” over and over again until she has an intense orgasm. Also after Mr. Grey yells at Lee she is turned on and she mastrubates again in the washroom stall touching herself and climaxing again.

Lee is searching for some meaning in her life. Mr. Grey is afraid he will fall in love with Lee and he fires her. Lee becomes upset puts on a wedding dress and engages in a three day hunger strike to prove to Mr. Grey she loves him. I won’t spoil the ending but Secretary is a gritty, wonderful, quirky, dark, romantic comedy.

DVD Review: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

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In the summer of 2004, John Cho and Kal penn finally made their first major breakthrough in Hollywood. Cho and Kal Penn have been working diligently for years often in secondary roles . Cho was most famous for his role in the WB sitcom “Off Centre” and “American Pie”. Kal Penn was known for his role in the teen comedy “Van Wilder.” Finally, John Cho and Kal Penn were given the opportunity to shine in the leading roles of Harold Lee and Kumar Patel in the stoner comedy “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle”.

Although “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle ” made $18 million at the box office the movie gained cult status due to DVD sales. Since the DVD sales for the first movie were huge a sequel will be released on April 25th 2008. There is more pressure on Cho and Penn because MTV wants the movie to be at least a moderate box office hit. Hollywood is slowly making progress realizing there is an audience that desires to see Asian American men as leading men in the movies. Cho and Penn certainly have the sex appeal and the talent to cross racial boundaries.

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” has received a lot of press because the leads are two young Asian American male actors. John Cho is Korean American and Kal Penn is Indian American. Harold and Kumar are also not nerds they are two intelligent, ambitious, and attractive young men. Cho and Penn definitely are eye candy and have the potential to become Hollywood superstars.

The plot is simple Harold and Kumar are two young Asian American men that are restless, sexually frustrated, and also craving some weed. Harold Lee is a junior analyst at a business firm he is hardworking but also lonely and depressed because he has no love life . Harold is an attractive man, yet he has no self esteem he doesn’t believe he is worthy of true love.

The only woman that showers Harold with attention is a young Asian American female Cindy Kim. Cindy is a student at Princeton University she is also the president of the East Asian club. Cindy is attracted to Harold and she is stereotyped in the movie as a nerd. Harold is nice to Cindy they talk a lot but he’s not interested in Cindy he fears he will have to date an Asian American woman. Harold even says Cindy calls him a “twinkie” yellow on the outside and white in the middle. I do have a problem with the Cindy Kim character why is an Asian American woman stereotyped as just a nerd?

I kind of wish the movie explored Harold’s fascination with Maria a bit more. Maria is depicted in the film as Latina but she clearly is a white hispanic. The writers of Harold &  Kumar are white males and they are promoting the racist stereotype that men of colour have an insatiable desire for just white women.  Why was Harold so against dating an Asian American woman? What was so wrong with Cindy Kim? Cindy’s kind of cute I didn’t understand what was wrong with Cindy? Is Harold interested in Maria more because she’s from a different culture?

It is easy to understand why Harold would be sexually attracted to Maria she is svelte, sexy, curves in all the right places. I wasn’t sure what to think of the character Maria? Maria hardly has any lines and she appears to just be a sex object for Harold’s sexual desires. By contrast, Cindy Kim is stereotyped as an aggressive, desperate, unattractive, nerdy, Asian student. Is the movie trying to say ambitious women are not appealing to heterosexual men? Why was Cindy Kim such a caricature? I think if Cindy Kim was less of a caricature perhaps this would have been more interesting?

Kumar Patel he is an aspiring medical student he’s a bit more outgoing than Harold and kind of is the leader. One evening after Harold returns from work he and Kumar decide to instead of eating KFC or take out they crave White Castle hamburgers. Kumar appears to be in love with no one except his desire and craving for weed. There is even a funny sequence when Kumar marries a bag of weed although I did cringe when Kumar uses scatological language to describe his “wife”.

Harold and Kumar definitely has some funny moments for instance Neil Patrick Harris plays an extreme role of himself as a womanizing heterosexual drug user. According to media reports Harris was hesitant of taking the role because he first thought the movie was going to make fun of him. The screenwriters actually wrote a role specifically for Harris. Another funny scene is Chris Meloni’s cameo “Freakshow”. “Freakshow” is a Christian man that looks like a grotesque monster out of an old Halloween movie.

Some women may not like “Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle” because the female characters really have no purpose other than being sex objects . There is also female nudity in the movie this might be a turn off for some women as well. I have read in the sequel there will be more balance there will definitely be male nudity so that’s fair. There is also some jokes in the film that may be interpreted by some as homophobia. I didn’t think the movie was homophobic at all. I think the movie was trying to demonstrate that Harold and Kumar have an intense platonic friendship some people may interpret as homoeroticism. There is a really cool scene the Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds is a male nurse. After operating on a patient Reynold’s character starts hitting on Kumar telling him he likes his “chocolate lips”. There is also another scene where Kumar is licking Harold’s face after he passes out.

I think this is perhaps the main weakness in the film. In one scene two female English foreign exchange students talk to Kumar at Princeton and tell him they wouldn’t mind smoking a joint with him. Kumar tells Harold in an explicit manner what he thinks of the two English students. Perhaps Harold and Kumar is a way to peek into the minds of heterosexual men? Harold and Kumar isn’t meant to be a serious film it is a comedy. A part of me felt conflicted watching the film some feminists will not enjoy the crude humor. The sections of the movie I did enjoy is when the film explored the issue of race, racial profiling, becoming independent, and living your own dreams.

Kal Penn, John Cho, and Neil Patrick Harris all say the movie changed their lives and careers. Harris credits the movie for launching his comeback on to television on the CBS show “How I Met Your Mother”. Kal Penn desperately wanted to audition for the male lead in Mira Nair’s “The Namesake”. Cho told Penn about “The Namesake” while filming “Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle”. Penn and Cho attempted to buy the rights to “The Namesake” but learned they were too late. Penn started an aggressive campaign to obtain Nair’s attention but this proved futile. The reason Kal Penn got an audition for “The Namesake” is because Nair’s teen son was a fan of “Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle”. John Cho credits the film for giving him the opportunity to be one of the stars in the new Star Trek film.

Harold and Kumar isn’t rocket science the chemistry between Cho and Penn makes the movie endearing. You sense that Cho and Penn genuinely like each other and get along well. The magic to the film is the fact you are rooting for Harold and Kumar not just to reach White Castle but to gain independence and start to live their lives on their own terms.

DVD Review Monster’s Ball: Is Halle Berry`s Sexually Explicit Movie Progress Or A Step Backwards For Black Women In Hollywood?

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First, let me say congratulations to Halle Berry for having a successful delivery and giving birth to a healthy baby girl. Halle must be thrilled right now she’s always wanted to have a child. I am sure Halle will be a wonderful loving and caring mother. Although, some people think I don’t like Halle Berry this is simply not true. I believe  Halle is a solid actress one of her performances was in the television film “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” for HBO.

Eighty three year old Ruby Dee, was nominated for her performance in the film “American Gangster” she didn’t win. I was shocked this was Ruby Dee’s first Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. I think it is such a disgrace that Ruby Dee wasn’t nominated for her electrifying performance in the 1961 classic film “A Raisin In The Sun.”

I started to think to myself what is Halle Berry’s appeal really all about? Obviously, Berry is a very attractive woman I’m not blind. My questions refer more about Halle Berry’s acting abilities. Halle Berry definitely takes risks in her roles more risks then other black actresses. I applaud Halle for taking challenging roles for pushing the conventional thinking about black woman. Halle Berry’s most controversial and perhaps the one she won an Oscar for was for Monster’s Ball. Halle’s acting in Monster’s Ball is superb you see the layers, the complexity the feelings of anguish, sadness, grief, regret, pain, and finally acceptance of her character’s circumstances.

I also believe Halle Berry benefited at being at the right place at the right time. Prior to winning the best actress Oscar, Berry was already the top actress of colour in Hollywood. The best actress Oscar win simply cemented Halle Berry’s A list status. The question is, will another black woman ever win best actress Oscar? Does it even matter? Should we care? Or is the bigger issue the lack of dramatic roles for black women? The Oscars appear to me to be more about politics then about the actual craft of acting.

In the year 2002, the Academy had heard for years that talented black actors weren’t winning Oscars. The Academy killed two birds with one stone giving the best actor and actress Oscars to Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. I cringe when people say this is progress. I am not so sure. Denzel’s character in “Training Day” was a crooked cop. Halle Berry’s character in Monster’s Ball comes across as a whore willing to do anything to move up the social ladder.

Some of the the criticism for Monster’s Ball, is the fact, many people believe Halle’s character Leticia Musgrove should of went to a less sexually attractive actress. I will admit seeing Halle even without make up on she still looks glamorous even though she’s not supposed to be. It makes sense that Billy Bob Thorton’s character the racist prison guard Hank would want to have sex with Leticia. Althoughm Hank is a racist he is still a red blooded man with raging hormones.

The part of Monster’s Ball I don’t believe, is how quickly Hank “falls in love” with Leticia it doesn’t make sense to me. Was it love or just lust? How can a man in middle age suddenly transform so quickly from being a racist bigot to falling in love with a black woman? Why did Hank send his racist father to the nursing home after insulting Leticia? I doubt this would occur in the real world.

After, Leticia’s husband is executed, she is struggling to pay her bills. Leticia she is forced to leave her apartment and Hank decides to help her. The question is why? What was Hank’s real motivation? I wondered why didn’t the movie explore this a bit more? Didn’t Leticia have any family or friends or any connection to the black community? Leticia appeared isolated from the black community?

Perhaps, this was the screenwriter’s true motivation the fantasy that a black woman needs to be saved by a white man in order to have a better life? The screenwriter’s real motivation also is to cheapen a black actress force her to perform in a degrading and racist sex scene for shock value. Hank doesn’t appear to me as a noble or nice man. He just looks like a racist old man that wanted to exploit a beautiful black woman since she was was vulnerable and in danger.

Heath Ledger has a small but important role in Monster’s Ball his character Sonny. Ledger’s character is a sensitive young man, he works with his father at the prison. Heath Ledger was an attractive guy he easily could of been Halle’s love interest in Monster’s Ball. I think Berry and Ledger becoming a romantic couple in this movie would of made more sense. Sonny is depressed, he feels unloved, he sleeps with prostitutes because he cannot make a connection to a woman in the mainstream world. Sonny also feels unloved by his racist father Hank. I think it would of made more sense if Heath Ledger’s character Sonny fell in love with Leticia because Sonny wasn’t a racist.

Billy Bob Thorton is simply too repugnant, unattractive, and old for the leading man role. It just didn’t seem right that Leticia would fall in love with such an unappealing old guy. Monster’s Ball would of been a more interesting movie if Sonny and Leticia fell in love because they are closer in age and Sonny appeared to to be more open about interracial romance. Sonny was just insecure and weak he followed his father Hank because he was desperate for his approval and love. Sonny wasn’t a racist. Sonny commits suicide right in front of his father Hank and his racist grandfather.

Leticia’s son also dies in a tragic accident. Next, the media and public focus shifts to the intense sex scene between Berry and Thorton. The sex scene seems to me purely for shock value a way to gain publicity for the film and it worked. I am sure millions of heterosexual men flocked to the movie theaters because they can see sex symbol Halle Berry naked in her full glory. Leticia Musgrove is reduced to the pernicious stereotype of being a whore. In Hollywood, black women are stereotyped two ways, the black woman is sterotyped as  either the maid or the whore.

The quandary is, the sex scene reduces Berry’s character Leticia to a filthy whore. Leticia screeches the famous line “make me feel good” with a sneer. I can understand why some black men were so enraged with the sex scene. The question has to be asked, does a black woman have to reduce herself in a licentious nude sex scene to win Oscar? Is this really progress?

When was the last time you saw Angelina Jolie in an intense interracial sex scene with With Smith? Can a leading black male actor have an explicit sex scene with a top white actress and win an Oscar? Can Terrence Howard have an intense sexual scene with Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts and receive critical acclaim? The answer is never because that’s never going to happen. Hollywood is all about white male dominance and white heterosexual men will never allow leading white women to have black male love interests.

Would a white actress that is considered beautiful have an intense, nude sex scene, with a black man and receive critical acclaim? Charlize Theron and Will Smith have a movie coming out this year called Hancock and according to reports there is an interracial love theme in this movie. Hancock is going to be a comedy it is not a drama. Theron is an A list white actress actress she is considered to be one of the most beautiful and talented women in Hollywood. Will Smith is A list the most powerful man in Hollywood and he is black. The question is despite Will Smith’s crossover success will Hancock be a success with the black and white audiences? How intense will the movie’s interracial theme be?

The sex scene in Monster’s Ball was meant to be fractured to be awkward, to illustrate two anguished souls smashing together for comfort. At the same time, Halle Berry’s sex appeal was exploited to lure in the male audience and create a buzz for the movie. Monster’s Ball reduces Leticia Musgrove to being a prostitute. Angela Bassett slammed the character Leticia Musgrove in a famous interview with Newsweek magazine. Bassett said she was not impressed with the character Leticia Musgrove because she believes it stereotypes black female sexuality.

The relationship between Leticia and Hank is basically a transaction it is a form of prostitution. Hank, the older white man, wants Leticia’s body because she is young and pretty. Hank will allow Leticia to live with him if she has sex with him. Since Leticia has no money, she offers her body to Hank for shelter. Hank also has a higher social status then Leticia she benefits from this as well. But where is the love? I didn’t feel that either character truly loved each other. I will give Halle Berry credit for taking on a role that despite the controversy. Berry’s acting is very strong, you really do believe Leticia is in a lot of pain. Monster’s Ball was the last big dramatic movie role for a black actress and that was over seven years ago. The paucity of leading lady roles for black women is still very rare. Think about it, when was the last time you went to a movie theater and saw a black actress in a serious dramatic piece as the leading lady?

DVD Review: My Beautiful Laundrette

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Monday afternoon my friend suggested I borrow his DVD copy of the film “My Beautiful Laundrette”. I was hesitant at first because I thought the film was going to be another classic white savior movie. I notice a theme in a lot of interracial films that the person of colour always needs empowerment from the white person. Some interracial films present the false notion that interracial relationships are fighting racism. However, some interracial relationships are based on racism because of the racist assumptions one race has about another.

Whiteness is depicted as better in many interracial movies and as superior to communities of colour. The subversive vein of racism is in order for people of colour to have better lives we need white partners.

The person of colour’s family life is often framed as originating from an oppressive culture and the European culture is presented as the only solution. White culture is depicted as open minded and perfect. “My Beautiful Laundrette”, challenges this racist notion that communities of colour are always oppressive. It is so wonderful to actually see the reverse in “My Beautiful Laundrette”.

In “My Beautiful Laundrette”, the South Asian families are actually just as prejudiced as the white British people. The  Pakistani family in the film view lower class white people as inferior and lazy unwilling to work hard to move up the social ladder. I am happy to announce that “My Beautiful Laundrette” is definitely a forward thinking kind of movie.

The film is about a young Pakistani man Omar he lives with his father on welfare in 1980s London. The movie is set in Margaret Thatcher’s England where the racial tensions between the white British community and South Asians are intense. Omar dreams of a better life. his father is an alcoholic and his mother is deceased. Omar’s uncle Nasser introduces him to a new life and his ambition grows he wants the capitalist dream of material wealth. Omar believes money will give him happiness.

Omar first starts out washing cars but persuades his Uncle Nasser to let him run his own laundrette. One evening, Omar meets up with an old friend Johnny a young white British man. Johnny is unemployed, unhappy, and homeless. Johnny hangs out with a bunch of street punks that get involved in crimes, use drugs and are disillusioned about life in London. The young white men are upset that their lives aren’t better and make South Asians the targets and scapegoats for their own unhappiness.

The South Asian community in London are working hard and to rise up the social ladder in British society. The young street punks feel left behind and have a sense of entitlement due to the fact they are British.

Omar’s  Uncle Salim he is the villain in the film he gets Omar involved in dirty deeds and is emotionally abusive to Omar. Omar persuades Johnny to help him fix up the Laundrette and gives Johnny a job. Johnny’s self esteem grows he now has a purpose in life and he is conflicted about hanging out with his punk friends that are miserable, racist, and anti social. Omar and Johnny’s feelings for each other grow and they fall in love.

The aspect of the movie I loved the most is  the gay romance is not viewed as a social problem. It is still so rare to see a movie about a South Asian gay man that is the star of the film and being gay is not a source of conflict. “My Beautiful Laundrette” just presents male homosexuality as a part of life. Omar just happens to be gay he doesn’t make a big deal about it and neither should the audience. Gordon Warnecke gives a confident and strong performance as the protagonist Omar. Daniel Day Lewis shines as Omar’s lover Johnny.

The gay romance is tame by twenty first century standards there are a few romantic kisses to illustrate Omar and Johnny are lovers. I love the fact that Omar and Johnny have intimacy to their relationship. Far too often gay movies either conceal the gay romance or are too explicit that it destroys a film. “My Beautiful Laundrette” has a balance that is so charming and cute. Omar and Johnny have a sweet tenderness to their relationship you can tell they are in love just by the way they gently hug or look intensely at each other.

I believe “My Beautiful Laundrette” is indeed superior to other so called big budget gay films that have been released in the last few years. My perspective is if “My Beautiful Laundrette” was made in North America the whole movie would of been worse to treat homosexuality as a social issue. It is simply incredible that “My Beautiful Laundrette” was released in 1985 because the movie is so current and so real.

The main themes about the movie deal with cultural clashes between the South Asian immigrants and white Anglo Saxon population, identity politics, and also class. Class is a main theme in the movie. Omar begins to rise in the class system and starts to become a bit arrogant as well.

Meanwhile, Uncle Nasser is having an affair with a white woman Rachel and his daughter Tania and his wife know about this. Tania is depressed she doesn’t want to live in a patriarchal family and she wishes she had more to do with her life.My only criticism of the film is, I think the Tania character should have more screen time.

The issue of sexism and misogyny was explored to a certain extent. I wanted to know more why Tania was so unhappy? I wished her character was more developed. I feel Tania is just a plot device in the film but maybe this was in the intention of the screenwriter.

Tania confronts Rachel at the opening of the Laundrette and Rachel dumps uncle Nasser. I think Tania is a catalyst for change in the film. Johnny’s friends attack him in the third act of the movie because they feel he is betraying them by trying to become a productive citizen. Uncle Salim is also attacked by the street punks. Tania leaves her family and moves on with her life she wants Johnny to go with her. Johnny refuses Tania’s advances and says he loves Omar and he will not leave him.

Uncle Nasser confronts his fears that his ephemeral relationship with Rachel was doomed because he is so unhappy with his marriage. Omar’s father wants Omar to attend college. Omar and Johnny make it out in the end and remain a couple. I absolutely love this fact that neither Omar or Johnny died.

I cringe every single time a gay movie is released and one of the protagonists has to die. Of course, in real life relationships don’t always work and this has to be explored on film. However, in cinema there is a predilection that gay romances are doomed because the subliminal message is gay romance is inferior to heterosexual love. I recommend “My Beautiful Laundrette” to anyone willing to give a movie a chance that deals with gay love in a funny, clever, intelligent, and serious manner.

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