Monday, September 30, 2013

Jay Baruchel Stars In Fetching Cody

Jay Baruchel shines in his first starring role as a small-time drug dealer who attempts to alter the past to save his girlfriend's life.

Writer/director David Ray melds fantasy, drama, dark comedy and romance in this imaginative and compelling indie film about a young couple caught up in the street life in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia. Fetching Cody (2005) is one of those films that surprises you with its inventiveness and creativity. It starts out as a straight-forward drama, but, then, blindsides you with the fantasy element of time travel. At first, the time-travel aspect seems like a bad idea that could possibly derail the film; but, surprisingly, it ends up working really well and helps underscore the dramatic scenes. This was Ray's directorial debut, and he also penned the screenplay.

The film centers on a small-time drug dealer named Art (Jay Baruchel ), who lives in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Art's girlfriend, Cody (Sarah Lind), is a sweet, down-to-earth girl. She is also a drug addict and hooker. One night Art finds Cody lying unconscious in her apartment from a possible heroin overdose. She's placed in the intensive care unit at the local hospital where she lies in a coma, and the chances of her coming out of it don't look too promising.

Enter Art's eccentric junk-collecting friend Harvey (Jim Byrnes), who claims that a beat-up old recliner he found in a dumpster also functions as a time machine. It turns out that it actually works as a time-traveling device, and Art uses it to travel back in time in an attempt to change Cody's past, so she won't end up where she is now.

Baruchel impresses in his portrayal of Art. He imbues the role with pathos and awkward charm. He handles both the dramatic and comedic scenes quite well and proves that he can ably carry a film. And Lind delivers a quality performance as Cody.

The film also has a strong supporting cast. Some of the standouts among the supporting cast include Lucas Blaney as Cody's troubled older brother Holden; Angela Moore as the kindly Nurse Sam; and Jim Byrnes as Art's odd but wise friend Harvey.

Fetching Cody is quite a unique and inventive film. You rarely find films that mix time travel and comedy with serious themes of prostitution, teen suicide and drug abuse, but Ray somehow manages to make all these elements mesh. There are several genuinely touching dramatic moments as well as very funny ones. And Ray utilizes time travel in a very creative and interesting fashion, yielding some of the film's funniest moments. The film won the Director's Choice Award at the Sedona Film Festival in 2006, as well as the Gold Award at WorldFest Houston that same year.

(originally published at

Fetching Cody at Amazon

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Joel and Ethan Coen's O Brother, Where Art Thou?

George Clooney Stars in this Entertaining Coen Brothers Film
Three escaped convicts trek through Depression-era Mississippi to retrieve a buried fortune in this wild and entertaining comedy/adventure.

Joel and Ethan Coen bring their unique brand of filmmaking to the surreal but thoroughly entertaining Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). The film contains the duo's signature idiosyncrasy; you can't mistake it for the work of any other filmmaker. And typical of many Coens Brothers' films, O Brother, Where Art Thou? doesn't stay anchored down to one particular film genre, but rather is a mélange of genres; it's part adventure, part musical comedy, part satire, and part fantasy. The brothers shared directorial duties as well as collaborated on the screenplay, which is based on Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

The film follows three escaped convicts as the make their way through the backwoods of Mississippi during the Great Depression in 1933. It begins with the ragtag trio escaping from a prison chain gang. The de facto leader of the group is the fast-talking con Ulysses Everett McGill, adeptly played by George Clooney. Everett claims to have $1.2 million that he stole off an armored car stashed away. So the convicts set out on a quest to retrieve the money before they're tracked down by the law. Clooney fits comfortably into his role of the loquacious know-it-all Everett. A roguish backwoods scoundrel, Everett sports a Clark Gable pencil-thin moustache over a crooked smile and slicks his hair back with his ever-handy Dapper Dan hair pomade. However, underneath Everett's slippery, double-dealing facade, he's basically a decent guy.

His two companions are Pete and Delmar. Delmar (played by Tim Blake Nelson) may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he makes up for his lack of smarts with a strong sense of loyalty and a heart as big as Texas. Nelson plays Delmar with a goofy innocence and sweetness. He's the soul and backbone of the trio. And Coen Brothers regular John Turturro does a splendid job portraying Pete, a surly hillbilly who grumpily follows Everett and Delmar in their quest for the hidden loot.

During their long journey, the three fugitives encounter a slew of peculiar characters and witness some amazing sights and other bizarre occurrences. The Coens infuse many of the scenes with Magical Realism, a common feature in many of their films. There is a scene where the boys are put under a spell by three otherworldly seductresses known as sirens; the men wake up disoriented and are unable to find Pete. Delmar thinks the sirens may have turned Pete into a toad.

The group also encounter an elderly blind railroad man, who's also a prophet. He foretells what will happen to the trio later in their journey. And John Goodman plays an eye-patch-wearing Bible salesman who robs Everett and Delmar. The character has a supernatural quality about him. He doesn't quite seem human and has a very keen sense of smell, almost canine. And he also seems to possess superhuman strength, as he dispatches of Everett and Delmar without even breaking a sweat. Goodman's character is an allusion to Polyphemus the Cyclops from The Odyssey. The blind seer and the sirens were also inspired by Homer's epic poem.
Along their journey, the trio befriend a young black blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson (played by Grammy-winning blues artist and actor Chris Thomas King). The character is based on influential Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson, who, according to urban legend, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for exceptional gifts as a blues player; a similar myth was also applied to Robert Johnson, another great Delta bluesman. Tommy travels with the boys for a spell and even cuts a record with them at a radio broadcast station. The quartet dub themselves "The Soggy Bottom Boys" and receive $10 a piece for their song "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," which later goes on to become a huge hit.
In some ways this film is similar to Raising Arizona, one of the Coen's early films, as it has some of the same homespun, cracker-barrel charm and humor as well as a funny assortment of hicks and hayseeds. One of the funniest characters in the film is Mississippi Governor Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning), who is campaigning for reelection. Durning is hilarious as the cantankerous and opportunistic politician. O'Daniel's sycophantic cronies are equally funny. His character is loosely based on real-life Democratic politician W. Lee O'Daniel, who was the Governor of Texas and a U.S. senator. Stephen Root is also quite funny as the blind proprietor of the radio station.
Music plays a significant role in this film and is almost like character in itself. The are some superb musical sequences throughout the film. For instance, the musical segment of the scene where Delmar and Pete are baptized possesses great beauty. And paradoxically a scene involving the Ku Klux Klan preparing to lynch a black man is quite powerful. The ritual begins with a man singing in a very solemn and haunting fashion. The fact that the preparation for killing an innocent person is given such reference and solemnity makes the scene all the more disturbing and wrenching. Also, the scene where the singing sirens seduce the three men is fantastic. The Coens always manage to find beauty amid the absurd and hellish.
The film also boasts an amazing soundtrack. It's chock of great music that covers a wide range of styles, including bluegrass, folk, gospel, country and blues. The soundtrack took home the coveted Album of the Year award at the 2002 Grammys.

Few filmmakers would be bold enough to meld genres the way the Coen Brothers do in
O Brother, Where Art Thou? and even fewer would have the talent and vision to pull it off as skillfully. Great acting, provocative storyline, interesting characters, inspired sequences and incredible music make this film a wholly enjoyable and unique viewing experience.

(originally published at

O' Brother, Where Art Thou? At Amazon

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review of Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle

What's up folks. Welcome to Ken's Hollywood Shuffle. This is a blog about film, television and other entertainment-related topics. My inaugural blog post is a review of Robert Townsend's comedy Hollywood Shuffle, which inspired the name of this site.

Robert Townsend Pulls No Punches In Hilarious Take on Hollywood and Race

Writer/Director Robert Townsend denounces Hollywood's treatment of black actors in this uproarious comedy about an aspiring young black actor looking to catch his big break.

Hollywood Shuffle (1987) is an extremely funny and insightful look at the film industry's less-than-stellar treatment of aspiring black actors. Though the film is more than 20 years old, the issues it addresses are still very pertinent today. It's true that things are better for black actors now than they were when this film was made, but the situation is still pretty dismal. Black actors still face many of the same problems that the characters face in this film. For every Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker and Will Smith, there are hundreds of talented black actors trying to get their foot in the door who either can't find any work at all or are mainly offered stereotypical parts, such as drug dealers, street hustlers, gangbangers, pimps, junkies, convicts, thugs, the funny sidekick, etc. There still remains a very limited number of great roles for black actors in both film and television. And the situation is even worse for black actresses.

Townsend plays a struggling young actor named Bobby Taylor. While working at his dead-end job at a hot dog stand, Bobby dreams of one day becoming a famous, award-winning actor. Although Bobby is a talented actor, it's difficult for him to find any decent roles. When he goes to casting calls, he finds that most producers and directors are only offering black actors stereotypical roles, such as pimps, slaves, drug dealers, gangbangers, etc. He wonders why he's never asked to audition for the action heroes, the romantic leads, the James Bonds, or the superheroes. During his rounds to auditions, he runs across classically trained black actors who have studied their craft for many years reduced to trying out for degrading stereotypical roles.

Bobby is faced with a dilemma when he's offered the leading role in a blaxploitation-type film called Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge. Jimmy's character is a lowlife, nearly illiterate pimp/gangbanger. Bobby's grandmother and some others feel he should turn the role down as it reinforces black racist stereotypes and sends a bad message to young black kids. On the other hand, most of Bobby's actor friends think he'd be crazy to turn down the role because of the exposure it would bring him and the doors it could open for his career. They believe he should take the role no matter how degrading and stereotypical it is, as it's a starring role, and he may never get such an opportunity again. To add to his quandary, he has a ten-year-old brother who looks up to him, and he doesn't want to play a role that would influence him in a bad way.

Townsend, who collaborated on the screenplay with Keenen Ivory Wayans and Dom Irrera, no doubt drew from his own personal experiences as a struggling young black actor in Hollywood for this film. The film manages to be extremely funny while at the same time is an astute examination of racial politics in Hollywood and the compromises black actors often have to make in order succeed in the business. Townsend addresses these serious issues with large doses of humor.

Some parts of this film are flat-out hilarious. One extremely funny segment involves a spoof of "Siskel & Ebert & The Movies" called "Sneaking in the Movies" where two homies from the hood critique films in their own profane, street-slang-ridden fashion. And one of the films they review is called Attack of the Killer Pimps in which a group of zombified pimps terrorize local hookers. The visual of zombie pimps bunched up together and cold mackin' is perhaps one of the funniest sights ever committed to film.

Another hilarious segment involves Bobby playing a scene from Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge. Sporting a huge afro wig and strutting around like a demented rooster on crack, Townsend acts like he channeled every pimp, street hustler and drug dealer he's ever seen from the very worst blaxploitation flicks for his portrayal of Jivetime Jimmy. This scene alone is worth the price of admission. It even has James Brown's super-funky "The Big Payback" as Jimmy's theme song.

Hollywood Shuffle is a very impressive debut for Townsend in the director's chair. It’s a riotous and highly entertaining film. In addition, Townsend assembled a terrific cast, which includes Anne-MarieJohnson, Helen Martin, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Paul Mooney, Damon Wayans and Franklin Ajaye. However, there are a few minor problems with the film, and one is concerning the Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge segment. Although the segment was funny as all get out, it seemed a bit outdated. It played more like a '70s blaxploitation film rather than a stereotypical black film that would be made in 1987. The film also got a little preachy towards the end.

These are just minor flaws and in no way take away from the film's overall impact. What's most important is that Townsend was able to keep viewers thoroughly entertained throughout the entire film while also getting his point across.

(Originally published at

Hollywood Shuffle at Amazon