— Jon Stewart to Common on “The Daily Show.” Common had starred (and won an Oscar for Best Song) in “Selma” and is now a hitman with no fucks to give in “Run All Night” against Liam Neeson.
Sean Penn jumps into Liam Neeson’s wheelhouse with the spy thriller “The Gunman,” opening today. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not an incredibly memorable one either.
Penn works as the older action hero. He’s got the physique of a man half his age. The weary-eyed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” nature works perfectly with the fact Penn has, well, seen things you people wouldn’t believe in real life.
Things like Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath first hand and Madonna first thing in the morning.
Penn’s liberal-leaning attitudes suit the plot, based on the 1981 novel “The Prone Gunman.” His character Jim Terrier is a former special ops man for “The Company” (read CIA) who assassinates a mining official in the Republic of Congo. He thought the job would make the world a better place.
It didn’t. But a lot of people made a lot of money exploiting the area after it plunged into civil war.
Terrier goes on to work as a humanitarian aid in the region — until some Really Bad Guys try to kill him. Now he has to work through a conspiracy to find out why they’re after him and what it may have to do with his past assignment.
Adding human drama to the hi-jinks is Penn’s relationship with Annie (Jasmine Trinca), the lover left behind when Terrier had to leave the country after the Congo hit. He told his best friend and co-killer Felix (Javier Bardem) to watch over her for him. Felix did his job so well he ended up in a loveless marriage with her. As expected, the conspiracy pulls in both Felix and Annie.
Idris Elba is also in the film, but if you leave to get a concession stand refill, you might miss him. His dialogue is pretty funny though.
I was rooting for Penn and company, but the film isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Penn is a believable action hero with an interesting flaw, but director Pierre Morel of “Taken” fame (which started this “older action hero” genre) doesn’t put Penn in any memorable set pieces save a flaming shower scene. There’s nothing like the church sequence in the far superior “Kingsman: Secret Service” or the club scene in the also superior older action hero movie “John Wick.”
So if you want to protest “Insurgent” and “Cinderella” by seeing a new movie this weekend, “The Gunman” won’t piss you off but it isn’t something you’ll leave excited.
I’d go so “Run All Night,” myself.
But that’s just me thinking out loud.
Incidentally, here’s the trailer for “The Gunman.”
“Empire” is one of those extremely rare shows. It stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, actors of color in the leads. It’s about the music industry. It deals with issues within a Black family. And it’s become a ratings juggernaut that has steadily gained an audience since the airing of the pilot episode. It’s already earned a second season.
For those who’ve been living under a pop culture rock since January, here’s the skinny.
“Empire” follows Lucious Lyon (Howard), head of the multi-million dollar record label Empire. He’s decided to King Lear this literal empire to his three sons after an impending public IPO deal. The reason for the sudden push: Lyon’s been diagnosed with ALS and only has three years to live.
The monkey wrench comes in the form of Cookie Lyons (Henson), Lucious’s ex-wife who did seventeen years in jail for slinging drugs. Luscious and Cookie built Empire on that drug money, and Cookie wants what’s hers.
What unfolds is an exploration of family power struggles and damned good hip hop/ R&B music that borrows from the “Dallas” and “Dynasty” playbooks but adds a flavor all its own, largely thanks to the focus on an African-American cast and the diversity that brings among the usual all-White soap opera business families.
“Empire” behind the scenes
A particularly strong theme from the African-America community is Lucious’s homophobia. It’s a topic rarely discussed, but explains why in 2008 the Blacks in California could be liberal enough to vote in Barack Obama but in the same election vote down laws supporting homosexual rights.
Son Jamal’s homosexuality complicates Lucious’s feelings for his son Jamal. For you homophobes at home, be warned that the show doesn’t shy away from showing the homosexual relationship.
Another great tip with “Empire” is we get to see places soaps rarely take us. It’s got it’s level of posh and wealth, but we also see the hood from which Cookie and Lucious escaped, as well as slumming with a low-end studio where gang activity could (and does) pop off at a moment’s notice.
You wouldn’t see Alexis Carrington in places like this (you young kids can Google her too).
Series creators Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, the team behind “The Butler,” are responsible for the high level of creativity and polish on the show. I’ll admit, this ain’t no “The Wire” or “House of Cards,” but there’s at the very least an Emmy nomination in the cards for Henson and probably even Howard.
(Side note for “Buffy” fans. Remember Jonathan the sorcerer from “Superstar?” THAT’S Danny Strong. Google it.)
And if all that isn’t enough for you, check out the list of guest talent in front of and behind the camera: Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blidge, Judd Nelson, Naomi Campbell, Derek Luke, John Singleton, Mario Van Peebles, Courtney Love, and Debbie Allen. And that list grows with “Empire’s” success.
Still one episode to go!
Tonight is the two hour season one finale. It’s a bit late for you to binge watch the preceding episodes, but I’m sure if you tune in tonight you won’t be disappointed. Expect an old-school “Dynasty”-style throw down catfight between Cookie and Anika (Grace Gealey) — Lucious’s fiance and business partner who, needles to say, is not high on Cookie’s list of people who need a place in Empire.
And did I mention the original music with production headed by Timbaland? I’m just saying. Here’s a taste.
Update: “Empire” season finale kicked ass in the numbers. Just ask Collider.
We came from a time where you needed three reliable sources to write a story. Now a waitress in a coffee shop can say something…and before you know it it’s a story around the world. As a result of that there’s a lot of anonymous thing that are said… outrageous things that are said because they’re anonymous. I think if they had to put their name on it they may think twice about what they say.
— Kevin Spacey on journalism in the fifties versus today. From the commentary for “L.A. Confidential”
In an urban fantasy world, vampires, demons, werewolves, sorcerers and other creatures of myth and magic secretly combat one another for possession of the nine Vyntari shards.
Recombining the Vyntari jewel will unleash the shadow god Yahweh.
The person who controls the jewel controls the shadow god. They can remake the world in their image — or destroy it.
Subtle manipulations erupt into cruel violence, all hidden from the eyes of those Uninitiated to this struggle.
This is the world of the “Shadowdance” saga. Continue Reading →
Thanks for your interest in the “Shadowdance” urban fantasy/ action-adventure saga. Here’s some info on where to buy the book “By Virtue Fall.”
All sagas have a beginning, and this one starts with “By Virtue Fall.” There are a variety of formats to choose from to read the story; we’ll get to those in a second. But first, let me tell you how the saga kicks off. Continue Reading →