DVD REVIEW – The Last Dragon, By Sean O’Connell

“”The Last Dragon,”” Berry Gordy’s kung-fu/R&B hybrid, dared to combine two worlds that rarely mixed to create the story of yet another rarity, a black action hero.

THE MOVIE:Saturday afternoons in our house were spent in front of the television ingesting Godzilla flicks and Bruce Lee features. My desire to be as cool (or at least as fast) as the fleet-footed hero inspired approximately 11 months of karate lessons and a world of bruises. Much to my chagrin, I never did perfect the roundhouse kick, but it didn’t stop me from loving Lee’s films and the knockoffs that followed.By 1985, other kids my age (11 at the time) had already adopted their own hero: “”The Karate Kid”” himself, Daniel Larusso. But strip away his crane technique and affinity for Elisabeth Shue, and you’re still left with Ralph Macchio. Not the typical cloth heroes are cut from. No, I had someone else in mind. Someone who earned the title “”The Master,”” someone who scored with chicks like Vanity, and someone who knew about “”The Glow.”” and that person was Bruce Leroy.””The Last Dragon,”” Berry Gordy’s kung-fu/R&B hybrid, dared to combine two worlds that rarely mixed to create the story of yet another rarity, a black action hero. The film’s star, Taimak, is perfectly cast as “”Bruce”” Leroy Green, a martial arts student from the ghettos of New York City who, according to his instructor, has reached the final level. His last mission, which he must complete on his own, involves finding an unnamed “”master”” and achieving a legendary “”glow.”” Leroy set out, but his heart of filled with anxiety and trepidation.It doesn’t help that Leroy has made an enemy, a bruiser named Sho Nuff who struts his stuff as the self-proclaimed “”Shogun of Harlem.”” Apparently Mr. Nuff can’t swallow the fact that he might not be the “”baddest”” fighter in the borough, and he demands that Leroy fight him to prove his worth. Always the better man, Leroy takes the high road, choosing instead to find the “”master”” and woo the beautiful Laura Charles, a gorgeous video host with her own problems. When Charles’ problems miraculously become Sho Nuff’s problems, Leroy is drawn into a web of deceit, and the only way out for the master and his girl is through the snarling Nuff.Watching “”Last Dragon”” years later, I’m reminded just how musical it is. That should come as no surprise, as it’s produced by R&B legend Berry Gordy. While I focused on the many fight scenes as a kid, the silky smooth soundtrack, peppered with hits by Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and DeBarge, stood out this time through. Very few scenes play out without an R&B accompaniment, and it adds to the film’s flavor.I’m happy to report that, in the age of Jet Li and even Chuck Norris’ “”Walker Texas Ranger,”” the fight scenes hold up. The choreography hilariously includes several breakdancing steps, which seemed so natural at the time. And the special effects, particularly the infamous “”glow”” that surrounds the heroes, still look cool. Cheesy as all hell broke loose? Oh, no doubt. But its also giddy fun, and in some warped way, “”Dragon”” provides a window to an era (the ’80s) while honoring the films of a different decade (the ’70s) that Bruce Lee dominated.Grade: BTHE EXTRAS:We should consider it special that Columbia TriStar released “”The Last Dragon”” on DVD at all. The film itself, digitally enhanced but still a bit grainy, looks fine, and as mentioned, the special effects look decent. What’s most surprising is the director’s commentary, provided by Michael Schultz. I knew Schultz’s body of work included “”Car Wash”” and the Fat Boys’ phat jam “”Disorderlies”” (as turns out, Schultz still does a lot of TV work on David E. Kelley shows like “”Ally McBeal”” and “”Boston Public””), and I found his comments about the film’s history and impact interesting. The DVD also includes bonus trailers for CTHV releases and filmographies that explain what stars like Vanity and Taimak went on to do (which I won’t reveal here!).GRADE: B-OVERALL EXPERIENCE:As a fan, I am very excited that “”Dragon”” is out on DVD. It deserves credit for staying true to so many genres – urban comedy, kung fu kicker, R&B drama – and never losing its sense of humor. Karate fans, and Prince junkies who can’t get enough Vanity, will eat it up.FINAL GRADE: B+

DVD REVIEW – The John Singleton Collection

It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 years since John Singleton released his groundbreaking “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Maybe because it has automatically ingrained itself in the public’s mindset as the quintessential tour of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods, or because so many films since then have begged, borrowed or stolen from it, but it just seems like we’ve been talking about “”Hood”” for decades.

THE MOVIES:It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 years since John Singleton released his groundbreaking “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Maybe because it has automatically ingrained itself in the public’s mindset as the quintessential tour of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods, or because so many films since then have begged, borrowed or stolen from it, but it just seems like we’ve been talking about “”Hood”” for decades. What’s more surprising is that since then, Singleton has only completed 5 other films, and not one has made even a sliver of the impact “”Hood”” did. Not that Singleton hasn’t been working. He’s turned out a film every two years, transitioning from “”Hood”” to the musical road trip “”Poetic Justice”” and then hitting the campus in the controversial but heavy-handed “”Higher Learning.”” Now, Columbia TriStar has gathered Singleton’s three earliest works into one box set, allowing you to witness the birth of a semi-relevant filmmaker. The three films share various viewpoints, but tend to approach them from completely different angles. “”Hood,”” set in L.A.’s infamous South Central, follows several youths who work toward different ends in the ghetto. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) dreams of a better life outside of the hood, while the tough-as-steel Doughboy (Ice Cube) works with what he has, wallowing in the lucrative drug trade. For his second feature, Singleton cast Janet Jackson as the dreamy Justice, who shares a ride up the California coast with opinionated thug Lucky (the late Tupac Shakur). The two opposites attract, of course, but the relationship meets immediate hardship when they reach their destination. And in “”Higher Learning,”” Singleton takes his radical views to the birthplace of controversy, the college campus. Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Ice Cube and Michael Rapaport play freshman who receive a crash course in racism and sexuality in a charged (yet exaggerated) college environment.These films have their own messages – “”Justice”” tackles tough relationships and senseless street violence in Oakland, “”Learning”” discusses everything from segregation and racial hate crimes to sexual experimentation in school – but “”Hood,”” which practically picked you up by the short hairs and shook you around, remains the director’s most accomplished work. “”Poetic”” was ambitious, “”Learning”” convoluted. After “”Hood,”” Singleton’s work progressively slipped downhill. His films remained interesting to a point, until he released the senselessly violent and bombastic “”Shaft”” remake in 2000. Though I haven’t seen “”Baby Boy,”” early word says it too misses the mark established by “”Hood”” a decade ago. Singleton has talent and a distinct viewpoint. These films, and not his later works, prove it.Grade: B-THE EXTRAS:Considering this box set uses the “”Director’s Signature Series”” name, you’d expect special treatment from said director. Yet only two of the three films come with commentaries, and the one that’s missing is the most sough after: “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Could it be that Singleton grew tired of talking about his most celebrated film? Does he feel that everything that needs to be said has been said? Or does he just want the film to stand on its own? Considering how insightful he is on the tracks for “”Learning”” and “”Justice,”” I’d hoped he would do one for “”Boyz,”” but now such luck. In fact, save for the trailer, “”Hood”” comes with no extras. It’s disappointing. The “”Learning”” disc and the “”Justice”” disc both feature commentaries, though neither appear recorded just for this collection. They also feature trailers, bios and filmographies, but little else. For a “”Signature Series,”” this collection seems to have gotten very little help from the director. One can only assume that Singleton was busy with his recent “”Baby Boy,”” but considering how important these films are to Singleton’s reputation and legacy, you’d think he’d give them a little more attention.Visually the three films look great, having been digitally mastered. The lack of valuable extras does hurt, though.Grade: C-OVERALL EXPERIENCE:Of his 6 movies, these are Singleton’s best. In fact, the decision the leave out “”Rosewood”” and “”Shaft”” makes this collection all the more valuable. Fans of the director should be happy to pick up these decent movie on DVD, especially the fantastic “”Hood,”” but anyone hoping to learn more about Singleton and what makes him tick may have to look elsewhere.Final Grade: C

Crazy/Beautiful Film Review – By Sean O’Connell

Rich, spoiled, party girl Nicole (Kirsten Dunst) meets responsible Hispanic boy Carlos (Jay Hernandez) as she completes community service on the beaches of Santa Monica. Given his casual good looks and success on the high school football field, she’s immediately smitten. He, on the other hand, is prompted by a domineering mother tostay focused on work, school and his future at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

But eventually the natural opposites date, forging a passionate relationship that tests the patience of their parents and friends. As things heat up, Nicole’s erratic behavior clashes with Carlos’ priorities, jeopardizing the very different futures they have planned.Unlike the progressively crass and insulting teen comedies that shoot down the pipe, “”crazy/beautiful”” works wellon multiple levels. Dunst, a proven talent, finds an emotional equal in relative newcomer Hernandez, who injects a calming sense of reality into the pair’s labored coupling. What starts as a contrived interracial romance melts into an acceptably difficult bond between teens who are rightfully unfamiliar with such a level of love. One scene, where Nicole uses her finances to fund Carlos’ first flight, rings particularly true. You can almost feel the young couple’s happiness.Phil Hay’s script takes risks, daring the audience and his leads to advance one giant step further. He forces the characters he’s developed to face undeniable problems before they can ride off into the sunset. It’s a dose of reality rarely seen in teen fare. Young adults hitting theaters can do much worse this summer than swallow the lesson””crazy/beautiful”” preaches. Final Grade: B

SCARY MOVIE II – By Sean O’Connell

Last summer, the Wayans brothers snuck their witless horror spoof “”Scary Movie”” into theaters in the shadow of studio blockbusters like “”The Patriot”” and “”The Perfect Storm.”” To the dismay of analysts, critics and executives, the little comedy that could broke box office records and entertained audiences with gross out jokes that would gaga Farrelly brother.

After the first “”Scary Movie”” converted its $19M budget to a whopping $156.9M gross, Dimension Studios fell over themselves in an effort to crank out the sequel. Having skewered the teen horror genre made popular by Wes Craven’s “”Scream,”” which itself was a spoof of horror flicks, the Wayans needed a new target. They reportedlyspent months locked up in hotel rooms watching everything from “”The Exorcist”” to “”Charlie’s Angels”” in a no-holds-barred quest for material. Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris), “”Shorty”” Meeks (Marlon Wayans) and Ray Maker (Shawn Wayans) all return. It’s years after the massacre of the first movie, and the three misfits attend Thomas Jefferson University, the setup for acheap joke. Not sure whether it’s borrowing from “”The Haunting”” or “”The House on Haunted Hill,”” “”Scary II”” signs the three up for an experiment run by an underhanded professor (Tim Curry) to spend the weekend in a mysterious castle. Joined by the typical assortment of babes, boneheads and handicapped assistants, the volunteers bumble through dozens of gags that alternately work (a “”Rocky””-style fight between Faris and a black cat) and fall flat on theirfaces (a never-ending hand joke that involves the painfully unfunny Chris Elliott). Dimension’s first mistake occurred when they saddled the unfilmed production with a July 4 release date, forcing the Wayans’ to cut corners to nail the deadline. “”Scary Movie II”” opens practically one year after the original. It shows. With no hint of rhyme nor reason, the comedy skates by on an anorexic setup, transparent spoofs and dull gags. Hints of intelligence or originality that surfaced in the first film are buried under waves of vomit jokes, mounds of poop references and the haze of marijuana smoke that emits from Marlon Wayans’ character. Faris brings nothing new to her character, a bizarre blend of every horror heroine from Heather Langenkamp to Jennifer Love Hewitt. She’s the living setup for every crass joke, and she does it all with her mouth constantly ajar. It’s bizarre. Press notes list Kathleen Robertson’s character as Jamie Lee Curtisto, a funny joke despite the fact that her name is never mentioned in the actual film. The acting in general hovers around “”90210″” level, which is appropriate because the film casts the wooden Tori Spelling in a purposeless role. And James Woods, in a role reserved for Marlon Brando, completely humiliates himself. We now know why Brando bailed out with a cryptic “”illness.”” As a director, Keenan Ivory Wayans does have chops. He accurately copies the likes of John Woo, George Lucas and Alfred Hitchcock. When necessary, his camera pans and zooms like he’s directing a stylish action flick, and his pace is lively. If he can avoid tossing in a bathroom joke every 15 seconds, he might crank out a suitable follow up to “”A Low Down Dirty Shame.”” However, that might be the most we have to look forward to.Final Grade: D


THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED! Be The First To See Columbia Picture’s and Square Picture’s Final Fantasy “”The Spirits Within””. The screening will be held in Washington, DC Monday, July 9th, 2001. To qualify to win simply read the story below and register to receive our newsletter. We will notify 50 winners at Random, Friday, July 7th. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN opens in theatres on Wednesday, July 11th and is Rated PG 13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence. This contest is for Washington, DC Area residents only, or if you happen to be in the DC Area, feel free to sign up. For details read the synopsis. THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED

The StoryThis summer, fantasy becomes reality in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within emerges from its successful interactive game roots to deliver an exciting new breed of motion picture adventure. A fresh, provocative take on the sci-fi genre, the film blends spiritual underpinnings and the universal concerns of man vs. nature with the energy of the digital gaming medium and the scope of the motion picture environment.Final Fantasy game creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s vision to take the latest in computer graphic technology and the best artists in the world to create a brand new form of entertainment now comes to the big screen-a visual feast of concept, motion, design and imagination with all-new, hyperReal characters embarking on an all-new adventure.””I have always wanted to create a new form of entertainment that fuses the technical wizardry of interactive games with the sensational visual effects of motion pictures,”” says Sakaguchi. “”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within takes us one step closer to that dream.””With the flexibility of these hyperReal characters,”” Sakaguchi continues, “”it really opens up new doors and a whole new level of ideas and possibilities for feature films and entertainment.””Adds Chris Lee, one of the film’s producers, “”We have created technology to expand the envelope of what is possible for computer-generated human characters.”” Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within represents the continuing evolution of the synergy between video gaming and cinema. It is the next creative step from the trendsetting Final Fantasy game series, which has sold more than 33 million units worldwide and ranks as one of the most popular interactive game franchises of all time. Each game and the film are originated from Final Fantasy’s rich storytelling tradition and underlying themes of love, friendship, dreams, epic adventure, life and death with a spiritual backdrop. The game series is renowned for creating genuinely touching characters and relationships and for always leaving players wanting more. Each installment has started anew with fresh characters and storylines in order to present a self-contained story. “”That’s the philosophy that Sakaguchi brought to the movie as well,”” says Chris Lee.””This is the first time that a film inspired by a video game has been directed by the creator of the game, in the medium of the game,”” he continues. “”What gamers have come to love about Final Fantasy is that Sakaguchi always raises the bar in terms of the images he produces and the storylines he creates. Those are the same standards that were applied to making this movie.””This is a chance to tell a great human story with a completely different medium. Only Sakaguchi would have the vision to take what he had learned in gaming and apply it to the motion picture process,”” says Lee. Yet while capturing the kind of excitement, energy and integrity presented in the phenomenally successful game series, “”the film’s subject matter and plot appeals not just to gamers but to a wide audience of moviegoers.””Columbia Pictures and Square Pictures present Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Hironobu Sakaguchi directs from an original screenplay written by Al Reinert and Jeff Vintar. Story by Sakaguchi. Motonori Sakakibara co-directs. The film features the voices of actors Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ming-Na, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland and James Woods, among others. Sakaguchi, Jun Aida and Chris Lee are producers.The film’s creative team includes director of photography Motonori Sakakibara, animation director Andy Jones, conceptual director Tani Kunitake, character technical director Kevin Ochs, senior animator Roy Sato, VFX supervisor Remo Balcells and composer Elliot Goldenthal. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sci-fi action violence. If you are already a registered member, please drop me an email at contests@eclipsemagazine.com and let us know you want to be entered. All non-registered users, please click below to enter the contest. When you click on the link, it will take you to our member profile page, just create a profile, you will automatically be entered into the FF drawing, and placed on our newsletter list. The weekly newsletter will contain site updates, and info on other future contests.


Final Fantasy Creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, by Michelle Alexandria

Many people outside of the gaming industry have never heard the name Hironobu Sakaguchi, but many have seen or played his stunning work. As the head of video game giant Squaresoft, he has sold more than 40-million units of computer game software worldwide. He is most known for his beloved creation Final Fantasy. By any measurement possible this game series has been a huge success, selling more than 33 million units and breaking sales records worldwide.In 1991, Sakaguchi was promoted to executive vice-president of Square, where he oversees the development of all of Square’s games as well as producing other film projects. His dream of building an advanced digital studio was fully realized several years ago when Square opened the doors to their advanced studio in Honolulu-Hawaii (and hey I’m still waiting for my invitation to come and tour the place.) The early result of his labor of love is the 60 million dollar, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It took Sakaguchi, four year to research, develop, and create this movie. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sakaguchi during a quick 15-minute telephone interview. It went a little something like this.

EMLet’s start by talking about the transition of Final Fantasy from the hit video game series to the theater. What made you want to do the movie?HSThe original motive wasn’t to do a film, but to build a brand new state of the art digital production studio that could push digital technology and the Final Fantasy game series to the next level. While working on new games for the next generation of gaming systems, I decided that there was no reason that we couldn’t use this new technology to make a new kind of film.EMWhen you first started thinking about this project, it was long before the Playstation 2, X-Box, etc. became known to the general public. Did you think that gaming platforms at that time [four years ago, circa 1997] were too limited for your vision?HSNo, it was actually the opposite. I was involved in all the original conversations regarding the development of the Playstation 2. The reason I wanted to build a new, more advanced digital studio was so that we could actually maximize the full potential of the new console.EMAre you using the Mya software [the software used to create the film] in any of your current games or just for film projects?HSOf course we are using Mya in several of our game properties. We used it in the last several installments of Final Fantasy, including Final Fantasy 10 and are using it again in some upcoming titles. EMThe Final Fantasy series has always been known and loved for its totally immersive game experience. The stories have been long and involved, while the game play itself has always been stellar. It takes the average gamer at least 40 hours (or months) to complete a typical installment of Final Fantasy. How do you translate such a deep and involving experience like this to the big screen, without disappointing the fans of the series?HS Yes, as a feature film, the story and experience will be much shorter than fans of the series are used to but I do not think fans of the game will have any problem getting involved in the storyline of the film. EM With a film like Final Fantasy, you have a built in audience base. When creating a film based on a franchise you have to create a film that will appeal to a broader audience, while maintaining your base. How difficult was it to translate the film to the big screen without loosing the essence that fans of the series love?HSWell actually, the Final Fantasy game series does reach a pretty broad audience already. We have done research, and have been surprised by the findings. When were doing this film we did it with our fan base in mind.EMFinal Fantasy VII is credited with reviving the Role-Playing Game genre and expanding the entire market. When Final Fantasy VII was released, it broke numerous sales records, and sold over 2 million units in the first week. The series has gone on to sell over 33 million units worldwide. How do you explain this amazing accomplishment?HS Well for starters the RPG genre was not dead. It was always hugely popular in Japan and other parts of the world. It was only in the US where RPG’s had a hard time selling. Why the breakthrough with Final Fantasy VII? I think there was a number of reasons, for starters, it was the first RPG to move away for the flat 2D image of the past. Final Fantasy VII was truly a cinematic experience, in story, game play, and in graphic quality. Also Sony did an excellent job of marketing the title.EMWhat other projects are you working on now?HSWe have a number of projects in the works now, including finishing up Final Fantasy X for the Playstation 2, and working on Final Fantasy XI, which will be completely online. For movie projects we are having several discussions about what to do next, everything from doing sequels, to taking several of the characters from the movie and putting them into other movies that are not Final Fantasy related.EMDo you think that the realism of these characters and the advancement in computer animation will ever make live action films and actors obsolete? HSNo, I don’t think animation will ever replace live actors. I think it can enhance live action films, but never replace them.

Final Fantasy Producer Extroadinare Chris Lee, By Michelle Alexandria

Final Fantasy Producer Chris Lee has been around the blocks of Hollywood several times. Much like the director of Final Fantasy (Hironobu Sakaguchi), many people have seen his work, but not to many know his name. As a matter of fact, I had no idea who he was when I first met Chris during a private press lunch (I will not complain about the food, I will hold my tongue, it’s taking every ounce of will power not to complain about the “”food””…) at the MPAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC a few months ago. At the time the PR Reps asked me if I wanted to see a 17-minute clip of Final Fantasy and participate in a group Q and A with Chris Lee after words. Well being a fan of the game, this movie is one of my top three movies that I want to see this summer (and don’t get me started on how disappointing the summer movies have been so far), so I said sure, but who the hell was Chris Lee? The PR Agent said he’s the Producer of Final Fantasy.

I said “”Oh, ok””. So I went and looked him up in the IMDB. I didn’t see him there. I declined the one on one opportunity thinking that the group Q and A session would be good enough – not to mention it’s a lot less work, because I wouldn’t have to come up with all those brilliant, probing questions that I’m famous for. When am I going to learn not to turn down anyone? I still regret turning down the Blair Witch and South Park guys -who knew?Well during the original Q and A session (which I will post when the film opens) I found him to be a fascinating man, and quite the namedropper as well. He was so Hollywood, without being Hollywood. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was the former head of production at Columbia Pictures. Responsible for putting together such films as – “”As Good As It Gets””, “”Jerry Maguire””, “”Philadelphia””, “”My Best Friend’s Wedding””, “”Sleepless in Seattle””, “”Starship Troopers””, “”Zorro””, “”Godzilla””, and others. Ok, “”Godzilla”” was a dog of a movie, but you can’t complain about the others (well maybe “”Starship Troopers””, which I liked). But you can’t argue with the man’s track record. After “”Final Fantasy”” his next project is a “”hip”” spy movie with Antonio Banderas, and a movie adaptation of the hit television show “”S.W.A.T.”” Let’s hope they don’t screw up the theme song, like they did with “”Mission Impossible II””. Well after finding all of this background information about Chris, I told the PR Rep that I had to get him one on one. Not to seem shallow, I did want to talk with him some more after our initial encounter. It’s just that all of this “”new found”” information made him even more interesting than he already was. So recently we had a quickie little telephone chat with him, and again I found him fascinating, and he told me several things that is “”not for publication””. Let’s just say the Final Fantasy DVD will Kick Ass. EMWhen we met at the MPAA, I must be honest I had no clue who you were, other than being the producer of the movie “”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within””. Imagine my surprise when I later found out that you were the head of production at Columbia Pictures. Tell us a little bit about your stint there, what projects you worked on. Just what the heck does the head of production do anyway?CL [laughs] Well my first job was at Tri-Star pictures, where I worked for about 13 years. At Tri-Star, I started as a freelance script reader and worked my way up to become the President of Production at Tri-Star. When I was there, I became Story Editor, Production Assistant, President of Creative Affairs, etc. When Tri-Star merged with Columbia Pictures, I ended up moving over there. Through these various roles I had a chance to work on many different projects. You bring relationships and people to the studios and hopefully they’ll do well. I’ve been lucky in that the films that I worked on all did fairly well.EMScript readers are the first door or hurdle that a movie producer has to go through to get a project made and is also among the lowest end of the Hollywood ladder. As a script reader how did you know which films were going to be successful? Not only that but successful enough for you to pass the script along up to the next level in the chain and to fight for that script to be read? What in a script moves you?CLWell filmmaking is such a long process. I originally bought Final Fantasy when I was the President of Production at Tri-Star. At the time it was based on a 12-page outline. It wasn’t so much the story that I cared about it was working with the Director, and being part of such an innovative project. “”The Legend Of The Fall”” took us ten years to make, it started as a novella, went through several rewrites, etc. Harrison Ford was originally going to star in it, and it ended up being Brad Pitt. In order to be in this business you have to have passion for what you are doing and a perseverance to see a project through to completion. The challenge is reading something and knowing that it is going to be right for the market.EMWith such a long production schedule is it really hard to predict what the market will want to see?CLIt’s like I said, with such a long schedule, you are often trying to predict the audience wants to see in the future, not what they want to see now. Music is a good barometer of what future trends will be, so I follow that industry quite a bit. As a producer you cannot afford to be behind trends, you have to stay ahead of them.EMDo you think Videogames are a good barometer of future trends?CLNot the entire market, but definitely a good indicator. Four years ago when I bought “”Final Fantasy”” I also had the chance to buy “”Tomb Raider””. Which is another gaming title that I thought would make a great film. “”Tomb Raider”” I would have done differently than “”Final Fantasy””. I would have made that as a live action film because it was essentially Indiana Jones.EMThere are several Video Game franchises that are in various stages of production. What would you say are the top two or three videogame franchises that deserve the big screen treatment?CLYou know what? I don’t even know what other projects are in the pipeline. I know that I’m not doing anymore myself. I can think of a few games that I’d like to see get made, but I’m not sure if they are in the pipeline or not. The question you have to ask yourself is would the game property be enhanced at all by creating a movie out of it.EMLike Super Mario Bros?CLThat was a movie where the producers didn’t know what they wanted to do, or even why it should be a movie. A game that I would love to see made is Metal Gear Solid.EMWell there’s an obvious difference between a title like “”Super Mario Bros”” or “”Metal Gear Solid.””CLWell Metal Gear Solid is a movie even the lead character’s name is “”Snake””. People really love that game because it is so true to life. That game is a great example of true convergence. EMHow far do you think this convergence will go?CLOne of the interesting things about Final Fantasy is that while we were making this game, we were also creating a version to play on the Playstation 2. It won’t be so much as a game, but you will be able to rearrange the movie into any format you want, in essence become your own director. The DVD movie will have it’s own separate features, like multiple angles, editing ability, and some other enhancements as well. Hollywood is always trying to figure out what the next ancillary market you can get out of a movie. It’s funny that this movie started as a game franchise, became a movie, and is going back to being a game.EMWhere you thinking of these markets as you were creating this movie?CLYes. When you are doing a film like this, it is only natural to think about what other mediums you can port it to. With a property like “”Jerry McGuire there is but so much you can do with it. When doing a big action movie or franchisable film like Final Fantasy you are always thinking about the next possibility. For instance Sakaguchi is thinking about taking Aki Ross [the lead character] and putting her in another film.EMHow exactly would that work? Put her in a totally different animated film? Or use a mix like “”Who Framed Roger Rabbit?””CLWell since this has never been done, we haven’t figure out exactly how that is going to work, but it’s really matter “”casting”” her in the right movie.EMWhat can you tell me about your latest project, the one with the cool theme song?CLWhat project?EMS.W.A.T.CLWell, we are waiting for the script it’ll be young, hip, and fun. Other than that there’s not much I can say about the project.EMWell what else are you working on?CLWell I’m working on a new action film, starring Antonio Banderas for Warner Brothers. It’s going to be a cool, hip, spy film, written by the same guy who did “”The Fast and Furious””. It’s called ECK X and it’s already becoming a video game.EMHow did you come up with such a goofy name?CLWell the writer did, it’s the name of the character.EMWhat’s it about?CLIt’s kind of a hip spy movie that is a cross between Desperado or “”The Professional”” but a little more high tech. It’s sort of a spy vs. spy situation until they find out that they have a common enemy. I was shocked when I looked at Next Gen [popular videogame mag] and saw that it was already being made into a videogame.EMWell there you go, you already have your very own MGS, your Solid Snake. What did you think of the Tomb Raider movie?CLI’ve been so busy working on Final Fantasy that I haven’t had time to go see it.EMWhere you disappointed to see the numbers it pulled?CLWhat did it pull?EMAbout $80 million.CL[laughs] Well $80 million dollars is a great number in my book.EMDo you think that mainstream critics will understand what this film is about? What has the critical and audience response been to the movie so far?CLIt’s been largely positive. I think it’ll appeal to a large audience

James Taylor – Still Packing Them In, by Tiffany N D’Emidio

Playing to a packed house last night at the Nissan Pavilion, the 53 year old singer /songwriter started his first set guitar in hand and backed by his talented band. Unfortunately, I missed the opening number due to long lines at the will call desk but as I walked to my seat under the pavilion, I heard echo’s of a song that I grew up listening to and a smile crossed my face. A comforting feeling rushed over me and I felt relaxed and at home.

The first set was a mix of a few James Taylor standards such as “”Mexico”” along with many songs from an up coming album. The crowd was fairly laid back, screaming out names of standard tunes they would like to hear next. In his typically playful manner he even held up the play list to let everyone know the order in which their favorite songs would appear.

Then he proceeded to tell everyone the unusual inspiration behind the creation of the song “”The Frozen Man””. Apparently he became inspired by a story he was reading in the National Geographic magazine about an expedition to the arctic whose remains were discovered and photographed for the magazine. Joking around about taking a 20 minute break for a corn dog run, James and his band closed out the first set with “”Steamroller””.At the start of the second set James entered the stage alone with his guitar and began to play an acoustic version of my favorite song “”Carolina In My Mind””. He was soon joined by the rest of the band to finish out the show with such classic hits as “”You’ve Got a Friend””, “”How Sweet It Is””, “”Fire and Rain””, and “”Shower The People””.James Taylor is an amazing musician whose live performance is captivating and playful with a hint of nostalgia for those of us who can recall a specific moment in our lives whenever we hear one of his melodies.If you haven’t seen him perform live do so and soon!JAMES TAYLOR TOUR DATES as of 4/3/011-Jun W. Palm Beach, FL Mars Music Amphitheater
2-Jun Tampa, FL Ice Palace
4-Jun Atlanta, GA Chastain Park
5-Jun Atlanta, GA Chastain Park
8-Jun Charlotte, NC Blockbuster Pavillion
9-Jun Raleigh, NC Alltel Pavillion
11-Jun Baltimore, MD Merriweather Post
12-Jun Virginia Beach, VA Verizon Virginia Beach
14-Jun New York, NY Theatre at Madison Square Garden
15-Jun New York, NY Theatre at Madison Square Garden
17-Jun Bristow, VA Nissan Pavillion
29-Jun Boston, MA Tweeter Center
30-Jun Boston, MA Tweeter Center
3-Jul Lennox, MA Tanglewood
4-Jul Lennox, MA Tangelwood
6-Jul Holmdel, NJ PNC Arts Center
7-Jul Holmdel, NJ PNC Arts Center
8-Jul Saratoga, NY SPAC
11-Jul Hershey, PA Hershey Stadium
13-Jul Jones Beach, NY Jones Beach Amphitheatre
14-Jul Jones Beach, NY Jones Beach Amphitheatre
20-Jul Camden, NJ Tweeter Center
21-Jul Darien Lake, NY Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
23-Jul Detroit, MI DTE Energy Music Center (Pine Knob)
24-Jul Cleveland, OH Blossom Music Center
26-Jul Pittsburgh, PA Post Gazette Pavillion
28-Jul Columbus, OH Polaris Amphitheatre
29-Jul Grand Rapids, MI Van Andel Arena
31-Jul Cininnati, OH Riverbend Music Center
1-Aug Indianapolis, IN Verizon Wireless Music Center (Deer Creek)
3-Aug Chicago, IL Rosemont Theatre
4-Aug Chicago, IL Rosemont Theatre

Baby Boy’s Taraji Henson, On The Cusp of Fame. By Michelle Alexandria

Actress Taraji Henson has done it all and seen it all. This hot young star grew up in “”the hood”” as she calls it. We Washingtonians like to think of it has plain old Southeast, Washington, DC. One of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, at one point known for having the highest number of murders per capita than any other neighborhood in the country. Not a pleasant distinction to have. Although she grew up around rough surroundings, her parents made sure that she got out and experienced life. She spent many summers in the country with her grandparents, and attended and graduated from Howard University. With her outstanding work in acclaimed director, John Singleton’s newest film, “”Baby Boy””, ready to break down the doors of Hollywood. One cannot help but get caught up in her unbridled enthusiam and optimism.

EMTaraji. How did you get involved in this project?TarajiI went in and auditioned for it just like everyone else did. Because John was looking for new faces, it was basically like a cattle call. I went and read for John and the casting director told me that he really liked my work. Right after that he went into production on “”Shaft””, so I didn’t here from him until a year later.EMDid you study acting or was working before you went in for this audition?TarajiYeah, I did a lot of television. I’m professionally trained and can do it all. I do Greek Tragedy, Comedy’s, Shakespeare, anything. You name it I can do it.EMHas this movie opened doors for you?TarajiThis town is all smoke and mirrors. It’s not really going to have an affect on my career until the movie actually comes out. There’s a really good buzz going on about me right now, but most people will wait until they see how well the movie does at the box office. Everything in Hollywood is about the bottom line, money. I mean they are impressed by the fact that I’m in a John Singleton film, but it boils down to the dollars. EMWhere did you get the emotional strength to do that character?Taraji [laughs]My past. I just lifted up that old carpet and looked at the dust that I had swept under there. EMSo you’ve had yourself a Jody?TarajiOh my god, more than I care to remember. No more though, I’m over the Jodys EMAs a filmgoer, you know we like things to be in black and white. One of the things I was trying to figure out during the film was – is Jodie a good guy, a bad guy who gets redeemed in the end, or what?TarajiHe’s just a guy, a guy who is trying to find his way. I think, my character A.J. said it best, “”Sometimes as people we always want answers in black or white, we don’t want to deal with the gray. That’s where we learn our lessons in life – in the gray and you have to be willing to live in the gray.”” You have to not know what the future brings. I can walk out of here today and get hit by a bus tomorrow, you have to start living your life now.EMDo you think that so many black women, and really women in general are single now, because we do not want to deal with the gray?TarajiI think that has a lot to do with it. A lot of problems in black relationships is that we like to point the finger at each other instead of taking personal responsibility for our own actions. If you know you are in a relationship with a mamma’s boy, why are you taking care of him? Why are being his mother?EMAs young girls we are told that you should watch how a man treats his mother, because that’s how he’ll treat you. Is there a fine line?TarajiMost definitely, I’ll tell you one thing my son will not be a mamma’s boy. I think a lot of times as women we are told so much that a man will be unfaithful to you, after hearing that so many times you start to accept it. I’m not buying that. I think that if I can be faithful – so can he.EMHow close are you to your character?TarajiI’m a spitfire. There’s no doubt about that, but I can communicate. If I say I hate you, then I hate you, there’s no two ways about it. I’m not saying that I love you or any of that stuff. EMDo you find that all of your different experiences help you bring more to your characters?TarajiThe more you live the more seasoned you are in life helps you bring your characters to life. Acting is nothing more than the experiences that make up your life.EMWhat has the experience been like working on this film?TarajiAmazing. At first I was so intimidated, running around like a scared chicken. I remember when John, first called me. I was so nervous, I mean John has accomplished so much and here he is calling me personally, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking and I kept accidentally hanging up the phone. EMNow that you have the cache of having worked with John Singleton, what projects are you working on now?TarajiNothing, I’m just waiting for the film to come out. When it blows up, I’m sure the phone will start ringing off the hook.

John Singleton, Older, Wiser, more Reflective Director. An Exclusive One on One

At the age of 24, the youngest individual and the first African American ever to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, John Singleton made movie history with Boyz ‘N the Hood, his astonishing 1991 directorial debut. An intensely personal portrait of life and death in South Central L.A. that was inspired by the director’s own experiences, the film earned Singleton comparisons to past wunderkind Orson Wells and heralded him as one of Hollywood’s most important new directors. John followed up his amazing success with “”Boyz ‘N The Hood””, with other personal films like Poetic Justice which featured the film debut of Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, Higher Learning, and Rosewood. Last year John went mainstream with the smash remake of “”Shaft”” which starred Samuel L. Jackson. With his latest film, Columbia Picture’s “”Baby Boy””, John returns to his “”Boyz N The Hood”” roots with this intensely personal drama about a black man’s struggle to find his way in life.

Over the years John has been credited with discovering new talents like Cuba Gooding, Jr., Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, and igniting the careers of stars like Lawrence Fishburne and Ving Rhames. He hopes to have the same midis touch with his latest finds, R & B star Tyrese Gibson and Taraji Henson. We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with John and his newest prot

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