Must See Film of the Day! Buster Keaton’s THE SCARECROW

Must See Film of the Day! Buster Keaton’s THE SCARECROW

Don’t like comedies? Don’t like Silent Films? Don’t worry.

Take 20+ minutes out of your day and watch this amazing Buster Keaton short… for free!

You’ll be glad you did and you can thank me later. Just imaginative and fun and funny. Grade:B+/A-.

View it here!

Film Review of THE INHERITANCE and a discussion of the legacy of Jim Crow Cinema!

I just came back from viewing THE INHERITANCE, the feature film debut of Robert O’Hara, it is a horror film about 5 cousins, their inheritance, and… the elders.

The first thing that struck me about the film was the quite impressive poster, the 2nd thing was that it was a film by children of the Diaspora, a Black film, a Nubian film, and the third and deciding thing that had me travel 2 hours each way to see this film, was the type of Black film it was; it wasn’t a mama drama, it wasn’t a lowest common denominator comedy, it wasn’t a complaint film, it was a straight up horror film, a genre film.

And if we accept the defacto standard of Hollywood as a producer of ‘white’ films, (No he didn’t just say that! How dare him! …. :) Yep I said it! ) I find it incredibly liberating when a film tries to work outside those White messages, and Black stereotypes, and supposed acceptable Black genres.

And whether labeled as a White film or not (Oh my God! He said it again! How dare him!) most Hollywood films have that unspoken truth embedded in their DNA.

And in terms of not seeing labeling such as a WHITE PEOPLE magazine or a WHITE DISNEY movie, or a WHITE FOX news or a WHITE POWER KFC chain (look up the past and present of KFC, you’ll see that appellation is definitely apt :)) , these appellations are avoided not for any noble reasons, but only for reasons of being able to generate revenue from the largest broadest audience, and to avoid the undesired consequence such acknowledgment of the skewed power structure of mass-media (and by extrapolation American life) may engender… such as a return to 20s and 60s/70s type civil disobedience (that only really became frightening to the power structure when these young upstarts began thinking in terms of economic disobedience) seen in film with a push toward Black owned Studios and Stuntmen Associations and Local Theaters.

If the 60s taught the power structure of America anything it was that the concept of separate and unequal left too much money on the table (Black Newspapers, Black farms, Black Radio shows, Black unions, Black controlled schools, Black Clothing companies, Black owned clinics, Black owned transportation companies, Black owned venues), that instead the concept of together and unequal, the illusion of integration and equality, is where true financial dominance lies. So Hollywood films with crushingly few exceptions are exactly that… white films.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

Films primarily with a white director, written from a white perspective, written to project and enforce a white ideal, or embed, define a stereotype for those who are not White. They are films written primarily to play into the power structure, the world view of a white audience, or to… whiten their audience, and ultimately films that put dollars primarily into White hands. even to the point of films that have Black faces in them, only as a means of delivering white messages and reinforcing black stereotypes.

Now do I think filmmakers come at film in such simplistic color-coded terms, no I do not. I think filmmakers as a whole, are a humanistic and holistic bunch, and see the world far less simplistically and moronically than that, far more humanistically and perhaps even nobly than those who do not think in cinematic language, but filmmakers too often have to work as cogs within a structure that does want the formula and the stereotype. Film is more marketing, and I do feel films are marketed and manipulated with an unhealthy amount of color-coded bias.

So it’s important to understand the underlying structure of film, and the traps inherent, and to have films generated that attempt to transcend that structure. And there is no better way to do this, than with genre films.

Genre film, is the life blood of film, John Woo’s THE KILLER, Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST, JJ Abrams STAR TREK, Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS are films that are bankable all around the world, because they deal with iconic concepts, that are about universal pulls we can all relate to of sex, or fear, or violence, or courage. And I think too often films, so-called Black films (which more often than not, when you follow the money, are not Black films They have Black faces, but white messages), are relegated to the basest, and lowest, and most petty talk show common denominator when it comes to cinema of today.

And I think this point merits some discussion prior to getting into the film review proper.

The films of the 70s were not Black Exploitation or Blaxploitation, back then those films employed Black directors, employed Black actors in droves, opened up the door to Black composers, cinematographers, stuntmen, producers, and made money in Black owned theaters, and often were brilliant, uplifting, exciting, challenging and influential such as THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, TROUBLE MAN, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, GORDON’S WAR, MELINDA to name a few.

So in the 70s, the Black community was generating an influx of dollars from those films. Compare that to today when rarely are people in front or behind the camera colored, and there are no Black owned theaters (Magic Johnson’s theaters are a franchise, those are Sony’s Theaters, like too many people of color, they buy into another man’s wealth, rather than defining their own, same as with BET) and given those facts you can clearly see, that the true age of Black Exploitation is not yesterday, but today.

So given today’s cinema of exploitation, it is really a great thing when a DEVIL WITH THE BLUE DRESS hits the theaters or an EVE’S BAYOU or a CAPPUCCINO, films that tread that landscape of the iconic and the fantastic and the experimental. Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, all countries making films that do gangbusters on the world stage, because they make brilliant genre films, be it horror, thriller, scifi, Action/Martial Arts that give the audience those universals of iconography and fanaticism, and yes excitement and experimentation.

Black Cinema in the 21st century has to grow or die, the same as with Black Music, and the only way to do that, is to stop letting others outside the community define the width and breadth of what determines that community. I’m not saying don’t have your small intimate films, or occasional comedies, but they need to be just one part of a diverse and broad scope of films, particularly films of the fantastic.

So that’s why I’m always there to support a film like THE INHERITANCE.

Ah you see what I did there? After the lengthy history lesson, macro view, I now bring it back home and focus on the microview and one specific film.

Nifty huh? :).

2011′s THE INHERITANCE. Strong opening, nicely shot, well performed, overall very engaging script. The film is not without its flaws, chief among them is the editing. Particularly a horror film relies on effective editing to make it… horrific.

And effective marriage of camera placement, editing, performance and sound to make an effective scene. This film is weak on the ability to build scary scenes, they tend to just sit there, often telegraphing any possible suspense, such as Lily’s carcrash scene and its aftermath. That whole scene cries out to be redone.

And you get the sense some shots were not fully done or left on the editing room floor, so you get this haphazard and unclear presentation of events, that screams less stylistic choice than budgetary constraints. Add to that sometimes the film arches a little high in terms of exposition and melodrama, particularly in the last act, overblown, into moments of self parody, that worked at odds with the darker thematic elements of the film. Something eliciting laugh-out loud laughter rather than the expected tension. And there are too few of those moments to consider them knowing winks at the audience, they come off as, what they most likely were, mistakes of tone. The exception to this being the inclusion of the White couple, flipping the color wheel on the token roles typically given to Black characters in genre/horror films. I quite like that little playful jab at screen conventions.

So minor hiccups aside, I quite enjoyed this film. With the exception, of the arched acting in the last act, for the most part I thought the performances by the entire cast was pretty darn fantastic. The problem with most Horror films, be it SCREAM or CURSED or ‘insert Horror flick here’ is you don’t care about the characters, and the kind of undercurrent that typical Hollywood horror films play to is unlikeable characters, killed in horrible ways.

In many ways if you look at films like SAW or FRIDAY THE XIII it’s serial killing by proxy, the audience there to root for stupid characters to die, and watch the villain kill and torture for them. I think that’s a troubling and unhealthy dynamic that traditional Hollywood cinema feeds into, on a lot of levels that are beyond the scope of this review. So those type of horror films, I have no interest in. Thankfully THE INHERITANCE aims higher than that, a supernatural chiller more in line with films such as SKELETON KEY, it’s possessed of characters you care about and want to see… survive.

Golden Brooks leads the young actors and gives a strong and centering performance as Karen, the film’s focal point. Having been in the business since the late 90s, she brings experience that is clearly put to good use here, as in many ways the film lives and dies, on her ability to carry your interest, and your concern. And she does the job admirably.

Rochelle Aytes, as Lily, is best known to me from TRICK R TREAT and DAYBREAK, in both properties delivering scene stealing performances, and that is no different here. She is a young woman of such immense beauty, that she tends to completely own the camera whenever it is on her. One of the most powerful scenes in the film centers around her, a drum, and a fireplace, wonderfully filmed and wonderfully performed. She has that rare and rarefied quality, that can only inadequately, yet somehow rightly, be described as star power.

D.B. Woodside brings a very unique performance, as Henry, the Alpha male among the cousins. A performance that is both contemplative and quiet, and when needed volatile and vulnerable. If it skews perhaps a bit too much to the latter in the last act, that has to be put on the requirements of script and direction, and not this actor, as all the actors go a bit off the rails in that third act. Woodside is another actor that goes back to the 90s in terms of credits, bringing a copious amount of experience to his role of Henry. Best known to many for his work in BUFFY and 24, he’s a charismatic actor, that is unfortunately underused, or badly used in television and film. He’s an actor clearly capable of carrying leading man roles, and hopefully this film will help put him on more filmmakers radar. Or director himself, having completed the short film FIRSTS, perhaps we can look for more directorial work from him as well.

Two other actors, Darrin Dewitt Henson and Shawn Michael Howard, the thrice named ones, complete the quintet of cousins. Shawn Michael Howard, with credits going back to 1993, in many ways has the trickiest role… walking that fine line between being humor, greek chorus, and audience release value. Particularly in a Horror film, which because it is so overblown runs the risk of being humorous rather than horrific, an audience needs to carried through the emotional beats of a story, so you’re getting the laugh out of the way when you need it, and that makes the moments when you deliver the serious portions, that much more compelling, and honored.

To some degree an audience is always part snarky character waiting to pull at the threads of the blanket you’ve woven, if you make those threads too obvious. Ready to laugh and deride what’s happening in the film. So having someone in the film, to be that grounding snarky character takes that role, thankfully, out of the audience’s hands. And I’m not talking about overblown humor here, I’m talking about just the natural humor that is generated by situations that take us off our routine. And this is what Shawn Michael Howard does admirably here, he keeps people at least through the first 2/3rds of the movie, grounded in the movie, laughing with the film, rather than at the film, no doubt abetted by a strong script, and capable direction.

And if Howard has the trickiest role then Darrin Dewitt Henson has the most thankless one. With so many characters, and such vibrant characters, such archetypes [chosen one, warrior, lustful virgin/lovelorn maiden, foolish rogue] all requiring screen time, someone has to just be the quiet guy/sounding board. Someone has to be the pause between all these exclamations, and that is Henson’s role. Thankless but very necessary, and Henson does his part credit. And without a doubt he’s an actor to watch. In-fact, with the exception of the stunning and always in demand Rochelle Aytes, he’s the busiest of the quintet of actors, having quite a few credits to his name in the last couple of years.

That brings us to the veterans. Keith David as Uncle Melvin headlines this film, and for good reason, he’s cinematic gold, and walking talking cinema icon, having over a 190 credits to his name. The reason? Because he makes everything he’s in… better. From Carpenter’s THING to PLATOON to OFF LIMITS to BIRD to THEY LIVE to THE LAST OUTLAW to CLOCKERS to GRAVE (a little seen movie, but quite nice) to DON KING to THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY to INNOCENTS (haven’t seen it but quite frankly intrigued to take a look) to PITCH BLACK to TRANSPORTER 2 to ATL to THE BUTCHER (and yes I’m naming a whole bunch of films for your Keith David marathon :)) to DON MCKAY. So here he brings that wonderful, both easy and commanding delivery to a film, anchoring it with equal parts charm and menace.

Lanre Idewu (best known for IRENE IN TIME) does an admiral job as Chakabazz. Novella Nelson (Aunt Bee)and André De Shields (Uncle Grady)don’t have a lot of screen time, but bring a masterful amount of craft to their portrayals. They bring a level of… veracity and dignity that elevates the film. The difference between acting and being. I’ve looked through their filmographies, and these roles while small, I think standout as well realized and iconic roles. Young actors can learn a lot by watching these understated performances… of menace. Finally Adriane Lenox fills out the principal players as Felicia, seemingly the ex-wife of Keith David’s character.

All these players are part of the stew of this debut film by writer/director Robert O’ Hara. It is quite a respectable first film, the Cinematography by Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, in some of the scenes is quite stellar. However, as expressed, the editing is where the film, in crucial scenes, falls down. Now that could be editor Craig Hayes just doing what he was told by the director, but ultimately again the buck stops and starts with the director, the man in the big chair.

But that aside, O’ Hara’s misteps in this film are outweighed by his successes. For a small budget debut film, I liked it quite a bit more than most films that do receive a broad cinema distribution. As a whole. the film is solid entertainment, and a film that I look forward to adding to my DVD library.

People forget that great directors such as Hitchcock and Lang, as a rule, don’t start out making masterpieces, but learning their craft with each successive film. John Ford making a lot of forgettable films before masterpieces like SEARCHERS and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE. So it’s unfortunate that in the current filmic landscape it is difficult for a/filmmakers to get funding and b/filmmakers to get distribution.

Carl Franklin is a great example, clearly one of the most talented and innovative directors of his age, in 22 years he’s only had a chance to make 7 feature films, and this is a known and bankable director. Contrast this to directors like Ford who have a 146 (mostly) feature film credits, and studios at that time actually willing to put out films. It is a much more daunting landscape for new filmmakers today.

And it becomes even more difficult for filmmakers of color, when distributors are looking for the stereotype rather than the game changer. All this to say, if this is Robert O’ Hara’s first film, I would love to see him do more films, as it is obvious he’s an unconventional filmmaker with real talent, and fresh perspectives.

Go see this film. It’s worth seeing for the drum scene alone. And it’s worth seeing as perhaps one small step toward a less skewed cinema, and a less marginalizing one. Recommended. C+.

Searching for a Good NEW Movie Podcast!! Separating the Wheat from the Chaff!

Well one of the only decent movie podcasts out there, MONDO MOVIES (which I mentioned in my podcasts of the year award) is going on hiatus, which leaves me scrambling around looking for a replacement. Thankfully HORROR ETC and B MOVIE CAST are still out there, but I’ve been looking around for a podcast that can handle broader genres, and more current movies as well; to fill the place of MONDO MOVIE

Unfortunately all the “film-this” and “film-that” podcasts I’ve listened to so far, I really don’t like.

I can’t stand movie critics, I’m looking for quality movie REVIEWERS.

There is a distinction

Reviewers are people who can tell you the things they love, not just rail against the things they dislike, or the things that didn’t fit their preconceptions.

In contrast, crtics, those who define themselves as critics, I find usually very pretentious and worse, very cynical, spouters of diatribes where people toss around “sh*t”, “fuck”, “hate”, “screenwriters didn’t even try”, and other absurd profanity or absolutes, that is usually the remark of someone who couldn’t write a script or a story or anything creative to save his life, so the gist of the creative impulse becomes tossing snarky comments rather than instructive comments.

Like something, dislike something, but cloak your opinion in something resembling perspective and reasoned stance.

I’ve been listening to these podcats contenders, and a lot of it is review by committee, some immature hive-mind, where the least flattering perspective is the one the entire group devolves down to. Almost like a whole generation afraid to be caught liking a film, that their friends don’t like. You can hear them devolve or back up on their opinion, and offer halfhearted praise, ready to be quickly rescinded.

It is so juvenile the discussion/critiques that passes as informed opinion on these shows. It is this really sad generation, that has no backbone or appreciation for anything that isn’t lowest common denominator, and will acquiesce at a moments notice to throwing rocks, if the hive mind defines it.

So yeah I’ve gone through a bunch… and still looking for a decent movie podcast. I’ll keep you updated on the hunt.

2010 The Year in Review: BEST/FAVORITE MOVIES

Okay, okay

Early AM , February 2011.

Been meaning to get this Best of 2010 list compiled, so without further procrastinating:

Best movies I saw in the theaters in 2010:

BOOK OF ELI- Great film by the Hughes Brother. Finally a film to live up to the promise of their masterful debut, MENACE TO SOCIETY. And people know what I think of the King James Bible specifically, and organized religion in general, and I thought the film transcended my problem with both of those things, to be ultimately a visually amazing, and dynamic film, about the need to… walk with faith.

WOLFMAN- Contrary to many, huge fan. Check out my review posted seperately.

AVATAR- I saw this in IMAX 3D, and it was the only film of the year that was TRULY worthy of that expansive format. James Cameron’s return to the big screen has been much discussed, much praised for its success and much, in hindsight it seems, a bit railed against for its success, however I thoroughly loved the experience of the film. Technically James Cameron again advances technology and film, creating a 3D that is an actual evolution over the six decade old technology. Plus I quite enjoyed the story, as a story, and the fact that at its heart, underneath its futuristic trappings, it’s a simple parable about the issues that face us today. Which is what scifi, at its best does well. Scifi when its good, endures, because it uses our tomorrows to highlight our todays. And AVATAR does that. That said how it is told, the effective and immersive IMAX 3D aspect (accept no other 3D) is part of its allure, so much so that I don’t think the film is particularly rewatchable outside of an IMAX 3D theater. The story while good, isn’t particularly nuanced or novel once removed from its 3D heart, the imbibing of the world created, doesn’t really lend itself to repeat viewings, but I will probably still get the DVD for the extras, as I’m a huge fan of DVD commentaries particularly.

IRON MAN II

TAKERS

EXPENDABLES

TRUE GRIT

SALT

RESIDENT EVIL AFTERLIFE IMAX 3D- The 3D was okay. Not great, not AVATAR immersive, but okay, and well done in places. Plus I surprisingly, enjoyed the movie.

GREEN ZONE- Very well done film.

Movies I saw in the theater that I liked the least in 2010:

PIRANHA 3D- Always nice to see buxom babes, however seeing buxom babes die horribly… not really a fan of that. It is what it is, a relatively mindless t and a horror flick/dramedy. Not horrible, just not particularly good or interesting,

INCEPTION- Another Nolan Film, that just doesn’t particularly engage or interest me.

PREDATORS- Brody doing that stupid gravelly voice is just horribly miscast as a tough guy, and the movie– just by rhe numbers plot, and uninspired direction.

DAYBREAKERS- Okay, but relatively uninteresting and forgettable.

Wow. I saw a surprising number of movies in the theater in 2010. Didn’t realize how many until wrapping up this list. Mostly I thought it was a pretty damn fantastic year.

Okay next post we’ll cover best DVDs/TV of 2010. See you then!

Matthew Vaughn’s KICK-ASS Movie vs Mark Millar’s KICK-ASS Graphic Novel!


How to begin.

Let us be blunt and unsubtle, since that is in a nutshell what KICK-ASS, The Movie, wallows in.

Woah, tell me how you really feel.

Okay, since you asked. :)

I’ve never had to go back and retweak a review. But my first viewing of KICK-ASS, I immensely disliked one particular part of the film, one character’s story arc (and I still dislike it), and it strongly colored my whole perception of the film.

And I think my original review, which follows focused too heavily on just that negative aspect of the film.

But there is a lot to like about KICK-ASS, a lot to like about Matthew Vaughn’s direction, and Matthew and Jane Goldman’s script, brings a lot of originality, strength, and humor to the source material. There’s lot of innovative, fun stuff in the script that wasn’t in the source material, and Matthew Vaughn’s commentary is as interesting as the film.

So that’s my revised review, because I felt my original review (below) while I still stand behind all the problems I had with the film, there’s a lot of great things that went into this film as well that deserved a bit of praise.

Okay onto the original review:

Having just finished the DVD (not having read the Graphic Novel first) I’m unusually divided on the film. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this in the movie, or buy the DVD, but the film isn’t a simple one to dismiss or enjoy.

Why?

Because the movie while well made and well performed, I thought was way too morally bankrupt and more than a bit irresponsible. Not everything that comes into your head, should go out your mouth. And having a little child spout language that would give a sailor pause, which only nominally phased me while watching the film, but really began to trouble me in hindsight, serves questionable sensationalist and prurient needs. Ultimately the creators’ needs.

The film was a well paced, garishly colored spider-man type take off as constructed through the slightly demented psyche of series creator Mark Millar. However the caveat being it is a normal teen kid, nerd, who decides to don a costume and fight crime.

So brain off, it is a typical blood and bullets action flick, right? Well not quite.

Have we pushed the envelope of adults, being effed up, violent, cursing sociopaths so far that we have to now try and get children to act out these fantasies? I don’t know, it didn’t quite sit right with me.

Less for what the film is then what the film opens the door to.

Everything, all values, sacrificed to the selfish needs of ever more egregious creators, and an ever more deadened audience.

And perhaps that selfish need, to push the envelope, when weighed against the needs of the story, the needs of the young actress, and the needs of the young viewers who will ultimately get their hands on this movie, dressed up as a kid’s comic movie, perhaps the writer and director’s needs… should be outweighed. Not by committee, but by themselves.

Not everything that comes into our heads, should come out our mouths, or worse yet a young actress’ mouth.

Young Actors generally have a hard life. As they find their childhood chewed up in service of people who just “Want to have a laugh” as the brits would put it (Yes, I know Millar is Scottish).

Millar, spoke somewhat jokingly about, during the auditions, being slightly disturbed hearing his lines uttered by these young girls. A whole generation of Jon Benet Ramsey’s in the making?

And he should be disturbed. “Humanity is also our business” to quote the THIRD MAN. Because to some extent it’s a bit of child endangerment, and bad parenting, and something a bit seedier, that you have to embrace, and ask others to embrace, in order to portray these things.

The creators’ need to be shocking for shocking’s sake, which may work in the rather insular world of comics where people are “in” on the conventions you’re attempting to satirize and transgress, works less well in the broader world of cinema.

Making mountains out of molehills? Possibly, but at what point does paying a child actress to do what we want, to bring someone’s fantasy to life, cross the line? At what point does art stop and something not terribly unlike pornography begin? And whose responsibility is it to ask these questions, seek these answers and monitor that line? At what point does the creators’ responsibility to his muse, to his characters, perhaps take back stage to his responsibility to a child actor and to larger society? Do the comic book lines, this child actress is asked to recite and internalize, do these lines have weight and purpose and value transposed to the world of the quick and the warm? Or are they part and parcel of the withering of culture, and the desensitization of man?

Those are difficult questions. And I’m not saying I have the answers, but I’m saying the KICK-ASS film blithely wallows in its transgressions, without even given those transgressions the weight of acknowledging them. Which could have potentially made them mean something. And that omission seems more than a bit of a shame.

And you have to put that weight on the screen-writers of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman.

Having not been a fan of Millar’s WANTED comic, while being a huge fan of the much different, and much more moral, WANTED movie, scripted and humanized by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas; I went into the KICK-ASS film (where Millar had greater input) with a bit of trepidation.

Mark Millar.

I think he’s a talented writer. Starting out in main-stream comics as Hardy to Grant Morrison’s Laurel, he has written a couple things I am quite enamored of. He’s written more things that I am not a fan of.

I think it comes down to Millar is somewhat, or wants to be, the Takashi Miike of comics; absurdest and shocking for shocking’s sake. But that is when Miike, as I have stated before, in films like DOA or FUDOH is at his weakest and most boring, in films where he surrenders to the lowest common denominator in himself, when he eschews all limitations, and fills the screen with violence, body fluids, and excrement.

But give Miike a structure to work in, give him limitations, where he must resist his own temptations, his need to just “Have a laugh”. and he produces films with a surprising amount of heart, craft, and brilliance. With humanity. Films such as the oft praised THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA, and THE NEGOTIATOR among others.

And I think that same sensibility is true of Mark Millar, when he rises above the quick and easy method, of shock-jock tricks, and tries to say something, tries to tell an earnest story… he can be devastating. He can bring us THE ULTIMATES, he can bring us CROSSOVER.

And that’s because limitations aren’t the end of art, in many ways they are the engine of it. Roberto Rodriguez’s best film by a long way, is still his first, where his lack of budget necessitated the story be there, and that the story move.

But Millar’s tendency of late has been toward the extreme for extreme’s sake and I find that incredibly lazy and boring in a book or a film. And watching KICK-ASS, that’s what I was thinking: Here’s a movie that is too true to Millar’s sensationalism, and that’s why it has no heart.

Because the KICK-ASS film when it was over, I felt oddly unmoved, uninvolved, because the characters were all relatively reprehensible, the “heroes’ as well as the villains. It felt like the cut scenes of a video game, just violence, with no narrative or heart to make the violence mean anything. And nothing made sense; the cop who becomes BIG DADDY, and trains his daughter to be a cursing, mass murdering sociopath, to get revenge for his wife’s death?! Really? Really?!!

And the ‘hero’ seems to take Hit Girl’s and Big Daddy’s Mass Murder in stride a little too easily. So ultimately on a moral scale, and what is a film about Super-heroes but a morality play writ large?, I just had real issues with the film. The film walked a relatively serious line, too serious to give it any personality as a dark satire/comedy.

However, the film is not without its moments, that early scene where Kick-Ass saves a guy from a group of thugs… has real heart. And it does have definite strengths. It looks great. Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to keep the action moving, Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl lead a strong cast, the character designs are more innovative, and I think the script in places, was strong, and interesting, but I think the lynchpin of the film, has to rest with the arc of Chloe Grace Morez as Hit-Girl, in many ways I felt her salvation to be the central theme. Perhaps the very reason the stars aligned to give birth to a Kick-Ass, so he could be there… to set her free.

That’s the idealist in me talking of course, but hopefully that’s why people go to see these modern myths played out, to remind themselves, in an increasingly rudderless age, of ideas worth defending. Ultimately the film’s moral stance, or lack of, in the script by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman outweighs the strengths of the movie.

But is the script just being true to Millar’s source, or does it diverge?

So I came here to review the film. But thought it was necessary to also review the source material, the comic series, and see what the two medium’s shared, and how they differed, and where the movie went wrong.

I just completed it and have to say… the graphic novel addresses many of the issues I had with the movie. Excellent structure, married to I thought a far more engrossing story-arc for Hit-Girl and Big-Daddy. The true origin of Big-Daddy and Hit-Girl, is pretty ambitious, and pretty brilliant, being both sad, horrific, and costly. And gives a weight, and pathos, and tragedy that’s completely missing in the film.

Vaughn said he was worried about kids following the antics of a Kick-Ass, and I think by eschewing Millar’s downer ending, for both Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, he does glamorize his protagonists murdering antics, rather than an ending that redeems them.

In the graphic novel, Mark Millar offers subtle and human, in-between the violence. Restraint and humanity. When Millar mixes these elements in his writing he’s great, when he loses these touchstones, in pursuit of the cheap shock, or cheaper violence, he bores me and loses me as a reader (As in his WANTED graphic novel). Thankfully and surprisingly, KICK-ASS is Millar talking to us, rather than at us… and it is for the most part effective.

And effective is a word that also describes the art. John Romita Jr, is an artist that can be hit or miss with me, but he is great in this series. His slightly cartoony art, a nice counterpoint, to the at times extreme actions depicted. All in all, quite impressed with the story points in this graphic novel, and the ending, particularly in comparison with the film, offered a nice bit of closure and humanity. That particularly addresses Hit Girl’s abuse (because that’s ultimately what her fathers’s sculpting of her amounts to, he’s taken a child and made a serial killer), and how she comes to terms with it.

In Millar’s book you get the sense that all that violence, finally causes her to break, and comes to terms with wanting to put away these adult things and embrace her childhood. You don’t get that sense of closure and healing in Vaughn’s film, and that closure would have gone a long way to salvaging the film for me.

As it is, for me the film is an intriguing misfire, and the graphic novel a surprised and shaky thumbs up (Shaky, because in the end the book’s premise is still a dangerous lie, of a normal kid taking on crime. If you have a kid getting beat on by 200lb bad guys, metal plate or no, should he survive, he’ll be san’s teeth, and with a heavy case of brain damage. And looking far worse than just a little blood artfully applied to the face. It’s a dangerous and unworthy lie.)

So final grades: KICK-ASS DVD/Movie C-/C+ (Very intriguing Director’s Commentary)
KICK-ASS Graphic Novel B-.

Movie review: HARIMAYA BRIDGE by Aaron Woolfolk


I had mentioned in a previous post some films that you wouldn’t see at a Theater near you, this review is about one such film.

Typically films that don’t make it to your local multiplex, are looked over for reasons having to do with economics of course, but also for less quantitative reasons. Reasons that can best be defined as… a belief in preserving American cultural ignorance. Movies that should make it to theaters but don’t, stagnate largely because Hollywood not only knows how to sell you the staus quo, particularly when it comes to characters of color, but is most comfortable doing just that. The MGM lion, 86 years later, is still surrounded by laughing sambo faces afterall.

So when I get a chance to see a film that has been kept from a larger audience, I am always very enthused. The chance to stumble across a CAPPUCCINO or an EL BENNY and introduce it to others is something I actively seek out. Something I take some… honor, in doing.

One of these hidden films, HARIMAYA BRIDGE I recently got the chance to see in full, thanks to the great folks at ELEVEN ARTS.

It was necessary to sit through HARIMAYA BRIDGE twice for this review. As my initial reaction to it was both odd and conflicted, and I thought this movie, particularly considering the cast, deserved as full a screening as I could give it.

Deserved both a full viewing from me, and a fair and full review. I hope to bring that to you below:

HARIMAYA BRIDGE is a beautiful film. We have to begin there, because that truth is what first struck me. It is a film of pauses and fragments, stillnesses and loss. I was quite enamored of the beginning of the film. Aaron Woolfolk showing early a clear eye and a steady hand. And patience.

And patience.

Unfortunately these necessary traits of the filmmaker are lacking to a troubling, and for me, an unnatural degree in the lead character, Daniel Holder played by Bennet Guillory.

Rarely does a single character color completely my feelings on a film. That happened here, with this film. With Guillory’s Daniel Holder.

Around the 40 minute mark I just couldn’t take anymore of the lead character. He was just too much of an obstinate, arrogant character.

We get into some minor specifics here, nothing standout or essential I think, but if in doubt just jump down to the last couple of paragraphs for the wrapup.

Holder’s character comes to Japan… to take away gifts. I mean seriously taking away gifts?! Really? Who does that? He also manages to call Japanese soldiers evil and is incapable of understanding why they, the Japanese, would revere their military dead as much as any nation. And he spends much of the movie lurching around Japan like a Bull in a China shop, seemingly oblivious to tact, or manners, or common decency, or simple humanity. I mean I get that the whole point of the story… is for the character to have this redemptive arc, but I just felt it was a way too heavy handed and unsubtle film.

I thought it was crafting the character from a false state of melodrama and idiocy, to get to a payoff of reconciliation and understanding.

And that never works, The destination never rings true, if the character fails to ring true.

And the character of Daniel Holden played by Bennet Guillory fails to ring true. I find him, for too much of the movie, a thoroughly ignorant and detestable character. Around the 80 minute mark the Holden character begins to show some humanity and character growth, but it is a case of two little too late. It takes him 90 minutes to come to a conclusion about the paintings that we all see coming 70 minutes ago.

Life is too short for me to spend time with characters I detest in the hopes of getting to like them in the fourth quarter. No thank you. Not my cup of tea. And I’m not saying a film has to be filled with nice characters, but whether good men or bad, I have to believe in their reality, the reality of their viewpoint and stance for me to stick with a film.

I didn’t believe this film.

I like the look of the film, it looks beautiful, and I generally like Woolfolk’s pacing but I think the whole premise of the story, and the near caricature of ignorant bigoted stupidity the father is, is just that, too much of a caricature.

I mean the protagonist stance/views would have been more valid in 1959, in the shadow of World War II, but filmed in 2009, the film just comes off as very late to the game, and slightly dishonest. Particularly considering in 2010 there’s not a city in the US, that doesn’t depend on Japan for their cars, tv, electronics, movies, and much of their jobs.

So for someone to be oblivious to Japan having respect for their dead soldiers in 2010 comes off as utter bs. The character has to be both a moron and a bigot, and that’s not someone I want to waste precious minutes of my life, watching a film about.

So yes, this film has been done by Hollywood, the coming to terms with Japan and World War II many times, only thing is those films were all done between 40 and 50 years ago.

The performances of just about everyone else in the film is great. Misa Shimizu as Yuiko Hara is astonishing, and carries much of the film’s humanity. She is the only thing making the more obnoxious scenes with Daniel Holder’s character remotely palatable. And Danny Glover is always great, and here as the elder brother Joseph Holder, is no exception.

And it touches on themes of Identity and Miscegenation, that is rarely touched on in Japan, outside of the mature films of Takashi Miike. Miike films such as BLUES HARP, CITY OF LOST SOULS, THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA(one of my favorite films) and his BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY.

However HARIMAYA BRIDGE hinges on following the central protagonist of Daniel Holder, and if you find him a detestable human being for nearly an hour of the films running time, regardless of how you try and do a Scrooge redemption at the end, for me it is too late, Because I’ve soured both on the heavy handed character, and the film that also now feels heavy-handed (one of the flaws with the aforementioned BLUES HARP).

So the film becomes more like a chore to finish, than what cinema ultimately should be, a joy to follow to the end. Bennet Guillory is a strong, imposing presence, and I believe a talented actor, unfortunately the script gives him too little chance to do anything beyond portraying the obstinate and culturally ignorant Black man.

I think Woolfolk is a talented filmaker, in his use of silence and quiet. And I can not stress enough, how absolutely beautiful this film is. Much praise of course must go to cinematographer Masao Nakabori, who grants the film a lush and timeless look, befitting such a fragile and full fable.

I just think the film was severely hurt by the extended and unsubtle portrayal of the protagonist through too much of the film. The film begins strong, and ends strong but the middle is frustrating and unlikeable. I think you could have easily brought this film in at 90 or even 80 minutes, lose a lot of what I disliked in the center, and had a far stronger film.

I definitely would like to see more from Woolfolk, hopefully something far less… forced. Less CRASH like. Overall I have serious issues with HARIMAYA BRIDGE as a whole, but if you can fast-forward through some of its more forced conflict and dialog, it is worth a look.

Indeed I started this review feeling one way about the film, not sure if, given my issues with it that it would be something I would want to add to my DVD collection. But I find it… sticks with me. Some of its images. There’s a lovely bit of stillness that happens particularly in the beginning, something reminiscent of Beat Kitano’s languid static shots, while being its own animal. And for that, quiet filmmaking, it earns a place on my shelf when eventally available on DVD (Check with the distributor ELEVEN ARTS for if and when that happens).

I said at the beginning I was conflicted on this film. It is a flawed film but, in its defense, what works in it… works exceptionally well. And based on this debut, I am looking forward to what the future brings from this Director, as well as from Distributor ELEVEN ARTS.

Grade: C-/D+

George Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD DVD Review! Haitian Zombies or American Ghouls?

Well I’ve rented a pasell of movies in the past couple weeks, and thought I’d break my blogging silence, for a quick overview of what I thought of one of them.

George Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD- First let me say, I’m not a fan of the so-called Zombie Movies.

I’ll follow that line up with a slight tirade: They are not effing Zombies!!

Zombi is a Haitian word, Romero’s ‘creation’ is a ghoul. Not a Zombie. The Zombie of Haitian lore, is in real ways about the incorruptibilty of the flesh, it is about a state in which you do not eat or sleep or defecate or decompose. The Zombie of Haitian Lore, in many ways a state of grace most analagous to Christianity’s Lazarus, save bent to the will of another. So think the myth of Lazarus mated with the Jewish myth of the Golem, and you begin to get an inkling of what the word Zombie really implies.

But leave it to the west, America in particular, to take a concept of incorruptibility… and make it about corruption. Leave it to a cannibal nation like America to play out in fiction, the nature of its facts.

So that is my general issue with so-called Zombie flicks, hereto referred to by their proper nomenclature… Ghoul flicks. :) . Don’t worry, it’ll grow on you.

So yeah it’s a genre I can take or leave, and typically leave. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as the progenitor, holds up. It’s a very good movie, that is a very simple premise, but elegantly done with, for the time, a shattering ending. And its purity of vision, over five decades later, puts it head and shoulders over just about all the numerous Ghoul flicks it has spawned.

The first NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had something to say, but said it in a very understated manner, to let you draw for yourself parables of science gone amuck, or judgement from god, or the cannibal nature of the American id. In contrast all Ghoul films since suffer either from being about nothing but gore (idiotic and juvenile), too full of its import, or just inept.

George Romero’s DAIRY OF THE DEAD suffers, to some degree, from all three issues. The plot/writing is the main issue. The films conceit is this student filmmaker is going to walk around during a walking dead apocalypse with a camera glued to his face, during scenes both intimate and horrific. Such as when his friend is being chased by the ghoul in a mummy costume (don’t ask), rather than put the fucking camera down and help, he just keeps filming. I don’t buy the conceit.

I’m not saying there aren’t such sick fucks out there who would do that, I’m saying I don’t know any such people, can’t relate to such people, and don’t want to spend hours of my life watching such a peice of garbage survive. So the protagonist was an unrelateable and unlikable character.

And that said other characters I thought their arcs and actions were likewise a bit fast and convenient, becoming quickdraw terminators, and taking their particular brand of murder/killing way too easily in their stride (“I just blew my lovers head off, but I’m from Texas yall, and am ready to make jokes in the next scene for you Mr. Romero”). There was just a lot of poor acting married to either heavyhanded/preachy dialog or inane plot contivances.

So the poor plot, bad dialog, unnatural performances makes it impossible for you to view the film seriously, but it fails also as satire or comedy because a/it’s not smart and b/it’s not funny (with the exception of the Amish line. The only memorable line in the whole movie).

DIARY OF THE DEAD attempts to jump on the discovered footage bandwagon of flicks such as CLOVERFIELD (which I found also to be an inept film, with unrealistic performances, married to a heaping dose of annoying actors and quite a bit of boredom) or REC(which I found to be brilliant. There the conceipt of a TV crew following a team of professional, is crafted believably), DIARY OF THE DEAD however is a poor jumper, and instead slips on the bandwagon, twists its ankle, and pretty much lays there like a dead fish till the credits roll.

I’m being a little facetious, the film does have some points of interest, high among them is the performance of the film/theater teacher, who just so happens to be John Rambo when emergeny requires. While something of a hodgepodge of stereotypes, the actor pulls it off and imbues his role with real charm. And the aforementioned Amish scene has a humorous beginning. And I liked them running into the Black survivalists. I thought that was a neat twist.

So the film isn’t without its strengths, unfortunately its flaws, the spliced in footage of real disasters (trying to give the film an importance and weight that its ultimately too inept and tactless to earn) the too often poor performances and situations, just smother everything else.

All in all a pretty disappointing and forgettable film from Romero, who seemingly has become obsessed with making these Ghoul flicks, in an attempt to recapture the acclaim and relavence of his first film. It comes off almost as a one trick director, remaking the same film to various degrees of diminishing returns.

DIARY OF THE DEAD may be worth a look if it is free and you’re bored, but otherwise avoid. D-.

Recommended Podcasts! Film Weekly on TONY MANERO

“Tony Manero- A very dark, unpleasant, slightly perplexing film… [On 2nd viewing]And thought this was utterly brilliant. It sets itself up as a comedy, and then you get these weird spasms of violence going on in the wings… I think that probably it’s an acid satire on globalization. It’s set in the 70s. In Pinoche era Chile where Political Talk can get you killed, and the populace is basically brainwashed by these TV talent shows. But I guess on a wider level, it’s about the Americanization of Latin America. And it is a story of a sort of… Zombie Nation… And it is superb.”

—from the British podcast FILM WEEKLY, Their 2009 Best of The Year Episode

Odd how that description of bloody dictatorship era Chile, sounds ever more like, the America outside our doors.

Other recommended films on their list are:

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
SOUL POWER
ANTI-CHRIST (like IRREVERSIBLE it’s a film I have no interest in seeing. See my upcoming article on Lars Von Trier)
A SERIOUS MAN

The Best Films You Haven’t Seen! or Medicine for Melancholy

MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY- Acclaimed debut by Barry Jenkins. Only screened at film festivals, and still waiting on anything beyond a token DVD release.

BLACK DYNAMITE- Easily one of the best movies of 2010, and screened Nationwide in less than 10 theaters. With a proper theatrical release this satire could have been one of the hugest most influential comedies in decades, instead of being added to the growing list of… invisible movies. There is something horribly wrong in a nation that can find screens for abysmal garbage like THE WEATHERMAN or tripe like THE OTHER GUYS but no room for a film such as BLACK DYNAMITE.

SAMPSON AND DELILAH- I’m hearing fantastic things about this Aboriginal directed and starred movie, by Warwick Thornton, and currently breaking my neck trying to get a copy. Sounds a bit like the films of the late great Djibril Diop Mambety (his HYENAS is a masterpiece, and his short films are essential viewing to all fans of film)

HARIMAYA BRIDGE- Another film I haven’t seen (due to it not coming to a theater anywhere near me, and not getting DVD distribution) is Aaron Woolfolk’s HARIMAYA BRIDGE with Danny Glover. But it is getting nothing but acclaim, yet still such an acclaimed film with a Black Director, and Black Protagonist, that actually has something to say beyond stereotypes, that might actually say something to Black audiences that is not about denigration and debasement, cannot find broad theatrical release, or even to this date a DVD release.

It is utterly sickening.

Even more sickening are the distribution channels that do buy up the rights to a filmmakers films, just to bury them. Here it is three years after Ousmane Sembene’s passing and his most legendary, challenging, and proactive films (EMITAI, CEDDO, CAMP THIAROYE, and GUELWAAR his colonialism quadrilogy), are still not available on DVD.

The company that holds the rights to Sembene’s films, (and we all know who you are) should be fucking ashamed of themselves. First to let a filmmaker die without his most powerful work seeing any type of release, to languish in decades rotting away in vaults, and second because of the filmmakers that could-have-been, had they allowed Sembene to flourish and influence.

I mean they, finally, gave his BLACK GIRL, and MANDABI, and MOOLADE, minimal DVD releases, but for the most part while fine films (haven’t seen MOOLADE) , these are films (with the exception of BLACK GIRL) that steer away directly from the controversy of colonialism. The distributor give his, if not quite nuetered, less critical films releases, while burying for decades his (by all assements) best films.

It’s a crime.

And one they are continuing to committ with a new generation of filmmakers, both domestic and international.

Well at least we can do what we can do. We can spread the word that the movies exists, and do our best to view them at film festivals, and give the film and the filmmakers the audience and the attention they deserve.

Start local movie clubs, start local film festivals, start local indie theaters, spread the word. Cinema is more than just entertainment, It can be infinitely more.

The studios know this.

They know cinema can alter world views, on the micro and macro level. They can be didactic, and in the best of all possible worlds they should be. By Didactic I don’t mean preaching, I mean informing and formative.

I don’t believe in Escapist cinema, I think all cinema no matter how comedic or fantastic, can and should say something relevant and I think expansive to our view of the world. Whether that’s the notion of hubris and friendship in THE THIRD MAN or the notion of loyalty and individualism inherent in PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID or the notion of courage and sacrifice in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or the understanding of the needs of the people and the land as in I AM CUBA, all cinema if its any good, is to some measure didactic.

Cinema that isn’t informative, is deadening. Is a drug to lull you into apathy, and I don’t want that kind of cinema.

Cinema should strive to move more than our eyes, to reach, in the hopes of finding, our mind and our soul.

In the words of Boorman’s King Arthur… “It’s a dream I have.”

The Cinema of Hollywood— Black Faces, White Messages

I, as a rule, avoid stupid people.

Because they are vexations of the spirit, and in the truest sense of the word… wastes of time.

But every so often, I feel that a positive discussion can be distilled, or needs to be made, out of one person’s negative.

Someone posted on line for “flicks where there are NO BLACK PEOPLE?”

On the surface it’s the kind of ignorant discourse that has become common place in the increasingly unmoderated world of YOUTUBE and CRAIGSLIST and IMDB and insert other online site here. Increasingly companies shirk their responsibilty to moderate discourse under the guise of liberty, when in truth it’s about being a haven for hate, confusion, and disconnect, and the antithesis of communication. It’s about sites creating an uncivil experience.

But I thought such moronic statements, occasionally warrant an answer, not for the moron who posted it, but for those stumbling honestly on it, and who may take away only the fool’s foolishness, I wanted to give the other side of the story.

or

One moronic topic deserves another.

or

We need more films with characters and directors of color, and preferably more than the stupid tokenism prevalent in “Hollywood” films. Cause trust me I hate the token, shoe-horned in, poorly written single Black character in a film otherwise filled with pale faces more than anything. I mean what was that damn RESIDENT EVIL movie. Don’t bring the Black character in the film or show… just to be the sum of your stereotypes.

I mean I really fucking hate that.

And I hate the Black actors who are in the films to do nothing more than reinforce white messages. Be walking stereotypes. It’s one of the reasons I hated SIN CITY (beyond it being just a god-awful movie) or the otherwise excellent DAY AND NIGHT that was ruined for me in the last 5 minutes with an inexplicable introduction of one of the most annoying characters in all cinema.

So the search should be for movies without poorly written Black characters. And it’s a search, that I back up with dollars. As a rule films with strong characters of color, multiple characters of color, smartly written, get my attention and my dollars. And those without… do not.

One of the reasons HANCOCK (that was marketed to be a failure) was one of the highest grossing movies of its year. Making over 300 million, just shy of IRON MAN, and the blockbuster that was DARK KNIGHT, was the same reason most critics hated it, and most people of color loved it, it was a film with an unconventional 2nd half where the character of color, transcended the box that hollywood designs for them… of crook, fool, or comedy relief, and got to be a hero, while also being a quite brilliant and forlorn love story.

That’s the cinema, I like paying for. And it’s the cinema I want to see more of. The cinema… of transcending. And more than that it’s a cinema, our youth desperately needs more of.

We do not rise above our dreams. And mass media, movies, music, tv, teaches youths of color, to dream very poorly indeed. To be sidekicks in their own lives at best.

And it’s the reason I LOVE movies like CITY OF GOD (or the equally brilliant TV series CITY OF MEN), CAPUCCINO, And we need more of them.

Thing is there are brilliant films and filmmakers (SOUNDS OF SAND, LIFTED, EL BENNY, THE DISCIPLE, THE ASSASSIN, ALGENY, DARSALAM, BLACK DYNAMITE etc), but they don’t get picked up for distribution, and our cinemas instead get flooded with the 8 million copies of moronic comedies, or the same old, tired, boring, and ultimately eurocentric tripe.

And we are all… diminished, by the lack of diversity and dumbing down of American culture. Our cinema and our songs. There’s a reason films and music are stuck in the 80s, regurgitating and recycling it. It’s because the new has always come from the ground up. The culture of those on top, always dependent on the culture of those on the bottom. You get no country music, no rock and roll, without negro spirituals, and blues, and jazz.

And today our inner city youth our devoid (devoided) of culture. And mainstream America has nothing to copy, so we get stuck in this loop, of listening to the good old days, or remaking the good old movies.

We become a cannibal nation, eating its own tale.

Because people in positions to give us the new, are afraid. And they crush innovations, new voices and new dreams… not realizing, that ultimately the dreams they crush, of that young filmmaker or actor or musician of color… is everyone’s dreams. They have always been, these people of color, the engines of our tomorrow.

All our tomorrows.

So the search must ever be, for more visions, and more visionaries… of color.