Netflix Movie of the Day: BEYOND THE LIGHTS

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What we watch in cinema, if you ask a thousand people, you may get a thousand answers. But what we want from cinema? I think that answer is simpler.

We want cinema even at its most fantastic to tell us something true. To tell us something about ourself, and how we can aspire to be better than ourself. And that is what the best cinema does, for the fleeting time we share our attention with it, whether in a darkened theater or a light lit living room, we want to aspire to more than we are, to be better than we are.

Whether inspired to, if only in our dreams, be nicer, or more caring, or more concerned, or more heroic, or more… humane. That’s a rare gift, in a dire age, for cinema for a fleeting moment to have us believe in being better.

That is what BEYOND THE LIGHTS does. With a stellar cast of new faces and seasoned pros, Gina Prince-Bythewood of LOVE AND BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES here with her third feature film, creates inarguably her best film, and one that will become a perennial classic in households everywhere. But particularly households of color, in an America that increasingly is more ethnically diverse, our cinema and media is, doggedly and obstinately it would seem, ever more dismissive and marginalizing and denigrating, to characters of color or stories of color, that do not fit into narrow, nonthreatening, and tired stereotypes.

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That’s why Gina Prince-Bythewood as writer and director is so important, and BEYOND THE LIGHTS should be so heralded. In an America where Urban Love is often defined for young people in terms of players and hos, or in terms of its absence, it is so rewarding and refreshing to see a movie with intelligent Black Characters (ie more than one or two token characters) and healthy Black relationships, between Black Men and Black women, that does not fall into tired rhetoric, or bashing, or talk show idiocy.

 

Korean media and cinema is filled with such loving positive interplay, as is Japanese, or Thai, or Russian, or Dutch, or Indian, or Spanish. But somehow when it comes to the broad and diverse ethnic group called Black (African-American being a marginalizing appellation, misapplied and removed from the inclusive, unifying bridge it was meant, but failed to be. Defining an ethnic group, using a nationalistic descriptor being the height of stupidity), positive loving images are in drastic shortage.

As Black Men are increasingly invisible or the sexless , funny sidekick or cross dressing Enuchs in mass media, and Black women increasingly the hor, or the pining 2nd choice for the White Knight of American mass media. Or they are self-hating thugs, raised and bedded on ignorance.

With such a table, and such rotten food to feed young and old alike on, when someone brings to the table a fine steak or beautiful trout, you realize just how empty you had been, and for how long.

BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a great film, that makes you feel better for having seen it. Makes you feel better. What a concept.

Hopefully we can look forward to more such filmmakers and more such films. Highly Recommended!

Try it for free on Netflix, but only long enough to realize you really want to own this film in Blu-Ray. Get your copy here:

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Beyond the Lights [Blu-ray]

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A choice of Romney or Obama means the American People Lose

Here’s the thing.

The lesser of two evils, is still evil.

I voted for Obama four years ago, though his voting record in Congress, and the big-business backers to his presidential campaign, raised serious questions for me, whether his deeds as president would live up to his words.

Four years later we can see they have not.

Those eloquent speeches, riding into the office on the quotes of men who fought for civil liberties, have been lost in a presidency that has seen sweeping expansion of state powers and infiltration of big-business interests at the expense of civil liberties and the citizenry.

We live in a ratcheted up cointel-pro state.

Ah, yes… you don’t know that term.

It’s used sparingly these days. It’s a doctrine, it’s a doctrine, and a plan of action… for keeping things the same. It’s in many ways just a retrofitting of the doctrine of manifest destiny.

It is a doctrine that has been used in this country that consists of the state sanctioned murder of movements contrary to the status quo, be those movements the Native American or the Black Consciousness movements of the 60s or Move in the 80s


(MOVE? You don’t know the name… Ahh— I forget how little of the world the press let’s anyone see these days.

MOVE was people wanting to live, their way, in the cradle of Liberty, the city of Love, and finding themselves in the way of interests…virulent.

It’s my 9-11.

Philadelphia Mayor requested it, the bombing, and the Pennsylvania Governor ordered the dropping of a bomb, in the heart of the city, on American citizens, to settle an issue of homesteading, gentrification, and because he didn’t like the way they lived.

Look it up.

Take a few minutes away from playing Angry Birds, and you will find a story… to make a right man wrong.

The tax-dollar paid bomb killed men, women, and children. We dropped a bomb in the heart of an American city, and not a station mentioned it.

Welcome to the war.

And yet there were survivors.

Surviving is what we do.

And they had the survivors incarcerated… for having the temerity to have survived. They are still 30 years later, incarcerated, unwanted truths… locked away.

It was the story that a young reporter called Mumia was covering, before he was shot down by Philadelphia police bullets, and thrown on Death Row for not having the good manners… to have died quietly.

That… is MOVE. That is a story of a great wrong, and it waits… to be righted.)

or the Branch Davidians in the 90s (a multi-racial, an multi-ethnic group, whose massacre at Waco has been coopted by militant and hate groups that share none of the interests of the Davidians).

And that increase in surveillance, control, and punishment of citizens for exercising their rights as citizens, that cointel-pro that has seen the massacring of American citizens and American Liberties for years, has received a new rubber stamp approval by Obama. He has signed and trumpeted every erosion of civil liberties put in from of him in the last four years.

His presidency in effect has been in many ways a continuation and mirroring of the Bush years, which is not surprising considering the backers are the same.

What I’m saying is I voted for the lesser of evils 4 years ago, hoping the words and the promises were the man.

They were not.

They were just rhetoric. Having watched his administration, two things have become clear to me…both Democrats and Republicans are not about the issues, they are about the tribalism.

I say that because in ways deep and true Obama’s presidency has been a staunch ‘conservative republican pro-big business, anti-civil liberties, pro-corporate welfare anti-citizen’s welfare’ presidency.

So people, conservatives who defended Bush’s presidency, should have for the past four years been defending Obama. And liberals, who berated and opposed Bush’s presidency should have been equally vocal in their opposition to Obama.

But oddly enough that’s not what happened. And it’s because it’s not the issues staunch do-or-die Republicans or Democrats, and much of the press care about, it is the football game. It is cheering for your colors, right or wrong.

And that way, that tribalism, that excuses wrong if it is done by your team, and hates right if it is done by the other team… has no place in a sane world. Which is obvious by looking at our world.

You have to be able to call wrong, wrong, regardless of the color it wears. And you have to be able to call right, right, regardless of the team it is on.

At the end of the day, such pointed tribalism, is the height of irrationality and the height of self destruction.

I voted for Obama four years ago, because he was the lesser of two evils, and I hoped he would live up to his pretty speeches and his word. He did not.

Romney and Obama are backed by the same corporate interests, they are a rigged game, spouting diatribes on inanities at each other, but on the real choices, “do I send troops to kill here”, “do I leave Gasoline companies untaxed”, “do I offset mounting debt by instituting a flat mandatory tax on business generating revenue in the US”, “do we punish companies for off-shoring, and H1visas, and not hiring domestically”, in the serious things where it is about the rights of big business to rape the American people… Obama and Romney are in complete agreement, they are (bs stances on homosexuality aside) kissing cousins. 🙂

They will do whatever they are told to do.

So no, I won’t be choosing between the lesser of two evils this year. I’ll vote for someone else, an Independent I like, or a write in candidate.

And yes, yes, I know the argument that a vote not for a front runner is a wasted vote.

That argument never held water with me. All a man has is one vote, and the granting of that vote, if it takes the will of other men into consideration, the will of the majority, how then is it his vote?

Let 300 million Americans vote for the same person, the popular candidate, and I will alone spend my one vote on the candidate I believe in. And if he wins not, then he wins not, but he will not lose for my absence.

Let the records at the end of days show that, while all the lions or hyenas roared in unison, that the son of David followed not the sure thing… but pursued even onto defeat… the right thing.

So what candidates am I toying with currently…

Well I’m sure the landscape has more changing to do between now and November, but I’m intrigued by:

Stewart Alexander

and

Gary Johnson

As far as write-in candidates, I like big name stars who go out there fighting for the little guy and aren’t above getting arrested doing so. 🙂 .

So a write in ticket of George Clooney and Danny Glover, I think would be pretty damn awesome. Neither one being a stranger to international affairs, and really after Bush II, it’s obvious that a real deep understanding of just about anything isn’t necessary to be president. :).

So yeah those are the names I’m researching now, for a list of all 2012 candidates, go here:

Presidential Candidates 2012

And I guess I’ll leave you with a quote, that seems to have value in these valueless times:

“A warrior must focus his attention
on the link between himself and his death.
Without remorse or sadness or worrying,
he must focus his attention on the fact
that he does not have time
and let his acts flow accordingly.
He must let each of his acts
be his last battle on earth.

Only under those conditions
will his acts
have their rightful power.
Otherwise they will be,
for as long as he lives,
the acts of a fool.”

—Don Juan as quoted by Carlos Casteneda

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+

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.”