Friday, March 20, 2015

Riverting, Important Coming-Of-Age Tale by Renaissance Man Parks

The appearance of a biracial man in the Oval Office (two-terms!) sadly hasn't simmer down racial strife in the country since the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. That, along with recent fatal shootings involving African-American men and police officers, shows that society has a long way to go. One film perfectly notes that: the film version of Gordon Parks's partially biographical, poignant and powerful, coming-of-age tale, "The Learning Tree".

It's an interesting coming-of-age tale because it focuses on two African-American boys, who are quite different: the curious, good-natured and sensitive Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson, son of Nichelle Nichols of "Star Trek: The Original Series") and the volatile, bitter and frustrated Marcus Savage (Alex Clarke, who could have mistaken for a teenage James Earl Jones) try to live and survive in the hamlet of Cherokee Falls, Kansas of the 1920s, which isn't quite the Jim Crow South, but it's not a liberal-minded northern metropolis. The backgrounds of each boy are the basis of their yin and yang personalities. Newt has a stern ranch hand father (Felix Nelson of "The Ballad Of Cable Hogue"), a kind mother (Estelle Evans of "To Kill A Mockingbird") who's the housemaid for the local judge (Russell Thorson of "Hang 'Em High), a wise blind uncle (Joel M. Fluellen of "The Great White Hope"), an ideal big brother (Phillip Roye of "Black Caesar") and a sassy but concerned sister (Saundra Sharp of "Minstrel Man").

Marcus, whose surname sadly fits him, has none of them, save for a booze hound junkyard owner of a father (Richard Ward of "Across 110th St" and "For Pete's Sake"), whose irresponsibility leaves Marcus open to trouble, causing it (he bullies Newt and three other boys into stealing apples from a farmer's land) and attracting it (Dana Elcar, later of "MacGyver", is pretty effective as the motorcycle-riding racist sheriff Kirky), leading to temporary incarceration in a juvenile reformatory and later janitorial work in a shabby bordello. Newt has his conflicts: college aspirations are deterred by a stubbornly bigoted teacher while his first love is sexually deflowered by one of the Judge's two sons, a careless lothario. When a man is killed and another framed by Marcus's father, both boys will come together at a boiling point.

Having the reputation of being a famed photographer for Life magazine, an prose author and a documentary director, Parks (the first two "Shaft" films, "The Super Cops", "Leadbelly") was the perfect candidate to cine-adapt his novel, becoming the first African-American to direct a big studio film (Warner Bros.) "Tree" may come off like an episode of "Little House On The Prairie" meets an episode of "Peyton Place" with its' cornball sentimentality, but the film's perfectly solid with Parks (wrote, produced, directed and composed the film's music score!) at the helm. He even got cinematographer Burnett Gurney (worked on many classic films from Columbia Pictures, including "From Here To Eternity" and "Gidget") to capture the beautiful atmosphere of the countryside. Most of the cast is obviously from the theater and may come off stiff as some points, but it's nice and pleasant to see African-Americans portrayed non-stereotypically. I related to Johnson as Newt, a daydreamer who's trying to find his way in the world by asking questions and sharing his feelings. By doing that, he forces his high school principal and the judge to admit that the system is, for lack of a better word, is screwed up. Marcus reminds me of boys I knew, angry at their predicament and helpless to change, sadly dooming themselves to a tragic fate. Having the boys' opposing characteristics make the film almost like a Sam Peckinpah film (stock actor Dub Taylor has an appearance as shady boxing ring promoter at a local carnival).

Like the book, the film version of "The Learning Tree" should be required in every school, especially if it has African-American students. It's all too important and riveting at this time.
The Learning Tree (1969) - Trailer - Vidéo Dailymotion

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Elysium Movie Review

It’s more than obvious that when people go to their local movie house on rent/buy a DVD, they don’t want to think about anything, aside from having a good time. Fair enough, but being voluntarily stupid doesn’t exactly contribute to society. Message films today are kind of looked upon as “pro-Commie, bleeding heart propaganda” (thanks, Fox News), but they still have a place in the world. One of them is “Elysium”,  Neill Blomkamp’s slam-bam yet thoughtful follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “District 9”.

            Like the song by the funk band, War, the world has become a ghetto by the year 2154, due to disease, pollution and overpopulation, and anyone big-pocketed has high-tailed it to a halo-shaped space station, its’ name shared with the film’s title, decked with Beverly Hills-like mansion, servant and security droids and rejuvenation chambers. Any “undesirables” are quickly shot down, under the command of Delacourt (Jodie Foster, “Taxi Driver”, “Flightplan”) the station’s secretary of defense.

            The fly is in the ointment happens to Max Dacosta (Matt Damon, the “Jason Bourne” saga, “Dogma”), an ex-thief turn robot factory worker, who’s dying of radiation poisoning after a work-related accident. Refitted with an exo-suit by “smugglers”, he’s sent to capture and download financial intel from the brain of his apathetic ex-boss (William Fichtner, “Prison Break”, “Drive Angry”) as payment for his journey to the space station, but the intel’s actually a reset program for said station as the ingredient for a coup, making Max a target for DelaCourt and her field soldier, the sociopathic Kruger (Sharlto Copley, “District 9”, “The A-Team Movie”).

            Like “District 9”, which allegorized apartheid in South Africa, “Elysium” brilliantly allegorizes illegal immigration, social division and healthcare. Did it have to take a South African-born filmsmith to make a sci-fi satire about the aforementioned topics? Guess so, else the film’s wouldn’t had a sharp edge, the space station being a pristine heaven while Earth’s a garbage-encrusted, decaying hell. Production designer Phillip Ivey captures that division, especially in the look of the technology. No one here’s in exactly good or bad, just opportunistic, noting how society can fall so low.  Damon fits in a role Bruce Willis could have played to a T; Foster echoes Sigourney Weaver with pure coldness and Copley, the 21st  Century’s Bruce Campbell, is both bottle-cap sardonic and sinister. They’re helped by Alice Braga (“Repo Men”) as an old childhood love of Max; Diego Luna (“Rudo Y Cursi”) as Max’s old heist pal and Wagner Moura as an “tech coyote”.

            “Elysium” is one of those films that deserves to be watch more than once because, like Blomkamp’s first film, it tells the truth about the human condition in a sci-fi canvas.   


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Patty: A Short Story

            I was watching TV when I heard the crash. Knowing what happened, I sighed, but I didn’t leave my room. I waited for the show to end. Politeness. When I did leave, I  went into the kitchen.

            I found shards of an aqua-blue painted mug on the floor. Hovering over the mess was Patricia. I swore under my breath.

            “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

            “Go, Patty,” I said.

            “I’m sorry,” she left the kitchen as I grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan to clean up the mess my older, mentally handicapped (retarded is crueler, politically incorrect) sister made. Six years apart in age, I always thought I was the older one, yet I never knew what’s it like to be trapped in the sense of you can’t be like everyone else. By God’s unbreakable will, you’ve given the intelligence of a three-year-old. That’s Patty. She wanted to be like everyone else, but doesn’t have the capability to do be. The shards told me that.

            I sometime wondered why they are mentally retarded people in the world. Pardon me if you think I’m a supporter of eugenics. I’m not. I dare not think it. The only answer is probably humanity needs flaws, warts on the butt cheeks, so that we can be a little nice and civil towards each other. Patience. I didn’t knew if I could have that at the time when I was growing up, wishing about what could have been. I wish I had a big, normal  brother, who helped me with life and be more understanding than my father. It’s not easy being a middle child, let alone the only son, in the family, who doesn’t “act like a man”. I’m not gay, mind you. Just thoughtful and reflective.

            But what about Patty? A twisted version of Peter Pan, who didn’t ask to be this way. A lover of food-especially cheese, bread and milk-when someone “raids” the fridge.

An illiterate when looking at a newspaper or a magazine; the photographs fascinated her. If I told her the ugly truth about her idol, the pop singer Michael Jackson, whose hit single, “Beat It” was on the tip of her tongue-but just the title-she wouldn’t care. She “loves” him. Patty was also a giggler. What was in her mind that made her chortle will forever remain a mystery.

            She was a pain in the ass, too. Sitting on the commode and never getting up (unless she wants to) was a common habit. Two reasons were excretory and her  menstrual cycle. The latter seemed eternal, because the sight on blood-stained  maxi-pads was common, gross and weird. Especially weird when a person’s body keeps growing but  their mindset is forever stuck. My mother and younger sister sometimes had the thankless, unfortunate task of helping Patty with maintaining her hygiene. I didn’t have a strong sense of patience as they did. Guess I saw her as an ubiquitous, undeviating ball-and-chain, punishment for a sin I had in a past life. Who needs religion to keep you on a high, moral ground?

            And she was stubborn and sneaky. If it was time to eat, Patty refused to. If you force her to, she’d eat slow and throw away the rest in the kitchen’s garbage pail when no one was around. If she wasn’t quick, I would devour her dinner, but devour with sorrow, since she was skinny as a twig. Mom had to get prescription medicine so Patty could liv longer. The mean side of me wanted my older sister to die.

            Naturally, of course.

            Patty often placed a current newspaper on the pile of old, read newspapers, making the search of an important news article into a treasure hunt for the rest of the family. Patty did that with other items, including an envelope containing my birthday money when I turned ten. Maybe there was some deep, hidden animosity and jealously from her towards me because I wasn’t like her. Kids used to think I was mentally retarded, and they mocked me. I tattle-taled and got punch-drunk. Was I defending myself from being “trapped” ? Yes. Was I insecure about having a relative who had a IQ of 12 and asked for “juice” and “what’s your name?”? I guess so. Was I defending my sister? Maybe.

            After cleaning up the shards and dumping them in the garbage pail, I went back to my bedroom, turned off the TV and went to bed. I wasn’t sleepy, though. I started to read some chapters of a library-owned copy of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. When I read the prose, I was jealous, wishing I was Kerouac, traveling across America without a damn in the world and writing down my adventures. Love and responsibility kept me away from that. They are chains unbreakable.

            I heard Patty mumble to herself. A sigh left my lips, and I left my bed and room. I found Patty in the living room.

            “Time for bed, Patty,” I tapped her right shoulder.

            “I wanna go to the bathroom.”

            “Please go.”


            “Just go. Please.”

            “Kiss,” she shoved her lips towards me.

            I shook my head, not wanting to kiss any of her acne-coated cheeks, but I gave a kiss on her cheek, escorted to her bed and was grateful we had two bathrooms in the house.




Monday, July 29, 2013

Black Dynamite Review: Look out, you jive suckas! Black Dynamite's Here!

Taking scenes from current films and goofing them up, parody flicks come off as lazy and, in the long run, forgettable. That's not the case with "Black Dynamite", a slam-bam spoof of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, that stand on its' own two feet. Holy Mel Brooks and Quentin Tarantino (Both men should watch this film)!

Big, black, sexy,dangerous and sometimes ludicrous is the title hero (Michael Jai White of, "Spawn", The Dark Knight" and an edited scene from "Kill Bill"), an ex-CIA operative who's on the road of revenge when his kid brother's killed for being an undercover snitch (and speaking proper English!).

The crime leads to plots involving drug-addicted orphans (Huh?) and malt liquor that emasculates African-American men (What the?!). Through it all, BD encounters mobsters, dealers, pimps, hustlers, whores, Black Power revolutionaries, corrupt CIA operatives, kung fu assassins and. . . good God. . . a nunchuks-wielding Richard Nixon (Now, why didn't Zack Snyder give his Nixon in "Watchmen" some mad kung fu skills?)!

Unlike previous spoofs of the genre ("I'm Gonna Get You, Sucka!" ,"Undercover Brother" and "Pootie Tang"), "BD" takes place in the 1970s, not only embracing the funky fashions, ambiance and lingo, but also the embarrassing gaffes, miscues and continuity errors that the politically minded, yet Ed Wood-like auteurs blatantly sanctioned in their cine-opuses. A character hits his head against the boom mike. A stuntman's quickly replaced within the reel (!) after getting hit accidentally. Wild, shaking close-ups are aplenty. Exposition is told in song. Supporting players appear out of nowhere! For cine-sticklers, it's a parade of goofs.

A crowd pleaser at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, "BD" is a laugh riot and a half, thanks to the gonzo ace script by White (possibly the next Leslie Nielsen), Byron Minns (who plays a rhyming night club owner, a la the late comic Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore, here) and Scott Sanders ("Thick as Thieves" which features White), the film's helmer, who expertly winks at the audience as he stands behind the camera.

Characters actors are dead-on camp: Salli Richardson-Whithead ("Posse", the TV show, "Eureka") is a Black Power revolution dame, who falls for the hero; Mike Starr ("Goodfellas", "Jersey Girl") is a mobster flanked by bikini-clad babes; Phil Morris ("Seinfeld", "The Secret Saturdays") is a revolutionary capo; Mykleti T. Williamson ("Forrest Gump", "Lucky Number Slevin ") is a mean street hustler, comics Arsenio Hall and Cedric Yarborough are tacky clothed pimps; Tommy Davidson ("In Living Color") is a politically incorrect gay man; Roger Yuan (the film's co-stunt choreographer, "Shanghai Noon") as a fiendish kung fu villain and Nicole Sullivan ("Rita Rocks, "The Secret Saturdays") is Tricky Dick's better half, Pat Nixon. Yeah. . .she falls for BD too.

With a $3 million budget, "BD"'s free to be a true parody, needing not to resort to cheap gags. Some might see the flick as unneeded but the animosity towards our current President (Hint! Hint) disproves that. Go see "Black Dynamite". . .unless you're some super, jive-ass sucka!

A cool moment in Rap History

This is where the rap group, A Tribe Called Quest, filmed their video, "Check The Rhyme":

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man Of Steel: The Blue Boy Scout Grows Up...and Kicks Ass!!!

I find it interesting that I grew up reading comic books yet didn't like the granddaddy of superheroes, Superman. Why?

I found him silly, unrealistic, buffoonish. The four films starring the late Chris Reeve cemented my viewpoint. Leave him to the non-fanboys, I thought. They can have and keep him, I thought. What changed my mind?

His appearance on his solo late 90s animated series, "Justice League: The Animated Series" and "Smallville". He has feelings, doubts, real internal conflicts. He's relatable! The bottle cap of that revelation happens to be the sixth film featuring Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's iconic hero and the sixth film by madcap fanboy director Zack Snyder (the Dawn of the Dead remake, "300", "Watchmen", "Legend Of The Guardians", "Sucker Punch"). The less said about the 2006 misstep, the better...

The birth of the baby, named Kal-El, precedes the destruction of his home planet Krypton, forcing his parents, scientist Jor-El (impressive Russell Crowe of "American Gangster") and ex-astronaut Lara Lor-Van (elegant Ayelet Zurer of "Darling Companion") to send him to Earth via rocket ship with the genetic codes of many Kryptonians. Fanatical military leader General Zod (manic Michael Shannon of "Boardwalk Empire") tries to stop this during a coup d'etat, but fails and he and his loyalists are sentenced to the Phantom Zone.

Kal-El, meanwhile, is found and rechristened as Clark Joseph Kent by farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner of "Silverado") and Martha Kent (Diane Lane of "Under The Tuscan Sun"), but his budding powers make him an outcast. So, as an adult (buff but noble Henry Cavill of "The Tudors" and "Whatever Works"), Clark leaves Smallville, Kansas, becoming a nomadic worker, until, as an Arctic expedition grunt, he discovers a Kryptonian spacecraft in the North Pole that reveals his heritage and destiny. It's a good thing too as Zod and his group are freed from the Zone by their planet's end, and they see Earth as a new home. Uh-oh...

If you try to compare "Man Of Steel" with the older films, you'll be disappointed. With a powerful yet down-to-earth, sometimes non-linear script by David S. Goyer and Chris Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) on his lap, Snyder throws away the camp and silliness of said films and, like the under-rated "Watchmen", matures the superhero archetype. Chris Reeve's Superman can't exist in the real, let alone post Sept. 11 world; he looks dumb, phony, anachronistic. If you're the only powerful alien on a planet whose populace could fear and hate you, you're far from sociable, but you try to make a difference anyway. Mr. Cavill plays that role to total competence.

He's lucky to surrounded by a strong supporting cast, composed of Oscar winners and nominees and Emmy winners and nominees. Crowe has an middle-aged Obi Wan Kenobi tone that outdoes Marlon Brando's Jor-El; Costner (hauntingly good) and Lane (warm & sweet) are baby boomers with Norman Rockwell hints; Laurence Fishburne (the Matrix saga) is dead-on caustic as Daily Planet chief editor Perry White and Chris Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) is valiant as an Air Force general.

Like Cavill, the next two actors have refashioned their characters. As Zod, Mr. Shannon gives an A-game performance, being a mad dog with an army unit, technology and a well-meaning but twisted goal to save his race, conflicting with Mr. Crowe's noble means. It's a Sam Peckinpah bromance on a galatical scale (the director was slated to direct the 1978 film but his rep went south).

The other thespian's button-cute Amy Adams ("Junebug", "Enchanted") as Daily Planet news hound Lois Lane, who befriends our hero. Sure, she's independent and gutsy, but, thanks to the lack of camp, she's also smart, likable, relatable and realistic, not the inane harpy who demeans milksops.

Someone to look out for is Antje Traue as Zod's icy, loyal right-hand lady, Faora-Ul. "For every life you save, we will kill a million more," she promises to Kal-El during a chaotic brawl in his hometown. Speaking of the battles, they are fast and destructive, echoing the "Dragon Ball" animated series. I think I lost a tooth or two...

Hans Zimmer's day-and-night score is Oscar worthy. D.P Amir Morki captures rural tranquilness and urban destruction capably. SFX wiz John Desjardin's work inspires, especially Krypton's magnetic nanotech.

Supposed fans will moan and bitch over this film, but maybe they really don't know Superman as they think they do as they dismiss his fellow heroes at DC Comics, let alone the whole comic book medium. The character's not Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker or Yogi Bear. Despite his powers, he's a person like the rest of us. That's what makes him a great hero, well deserving of a high quality summer blockbuster that's one of 2013's best.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Inherit The Wind: The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

I wrote that famous saying because, if you have respect for history, you know about how in 1925, one biology teacher, John T. Scopes, was arrested and tried in Dayton, Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution to his high school students in a state where the act was illegal (Scopes, for accurate history's sake, volunteered to challenge the law on a bet). Nowadays, creationism, the belief that God created life, is being decorated as "intelligence design" by fundamental Christians who want the idea taught in public schools. Though a judicial defeat came in Dover, Pennsylvania, the idea hasn't lost steam. Just look at the public school system in the state of Kansas. Yeech!!!!

Anyway, "Inherit The Wind" is a fictional account of the "Monkey Trial" Scopes endured, written by Joseph Lawrence and Robert E. Lee as a play. Socially conscious filmmaker Stanley Kramer ("Judgment At Nuremberg", "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?") took the play to the silver screen and the conclusion is smart, quart-amount funny and proves that having an opinion different from the status quo doesn't (and shouldn't) mean a person should suffer the wrath of judicial condemnation (Hear that, you McCarthies and Asscrofties!).

Bertram T. Cates (a gaunt, brave Dick York) replaces Scopes as the accused in the town of Hillsboro, "the buckle of the Bible belt". His fiancée, Rachel Brown (Donna Anderson) wants to him to admit his guilt and apologize, so their marriage could be a holy union in the eyes of the town's citizens, particularly her preacher father. Cates stands firm, even though high-confidence biblical lawyer and three-times Presidential candidate Matthew Harrison Brady (a spirited Frederic March, whose character swaps with William Jennings Bryant) has volunteered to assist the prosecution. Brady sees "God's on trial", but he didn't count on an old friend, civil rights attorney Henry Drummond (an aging yet scrappy Spencer Tracy), a trade for Clarence Darrow, to defend Cates.

"Wind" is an unusual but heated boxing match. Pro and con opinion holders are boxers meeting in the ring, facing each other and sizing each other up. Onlookers are referees. Nobody throws fists, only words, and thanks must given to Ernest Laszlo, the genius behind the film's cinematography. Two-time Oscar holders Tracy (nominated for this acting gig) and March defend the opposing beliefs as "colonels", deemed by judicial power. And when they argue, they argue! Critics have deemed famed song-and-dance man Gene Kelly ("On The Town", "Singing In The Rain") miscast for the role of E.K. Hornbeck, the faux version of holy ideal-scoffing newsman, H.L. Mencken, who delightfully demeans Brady, his supporters and their belief in God, but the performance is eye-wink ironic. Kelly pokes righteous fun at the "moral people" who have enjoyed his usual musical performances yet have bigoted views against people and ideas different from themselves. However, Kelly's Hornbeck learns he's no different from them in his championing of Cates.

A sharp cast occupies the film, littered with future TV players. York is best known as the first Darrin Stevens of the sitcom "Bewitched"; Claude Atkins ("B.J. And the Bear) is a vehement sour puss as the Reverend Jeremiah Brown; Brady cheerleader Jesse H. Dunlap is played by Ray Teal, of the western drama, "Bonanza"; Harry Morgan (the late 1960s TV version of "Dragnet", M.A.S.H.: The Sitcom) is the no-nonsense judge; a simple farmer is played by Noah Berry Jr. of the detective drama, "The Rockford Files", and Norman Fell ("Three's Company") has a funny, little part as a radio technician.

Two interesting notes: Florence Eldridge, March's real-life wife, plays Brady's wife, Sarah, who shows not everyone on her husband's side is fanatical, and her husband's is "just a man". Also, the film's co-writer, Nedrick Young, had to use the pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas, in order to be credited with fellow scribe Harold Jacob Smith on the film, let alone work in Hollywood, despite his then-blacklisted status for having Communist ties. How real life and fantasy can intertwine… The 1988 TV remake is a wooden penny, with Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas miscast as Drummond and Brady. The producers probably wanted "a theatrical play" to the film, but a play and a film are two different animals. However, Darren McGavin of the pre-"X Files", sci-fi/horror/fantasy drama, "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" is more than suitable as Hornbeck, since he played an outlaw newsman on TV, and gives the snail-like story some sparks. Superiority is present in the 1999 version with Jack Lemmon as Drummond (he won an Golden Globe), George C. Scott as Brady, Piper Laurie as Sarah, a crackerjack tongued Beau Bridges (his and his brother Jeff's dad, Lloyd Bridges, was also blacklisted) as Hornbeck, Tom Everett Scott as Cates and a pretty, pre-"Cold Case" Kathryn Morris as Rachel.

"Wind", as the play, the 1960 and the 1999 film versions, should be mandatory material in high school because the story's lesson is the right to think, no matter how agnostic or religious you are, is a holy gift.