Tag Archive: netflix


A few weeks back, my Twitter feed went nuts with black film geeks famous and not famous all saying Netflix dropped a series called ‘Pioneers of African-American Cinema’ that is mandatory viewing if you’re a student of the history or the artform or the culture.

And they were all right.

Streaming on Netflix, twenty episodes total.  A few shorts in there, but mostly features, none over 100 minutes I believe.  Most everyone who knows their history has heard the name Oscar Micheaux; off the top of my head there are four of his films here.  Paul Robeson makes an appearance in one of the features.  If you’re any type of black film geek, it’s the best kind of homework.

Now, a few notes from me as an observer:

It’s to be expected I guess when you know how historically expensive filmmaking is as an art form, but as far as the stories here: it’s almost exclusively from a ‘Talented Tenth’ point of view.  If you’re hoping to see some pre-cursor to ‘Menace II Society’ or ‘Boyz N Da Hood’… nope, this ain’t the place.  I believe it was in one of the Micheaux films that a fast light skinned woman was repeatedly referred to as ‘that yellow hussy’.  That tickled me good, but be ready for a lot of that.

In terms of things off the beaten track, there’s a black Western(!) in the later episodes.  That’s the good.  The bad?  Shockingly, there was a blackface preacher who showed up in one of the more musically inclined films (in front of a black choir, which made it extra jarring.)  There was also a yellowface character who briefly showed up as a minor character in one film.  I’m not even going to psycho analyze that, I’m just telling you it was there.

But this is still mandatory viewing as a historical document if nothing else.  (I want to say the National Film Archive and the Library of Congress were the two DC groups most responsible for preserving these films, but don’t quote me on that.)  

Streaming on Netflix.

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I don’t know if this particular film needed the help, but first off let me say Netflix is getting better at playing to the eyes and ears of the film geek community.  I got to see ‘Roma’ at the Directors Guild over Thanksgiving weekend, on the big screen the way I’m sure Alfonso Cuaron (and traditionalists in the nominating committees for awards season) prefer to see films.

I had no preconceptions on what this would be, or really, what it was about. (So I’ll try to be deliberately a little more vague than normal here.)  But here’s the setting: a year in the life of an upper middle class Mexican family, and their maid/nanny, set in the not too distant past.  Language, setting and political dynamics of the country are very specific.  Shifting family relationships, sibling rivalries, falling in and out of love – universal.  We all can relate to that.   

The narrative doesn’t point the audience to pass judgment on this family, one way or the other.  For some people, that will translate as the film being ‘slow’ (for not telling you what to think).  The artistic crowd I saw it with took well to it though.  Best Foreign Film nomination seems like a lock next year.  Maybe more depending on what else rises and falls over the next month.

A recommend here for when it starts streaming.

 

Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever.

One of my favorite Golden Age stories I took to heart comes from Karl Malden.  When Brando was putting his directorial debut together, he called Malden to see if he would be interested, and Karl just said ‘Yep’, without knowing what the part was, let alone seeing the script.  I’ve heard it repeated in more professional settings as well: the more the merrier obviously, but if you have a handful of people who you are aces with, you’ll be alright.

(Also realize writing it out, that’s good life advice as well.)

Point here being for me, Brittany Garms is definitely one of my ‘automatic yes’ people.  First time we worked together was ‘Natalie Portman: the Musical’, then ‘Christian Bale: the Musical’; there was a time I remember the timing was the reason I couldn’t do a project.  But we’re good.

I knew she was involved in something at Netflix, imagine my surprise to find out she’s one of the leads in this new series debuting later this month.  Many of you know how dedicated I am to supporting the people in my orbit, so not much more I need to say about this, other than, enjoy the trailer!

 

 

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Quincy Jones has had a career and a life that just won’t me duplicated.

EGOT.  He opened the door for Oprah to go to the next level.  He opened the door for Will Smith to go to the next level.  Nearly any creative I know would feel like his 90th biggest accomplishment would easily be their 1st.

So it’s impressive that ‘Quincy’ does such a good job of giving an overview for how much he’s done over the years while blending in enough of a personal element to balance the story out.

I could be hear all day talking about Q’s accomplishments, so I’ll just pick a few highlights:

  • Sinatra is one of my guys, so the chapter detailing their relationship was riveting for me.  How much respect Frank had for him, how Q was right there with Sammy when Sinatra spoke up about really integrating Vegas, the album ‘Sinatra at the Sands’ (a personal favorite).  All gems.
  • Like Kendrick said, my generation was introduced to Q through MJ.  The music nerd in me was equally happy to hear him credit Rod Temperton as one of the great songwriters, but getting behind the scenes footage of their professional bonding over ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Thriller’ was cool.
  • I should have figured as much, but Q produced the concert that opened the Smithsonian African-American Museum.  Just seeing him walk through the pop culture exhibit and realize he produced or worked with damn near every person in the music section is another shake your head ridiculous moment; but seeing this man still producing massive events in his 80s is…humbling.

The film is co-directed by his daughter Rashida (side note: I’m far too young to know of a young Peggy Lipton, but seeing her with no context, my first reaction was still, ‘Oh, that’s Rashida Jones’ mom), and it’s well worth the two hour watch if you’re any kind of pop culture nerd.

High recommend.

 

 

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I don’t think Justin Simien will take any offense to me saying each incarnation of ‘Dear White People’ has been an improvement on the one before it.

The latest season (or volume as it were) builds on Season 1’s re-introduction of the characters and settings of Winchester University, and creatively expands on them in so many ways, the few highlights I’m about to list below only scratch the surface…

  • If you feel the need to play the comparison game, I guess ‘Atlanta’ would be the other choice, but the number of strong individual episodes in this season is absurdly high.  The ‘mushrooms’ episode.  The ‘abortion’ episode.  My actor’s bias has strong feelings for episode 8, which is essentially a one act play for the characters of Sam and Gabe; the amount of personal and political material in that half hour alone is obscene.
  • But my favorite episode of this bunch is the ‘Joelle’ episode.  The character is obviously a fan favorite, and the realization/breakdown of ‘the hotep’ was too hilarious and painfully accurate.
  • A ton of good cameos I won’t completely ruin, but I have to say seeing Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson play against ‘what I was expecting’ was fantastic.  For the USC crowd my old classmate Daheli got more screen time this season as the Iyanla Vanzant doppleganger and she makes the most of it.

So yes, all the applause.  Carve out 10 more half hours of your time for this.

Streaming on Netflix.

 

 

onmyblock

I understand (kind of) that Netflix can’t promote the living heck out of every single project they put up.  I kept hearing about ‘On My Block’ by word of mouth, and I was only two episodes in before I started telling people around me, ‘You need to get involved with this,’ and now that I’ve finished season 1 (and I’ve heard Netflix has already greenlit season 2), I’m writing about it today.

The best pitch came from one of the homies who actually finished binging it before I did: ‘It’s one of those CW shows, but for us.’  Accurate.  ‘On My Block’ is an often hilarious, coming of age story centered around four teens: insecure, nerdy Ruben, trying to stay out of ‘the life’ Cesar, tomboy growing into a woman’s body Manse, and the resident goofball Jamal.  Following the kids entering the first year of high school, the series does a great job giving each member of the ensemble a relatable individual arc that doesn’t pull the overall tone too deeply into melodrama.

And it has to be said: young actors can be hit or miss, but the casting on this one is pitch perfect.  A lot of the fun of this series comes from how much we’re cheering for each of these characters and their quests.

Ten half hour episodes.  Quick and easy binge if you’re interested.

 

 

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Do not let it be said we’re anywhere close to running out of fresh angles for genre stories…

At its core, ‘First Match’ is a coming of age story.  But here are just a few of the ‘not worn out’ touches…

a) the protagonist is a young black girl

b) she tries to bond with her father by joining her high school wrestling team

c) the potential ‘dark side’ angle has her going into female street fighting (not quite MMA but close…)

We all gravitate toward hero stories of course, but, especially in this (teenage) phase of life, it’s very compelling to watch someone set themselves up for a ‘good’ future, and potentially blow it because their emotions override their logic.

Well acted and directed. Definite recommend.

Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Even for someone like me who’s more or less the same age as hip hop, it’s hard now to imagine the early days, when even people who saw money couldn’t imagine millions of dollars.  When it was a neighborhood thing and not a worldwide culture.  ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ does an excellent job of reminding you of the origins and a lot more.

If you don’t know the story of one of the first women of hip hop, this movie is a nice introduction.  Aided by performances from Nia Long and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (I’ll never get tired of saying that), ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ shines most as it reminds of the additional hurdles a female MC had to (has to?) overcome on top of trying to get ahead in a male dominated industry.  Need muscle when someone tries to screw you out of money?  Have a baby?  Just to name two.  The hip hop lover in me also loved the fairly organic way some other names of hip hop were integrated into the story without taking it over (Marley Marl, UTFO of course, Biz Markie, and another young kid from Queensbridge by the name of Nasir…)

Definitely worth seeing if you’re a hip hop historian.  Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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The new Ricky Gervais stand up on Netflix is interesting to me because, it’s really three shorter sets edited together…

In the first set, he’s basically doing his David Brent, ‘oblivious asshole’ character to poke fun at the Kardashians (well just one really) and how his own celebrity and wealth have left him ‘out of touch’ with the common man…

The second set is a more traditional stand up routine where he talks about everything they don’t tell you about becoming middle aged.  Self deprecating jokes, fat jokes and dick jokes, you know the drill…

In the last set he seems to be speaking in his natural voice, as he (with humor) focuses on all the good of social media (the ability to unite and organize around a cause in hours instead of months) and the bad (how we all fall victim to gaslighting).

It’s a sharp not quite 90 minutes from someone the vast majority of us will never think of as a ‘stand up comedian’.  If you’re a fan of any of his work (‘The Office,’ ‘Extras,’ ‘Derek’), I think it’s definitely worth checking out.

 

‘Strong Island’

 

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‘Strong Island’ is another film that’s compelling both for what’s on screen, and also for how perfectly timely it is with larger discussions happening in 2018 America.

Nominated this year in the Best Documentary – Feature category, the skeleton of the story is way too familiar to everyone now: a young black man is murdered, the local police look at the evidence and drift toward the attitude of ‘Well, he wasn’t an angel…’

Yance Ford (the director, the sibling of the victim, and if I’m not mistaken, the first transgender person nominated in this category) gives us enough time with all the judicial elements of the story to upset anyone with a conscience.  The true gift of the film is in the time spent (and the focus) on how a crime like this, the sudden, unnecessary death of a young man, implodes the whole family unit.  (There’s a larger metaphor in there for the black experience in America if you wanted to go there.)

Powerful film.  Now streaming on Netflix.