Tag Archive: oscars


 

13th

I want to stay away from the obvious cliches when I judge this film on its own and within the long view of Ava Duvernay’s career (‘this is an important film’), so I’ll try to find the right words at the end…

The conceit of this documentary is that while the 13th Amendment abolished slavery…it really didn’t.  The U.S. Civil War (like pretty much every other war, ever) was about economics.  The Southern economic system was destroyed, so…something had to replace it.  And as a side note, all those blacks who that economic system was completely dependent on…what about them?

So that’s your starting point in this, incredible film.  Writing it down as I am now really doesn’t do it justice, but you get a five star ‘the History of Black America’ story in under two hours that rarely, if ever, moves too far away from its thesis.  You want a quick lesson in why (the original) Birth of a Nation is so important for all the wrong reasons?  It’s in here.  You want to know how coded language has evolved from nigger to ‘crack users’ to ‘thugs’ over the years? It’s covered pretty well here.  You want a quick political science lesson in how Nixon won over the South to the Republican party, and how the Clintons figured out how to neutralize that advantage?  It’s in here.

It’s history but make no mistake, this is a ‘film’ as well.  It’s art.  The use of graphics to illustrate how the prison rate keeps escalating, the use of hip hop to guide us through the political eras (I reflexively threw up my fist when Public Enemy came on.)  The editing is superb; in the early sections you will question why aren’t black people constantly boiling over in anger, in the present day Black Lives Matter section, I had to look away as the film makes you relive Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and the still growing list of boys who’ve been killed for being.

I have no inside information on if Ava even cares about industry awards, but as I write this either this film or the more L.A. centric story about race, ‘O.J. Made in America’ is the frontrunner for Best Documentary.  What I can say is that this is in my opinion the best film she’s directed to this point in here in her career by far.

Streaming on Netflix.  Watch it.

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espy

I fell into this before Oscars week when I posted her covering Michael.  I generally try to space out using the same artist too close together.

BUT…

When you successfully cover my single favorite Stevie song…

In the genre that’s the soundtrack to my life…

In front of the President AND the songwriter…

And kill it so hard I have to watch it 100 times to question ‘Do I like this better than the original?’

Impressive.  Most impressive.

Enjoy!

spike-lee-reaches

(As I’m reminded I have to figure out how to crash the Governor’s Awards…)

Enjoy!

Lineage

 

belafonte

Nothing I say to start your week will possibly match the eloquence of this.

Harry Belafonte this past weekend accepting his honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards:

 

 

WestsideView

I had a dream to start the week; one of these dreams where as it goes on, you realize you’re not in reality.  I was out somewhere (the Grove maybe?), and I saw my dream girl and her kid.  We hadn’t seen each other in a real long time.  As I was debating whether to approach or keep my distance, she spotted me in the crowd.  Wasn’t really the place for conversation, but she smiled at me.  That smile I fell in love with years and years ago now.  The kid doesn’t know me, no need to know me. But the girl, you know, a part of me will always love her.  So to see her happy, and the kid happy, made me happy.  I mean that.  You know me, I want what’s best for everyone.

Having said that… if we’re being completely honest…selfishly, internally, how I felt underneath was completely…

ehhh

Maybe I fall in love too much now (ironically).

But maybe I’ve found the right balance between romantic and pragmatic.

The thing about becoming a union guy is the competition goes through the roof.  So as a result, the political knife needs to be as sharp as possible.  That’s the revelation of ‘Malik Aziz’ over the last 12 months: I (for better AND for worse) have taken a strong liking to the political part of getting ahead.  I hesitate to use the word ‘love’ in that scenario, but my mind is turned on, almost all the time now.  Either in using my craft, or to get ahead in my craft.  For my fellow Wire fanatics, I think I’ve become a Hollywood version of Carcetti.   I started as the idealist with huge ambition, now the Game has the guy who asks, ‘How do I get what I want with as little collateral damage as possible?’  Truth be told, I’ve lost more battles than I’ve won this year, but I’m also at the point where none of my losses mean ‘Game Over’, they all mean ‘Now the next time you’re in a similar situation, what will you do differently?’

Maybe I’ve found my place in the world.

Maybe I finally like being one of the guys people want to see on the biggest platform I can get to.

What is my dream now?

One day I’ll win an Oscar.

(wait for it…)

Give the speech where I say ‘all the right things.’

(wait for it…)

Go to the Governor’s Ball.  Talk a little shop, kiss all the right pinky rings.

(wait for it…)

Then go to ‘the spot’.  Where ‘my people’ are waiting.  In my younger, angrier days, I’d walk out to Jay’s ‘Public Service Announcement’.  I’m in a different place now.  When Doug E. Fresh’s ‘The Show’ comes on, you’ll know I’m in the house.  I’ll spend the whole first minute in chill mode, maybe place the Golden Boy down center stage.

As soon as I hear ‘6 minutes, 6 minutes, 6 minutes Doug E. Fresh, you’re on!’…I’m pop locking for the rest of the song.  Yep, still in my Tom Ford tux.  Cause at that point of the night, it won’t be about me, business, politics, or any of my selfish goals.  At that point, it’s about you: the homies, the lovers, the friends.  I won’t name names this year, for the first time I’m genuinely afraid I’ll hurt someone’s feelings if I don’t list them.  But you know who you are.  And you’ll know why I’m showing out at that moment.  Cause you’ll know like you know right now: he ain’t changing!  He’ll get to the top of the mountain, but that nut (as a person) will never change.

And when the party ends, ‘tomorrow’ is another day.  I’ll jump on my wife, make scrambled eggs for the kids.  Call my publicist so we can set up one of those ‘staged but still really cool Morning After My Life Changed Photos’ for the media.  I’ll go halfway up Runyon with my guitar and look at the city I love and think about my next challenge.

Kinda like this:

Happy Holidays gang.  Be safe.  Back to work as soon as 2014 starts…

 

Moonrise Kingdom

 

movie_-_Moonrise-Kingdom

A Wes Anderson film.  A ‘filmmaker’s film’.  A ‘geek film’.  I open with a fair warning because I know all of you won’t dig Moonrise Kingdom.  You probably know going in if it’s the type of film you would like or not.

The story is another ‘misfits in love’ story (popular this year it seems).  The great hook this time is the love is between two kids.  Between the screenplay and the great casting, I tell you what: Moonrise Kingdom is charming as hell.  Between the two leads and the boys who play the Scouts, these kids really carry this film.  A film that oh by the way, has Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton in the supporting cast.  Think about that.

My only complaint with this film is really just a personal preference: I respect Wes Anderson’s craft moreso than I can call myself a fan of his films.  Put another way, I don’t think they’re bad, it’s just not my style.  There’s usually a point where the film gets a little too eccentric (yes, even I have my limits).  Like I said though, this is a filmmaker’s film, so expect to hear it come up more than once Thursday when the nominations are announced.

Will try to have one more review (possibly two) ahead of ‘Oscar Nomination Day’…

Middle of Nowhere

 

Better late than never with this one.

Middle of Nowhere is the best ‘Black’ film I’ve seen in quite awhile.  There’s a version of this story that you could see done in a very over the top fashion, but credit goes to the brilliant cast and director Ava DuVernay that the film never goes there.  Not for a frame.  And as a result, the characters feel real, the situations feel real, and most importantly the dramatic tension of how the story will resolve lasts until the credits come up.

The plot of the story centers around a woman named Ruby, whose husband is incarcerated with years of time ahead of him.  Does she stick it out with him, or does she move on with her life?  As the title of the film implies, Middle of Nowhere is filled with double meanings (literal places and their symbolic counterparts).  As an audience you never feel like the message is being beat over your head because…there are no easy answers.  As we learn about the main characters, you feel a level of sympathy for all of them.  There are no true ‘villains’ here, just people dealing with the hand life dealt them.  Ava already took home Best Director at Sundance, and the early buzz is there’s going to be a push for a Best Screenplay nomination.  It would be well deserved. Very well deserved.

Glad I was still able to catch this one on the big screen.  If you haven’t yet, I think it’s worth your time.

The Help

Count me among the many whose face curled up in disgust as soon as I heard the re was a movie about black folks called ‘The Help’.  I mean, really?  That was the best title they could come up with?  There’s a very short list of actors at this point who I would consider ‘dream colloborators’, but Viola Davis is on that list.  So hearing that she was in this film bought it a little bit of rope.

Next I heard that this was based on a popular book.  That and knowing all the main charaters were women sent me next to my mother to see if she saw the movie or read the book.  I’ve made reference before to my roots being in the South; so when my mother told me that the book and film gave her flashbacks to her teenage years (i.e. for a brief period of time, she was ‘The Help’), well, now I had a vested interest in seeing this film.

There’s nothing groundbreaking in the film in terms of story (‘black people really got the short end of the stick during Jim Crow’) or as a movie about racism (‘there’s the one educated white person who’s ready to tear down Jim Crow and side with the blacks).  That doesn’t mean I think it was a poorly made film either; as award season comes around I think ‘the Help’ will be remembered more for the performances than for its whole.  Emma Stone as the ‘ugly girl’, Jessica Chastain as the white trash girl, Bryce Dallas Howard actually being very convincing in the part I imagine they offered to January Jones first.  Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson in bit parts that were both very memorable.  On a side note, I half jokingly wondered if Cicely Tyson just rents herself out to ‘questionable’ projects; like a safety net to let folks know ‘if Cicely Tyson is in it, it can’t be racist.’

This is Viola Davis’ film though and to no surprise she carries it.  I’ve already heard the ‘O’ word thrown around a little bit.  I cringe a little when I think about the parts and scenes that have won black women Oscars (see Butterfly McQueen and Halle Berry), but we can cross that bridge later if it comes to that.

The film has been at the top of the box office for a minute now, so it’s worth being part of the conversation if you haven’t seen it:

 

Today was a typically long Sunday, some outside time, some personal things I had to get done – like all hardcore sports fans though, this particular Sunday meant planning everything around the NBA Finals.  So what time did the game start for me?  5 PM, perfect to get to a friend’s house for an early dinner.  At the end of a great game was it time for bed?  Hell no, it just turned 8 PM!  Enough time to get a few things done (including writing this post)!

Regular season NFL games starting at 10 in the morning, the ability to catch the ending of any great prime time game without the benefit of Sportscenter, the early start times are a hidden benefit you don’t catch until you’re here.  They’re also the real truth for the infamous ‘late arriving’ LA sports crowds; on top of the unlimited entertainment options this town provides, the ‘prime time games’ during the week mean you’re fighting rush hour traffic on top of stadium/arena traffic. 

This is the movie geek in me talking, but the growth of the internet (and Twitter) has forced pretty much all the big award shows taped on the West Coast to televise live out here.  So we’re still getting used to seeing the Golden Globes and Oscars on television at 5 in the evening, but I’m sure we’ll get used to that too. 

I’ll admit it, I’m spoiled now.

boyz-n-the-hood

Boyz N The Hood was the debut film by writer/director John Singleton.  The semi-autobiographical tale revolves around three young black men, Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, and their daily lives growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While the phrase ‘black film’ can take on many different meanings (as this countdown hopefully illustrates), Boyz N The Hood is the type of film that is universally agreed to represent the ultimate prototype.  Black director, black writer, black cast, black soundtrack, black setting, black story.  Spike had already proven there was a modern audience for black film; in mimicking the rise of West Coast hip hop, John opened America’s eyes to a very real ‘street’ sensibility that was getting louder and prouder.

Legacy:     So many careers and trends can be traced to this film.  John Singleton obviously, but also Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Cuba Gooding Jr. started their rise with this film.  The good and bad ‘hood’ films (Menace II Society, and countless others) wouldn’t have gotten made without Boyz.  While Spike was the clear pioneer, John’s success told both Hollywood and future filmmakers that there was room for more than one black storyteller at a time.  That might be the greatest legacy.

Craft:  Rewatching it years later, there are points where the film is undeniably ‘preachy’.  (And the Wayans absolutely slaughtered this point to death in their parody, Don’t Be a Menace).  That aside, the film’s structure is fairly classical.  Three brothers, one undeniably good (Tre), one undeniably bad (Doughboy), and one good who has some ties to the bad (Ricky).  The presence of the father figure (Furious) is somewhat on the nose, but no one can take away from the great performance of Laurence Fishburne.

Crossover:  Without a doubt.  Boyz N The Hood was on its own regard a crossover phenomenon.  John Singleton became the first African-American, and the youngest person of any color to be nominated for Best Director.  As referenced in the Legacy section, Ice Cube has gone from Doughboy to the star of Are We There Yet?  Anyone who saw that coming is a bold faced liar.

Apollo:  Ricky’s slow motion demise is still incredibly powerful.  If I may, I’d like to use this space for something more personal.  I was still a kid when this film came out.  Spike’s films had already planted the seed in my head, and I heard about all this new black kid out of USC doing it, so of course I wanted to see the film.  Now I might be slightly off with this number, but the number of times I personally remember my father going out to the movie theater has to be around…5?  He has movies he likes now, but they’re not his thing, they’re my thing.  So there we were one Saturday afternoon (in Oak Park Mall for you Kansas City people) watching Boyz.  My Pops taking me to something I was interested in wasn’t a big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always known.  So when Furious made his speech to Tre about listening to him (and watching what happens to Ricky and Doughboy who didn’t have that male influence), it was just part of the movie to me.

Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the table, I have so much appreciation for what I had.  Obviously having a man in the house doesn’t mean automatically mean a boy grows up into a good brotha, not having a man doesn’t mean a boy won’t turn out well.  But it’s a conversation I’ve had over and over again with some of my closest friends: having a good man involved in the life of a boy can go a long, long way in creating a good man.  (I’m deliberately avoiding the father-daughter influence; go listen to some old John Mayer for that.)  As a wrap I’ll say for its various flaws, Boyz N The Hood is one of the better, three-dimensional black films ever made.

The countdown will continue with another landmark film.  Until next time…