Tag Archive: tyler perry


‘Gone Girl’

 

Gone-Girl-Movie-Rosamund-Pike-Amy-Dunne

Yikes…

That’s a pretty good one word reaction to Gone Girl, right?  Trading notes with my male friends, it’s definitely up there with Fatal Attraction and Unfaithful on that ‘Married Man Worst Fear’ list.

What can I say without spoiling the film?  If you’re a David Fincher fan, I can’t imagine you will be disappointed.  I’m reminded again he’s on that short list of directors who, if they want you for a part, you probably say yes, script unseen.  Speaking of, Tyler Perry!  I’m not as surprised as some, but yeah.  He wasn’t distracting, or pulling you out of the story with his appearance, was he?

And Affleck (clearly carrying the extra Prince of Gotham weight) was appropriately douchey and sympathetic as the story played out.  The star and certain lock for a Best Actress nomination Rosemund Pike, well what can I say?  I’m aware this is an adaptation of a popular book (so there’s a lot on the page) but you still need committed actors to play the parts.  And I believed her in that role.  Completely.  Too much.

So if you haven’t gotten around to seeing Gone Girl yet, well worth your time.

 

So, I want to make my first feature length film…

Step one, as is always the case, was creating the script.  I caught parts of Clooney on the Actors Studio over the weekend, and I agree with his sentiment that you can take a good script and make a bad film out of it, but you can’t turn a bad script into a good movie.  So the first of many sacrifices I’ve been in the process of making has been slashing my social life down to the bone.  By the grace of the Humblebragging Gods, there’s always something to do in this town and somebody I haven’t hung out with in awhile (and that’s not even counting private affairs).   But as I look at the Mountain I’m trying to climb, I’ve become hyper focused again about the difference between spending half my day ‘just chilling’, and half my day writing and rewriting.

So what can I tell you about the story?  Well it’s part stand up style special, part documentary.  From a functional point of view that means the majority of the film can be shot in one day.  I have no dreams of being Louis C.K. or Chris Rock, but especially with this subject matter, using my sense of humor and comedic timing is the absolute way to go.  As I started to think about blueprints, the irony was not lost on me that in many ways I’m going down the path of the original Tyler Perry blueprint (film your stage shows and market the ish out of those bad boys to your core audience).  Not that I’m the type to complete dismiss anyone’s hustle, but I was reminded of one of my favorite lines of Malcolm’s from the Autobiography: ‘…anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.’

My superhero alter ego aside, this is also a Mountain that I would be insane to even attempt to climb alone.  I know who I want to direct it, I know who I want for a crew, at the moment I’m satisfied with the list of people I want to interview for the documentary sections of the film, and have little doubt the brothers and sisters I already have a personal relationship with are going to be willing to help.  As I’ve started the early process of building my team, I’ve made sure to drop a little caveat for my non-Muslim friends, of whom I have many: I need your support to make this happen, and you know me well enough to know I’m not ‘seeking’ to burn any bridges.  But that said, the nature of the subject matter and my point of view will rattle somebody’s cages (if I’m doing my job right).  But just because I can say something, I don’t want any of my people to catch heat because they have to answer to some person or group that has no jurisdiction over me.  So I need your support, but if you have to be a ‘silent partner’ or you have to sit back of the theater so your face doesn’t show up on camera, trust, I take no offence.  I’ll be glad to know you have my back.

So the first brick has been laid.  Now, in no particular order, I have to drop at least 10 pounds, perfect a song, touch base with Film Independent, IFP, SAGIndie, research Wichita, get a ‘number’, and start writing the sci-fi story I came to this town to make in the first place.  That’s what I can think of off the top of my head anyway.  I’ve got a big Mountain to climb.

But as the young people say, I’m trending upwards…

So the last thing I did this weekend was go out and see Red Tails for myself.  I thought it was cool; not the ‘savior’ for black cinema but also definitely not anything that set ‘the movement’ back a hundred years.  The box office numbers came in well, which I think was the one thing everyone who had an investment in this film really wanted in the first place.

Whether you want to point the finger at Lucas or not, one thing I will say is that it’s been awhile since I’ve seen so many people express an opinion about a black film before it was released. As I told a friend today, the ‘conversation’ this film produced has been as worthwhile as the film itself. So now that the dust has settled so to speak, where do we go from here? Let’s pick apart some of the things that came up.

‘The future of black cinema is/was at stake.’ Um, no.  My cynical side has to answer this one, but (like most Hollywood movies), anything short of record breaking numbers just means we’ll eventually get back to the status quo.  Which means the next ‘big budget’ Hollywood film about black folks will come out…whenever another billionaire with a heart of gold decides to finance one.  If I can go full Devil’s Advocate on you, I could make the same argument about nearly every decent drama, every film with a female protagonist that isn’t a romantic comedy, and on and on.  The system as it is currently setup is Franchise/Tentpole or Bust.  Before the screening I went to, there were trailers for the next Tyler Perry film and Battleship. Yes, ‘You sank my Battleship!’ Battleship.  It’s the world we live in.

So does that mean the audience should give up?  Not at all. Actually, in some ways the game has gotten better.  I remember when ‘Daughters of the Dust’ came out, I heard about for a few years before, and eventually, my public library had a copy that I was able to check out.  Conversely, thanks to these here interwebs, when a black project has great word of mouth (like the Awkward Black Girl series that I was late to the party on but enjoyed), we have YouTube and KickStarter to view and support the projects we want to see almost instantly.  As a result of the system going in more of a corporate direction, the next group of filmmakers are coming out of the gate saying “Eff it!”  I know there’s no way you’ll develop a film like Pariah, so we’ll find our own means to make it and get it to the masses.  Like everything else in life, Hollywood goes in cycles, and there are more than a few signs to suggest we’re about to have a redo of that early 90s feel:  ‘We’re telling our stories for our audiences, Hollywood can make all the crap movies they want’.

So I guess we’ll all see where it goes from here.  Oscar nominations come out in the morning, this discussion may continue sooner as opposed to later…

Classified X

 

It’s both impossible and unfair to expect any one film to try to explain the entire history of African-Americans in cinema.  But I tell you what, ‘Classified X’ is as close as they come.

This documentary, written and narrated by Melvin Van Peebles, traces the history of blacks in cinema, and how movies, Hollywood studio movies, were not remotely immune to portraying the stereotypes that were prominent in the culture at large.  I think I’m part of the last generation that had ‘Mammy’ in their Tom and Jerry cartoons and Bugs Bunny in blackface; ‘Classified X’ brings back all those clips and some that are even more blatant than that.

The senior Van Peebles uses his own career and childhood memories growing up on the South Side of Chicago as the backbone for their story.  It both makes sense and in a way I think limits the power of the narrative.  He’s being completely accurate when he says his film ‘Sweet Sweetback’ convinced Hollywood to create the blaxploitation era; at the same time it still feels like a little bit of a Humblebrag.

That nitpick aside I genuinely feel this is required viewing for anyone with a remote interest in the history of black cinema.  I caught in on Netflix Instant but I imagine there are other ways to see it since it’s a documentary…

 

It seems no one is happy in Hollywood right now.

In this month’s GQ, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo Dicaprio sit down for an interview to promote their upcoming film, J. Edgar. During the interview, both men, who happen to be icons for each of their generations, lament on how difficult it is to greenlight serious dramas like the film they just colloborated on.  I feel pity for them (sarcasm), but it does beg the question: if two guys of the status of Clint and Leo aren’t happy with the studio system these days, then who is?

Is it the suits?  A week doesn’t pass without hearing one of my creative friends complain about pitching to someone who only sees their vision as some type of Moneyball formula: Actor X + Director Y = Genre Pic Z.  I know my fair share of suits as well though, and from their side of the table, Hollywood doesn’t sound like a seller’s market these days.

A lot of Clint and Leo’s nostalgia is for 70s era cinema, when the director had the freedom to try new things and be auteurs.  But those days are over unless your name is James Cameron.  Actors ebb and flow their way to the top of the food chain.  At their last peak, the action star era of the 80s, they were the movie stars.  But in our current era, the franchises themselves have become the movie stars.  What about writers?  In television, maybe.  In film?  Please.

Tyler Perry made the most money in Hollywood last year but…was he really ‘in’ Hollywood?  I’d argue no, which is part of why he’s so beloved and successful with his core audience.  And what about ‘the audience’?  In theory the goal of the game is to provide something that makes you want to leave home and experience it on the big screen in a dark room with a group of strangers.  But have there been any ‘must see’ films this year (if you’re not a Harry Potter fan)?

So to summarize, the bean counters have little to no incentive to creating ‘great art’, the artists may have the desire but rarely have the power to push their vision through, and the audience is rarely motivated to come out en masse for a film.  The question needs to be asked: will someone or something ‘rise’ that unites the business and creative sides of Hollywood, while pulling in the masses to see what the big deal is?

Was this whole post an elaborate ruse to post that trailer?  No.

Am I willing to give Hollywood a free pass for another 296 days if it means there’s a reasonable chance the system pumps out one more above average Batman film?  Yes.

Suck it America.

Suck it.

 

I’ve talked a lot about what I am, and not much lately about what I do.  I’ve been treated to some pleasant news which through sheer coincidence of timing came while I’ve been fasting.

The last script that I wrote was a semi-autobiographical story about growing up as a Muslim in pre and post 9/11 America.  I didn’t and still don’t view it as the next Will Smith picture, so I only sent it to those who I thought might have an interest in the point of view I was presenting.  One of those groups were the Sundance Institute, and I learned about a week ago they liked what I’ve pitched enough that they want to see more.  Very flattering.  Even my folks back home who know nothing about the Biz recognize that brand name (‘the thing in Utah’ as my father put it), so potentially down the line, that could be a game changer.

Right now it’s just an opportunity so I only gave myself a little time to ‘daydream’ on what could be.  What I write in this space on the subject matter is a reflection of my outlook on the world, but if you keep up with me at all, you know when I put on ‘a show’, I’ll give you a show.  The story I wrote is not an in your face political statement like some of Spike’s films. Even with the subject matter, it’s not a redemption story like a lot of Tyler’s movies. The comment I’ve heard the most from people who’ve read the script is “I was surprised at how funny this is,”; in other words it’s an extension of my strong suits as a storyteller, the self deprecating clown, the sarcastic geek, the hopeless romantic (think Lady In My Life).

So I completed another pass of the script this weekend, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the year.  Through the circles I run in, I know I’m not the only film school geek in the mix, nor am I the only Muslim filmmaker they’re looking at.  Nothing is a done deal, but they’re getting my best effort so if I’m meant to go down that road, I will. For the time being, I’ll return my focus to what I can control this week and this month, and hopefully get another pleasant surprise down the line.

Mooz-lum

 

Out now on video (and Netflix, where I got a hold of it) is one of the first films to give a perspective on being an (African-American) Muslim in the post 9/11 age.  Mooz-lum stars Evan Ross as a young man going into his freshmen year of college, trying to find the right balance of respecting the values of his childhood while taking advantage of the freedom of being out from under his suffocating parents.  (I realize looking at that sentence that more or less describes every freshmen going to college doesn’t it?  Let’s move on…)

I’ve heard various opinions on this film from Muslims and non-Muslims, film geeks and casual interested parties.  Personally, I liked it.  It reminded me alot of Spike’s earliest films, where you knew walking in you were getting a message, and the plot points of the story moved you in that direction.  The college setting also gave me some ‘Higher Learning’ flashbacks, but that may be because movies set in college are rarely this serious.

Saying that I want to be clear on this: Mooz-lum is not a ‘Tyler Perry film, but with Muslims in it.’  And I don’t mean that in a way to be disrespectful to what Mr. Perry does, but this film is not a gospel film.  You get insight into the story of one Muslim family, (and I’m not familiar enough with the director to know how autobiographical it was), but the ‘I was lost and now I’m found’ element of this story is more…subdued.

Last comment is for 2 of the lead actors.  Nia Long, Hall of Fame gorgeous as any brotha will tell you, but in this film she plays the mother of the family.  Her sex appeal isn’t an asset for this character, but she still nailed the part.  She’s an actress.

And Evan Ross…who knew?  I have this conversation with some of my black film geek friends, but it bears repeating: we have a nice group of 20 something black actors and actresses who can all pull their weight.  If we ever get another ‘Golden Age of Black Cinema’, we should be more than covered with people who can give us quality performances if put in the right roles.

Until next time…

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More than once, I’ve been asked by people ‘outside the target audience’ to explain the phenomenon of Madea and the Tyler Perry brand.  My standard answer usually revolves around the fact that, while I don’t consider myself part of the target audience personally, Tyler Perry movies are the only films that come out that my mother and sister are guaranteed to show up for on opening weekend.  That’s an answer, but still leaves the ‘why’ question somewhat unanswered.

The debate goes on about the ‘artistry’ of these movies (you notice no one claims Tyler Perry is a fad anymore), so instead I’ll try to explain, not as a filmmaker, but as a black man, why these movies are so important.

First let me go back to the statement I made about my mother and sister.  There’s more than a few black actresses working steady now, there are a few shows on television that feature black characters exclusively.  What Tyler has mastered is what Mel Gibson nailed (no pun intended) with The Passion of the Christ.  Namely, if you cater a project to the ‘faith’ crowd, and word of mouth spreads about your project being good, it’s a virtual can’t miss.  Nearly all the Madea projects began as successful stage plays, running primarily in the South.  It’s no coincidence his base remains in Atlanta; black folks have known for years that Atlanta is ‘the black capital of the South’.  The ‘pop stars’ who have longevity have to do it by constantly reinventing their image: people’s tastes naturally change over time.  Conversely, the ‘artists’ who have the longest careers understand that people’s tastes change, so they never stray too far from their core audience.  Tyler Perry understood this from the beginning.

At least in terms of the film I’m reviewing here, part of the appeal for his audience is the catharsis of hearing the main characters go through situations that rarely get addressed openly in the black community.  I learned this setting up panel discussions in college, but to this day, there is NO subject matter that puts butts in seats like ‘Black Male-Female Relationships.’  I could make light of this, but there’s so many dynamics at play here (class issues, color complexes, dating outside the race), there have been best selling books written just on that subject.  Literally.

The other major issue that the film brings up is abuse.  There’s a long standing joke that black people don’t do therapy, but there’s also some truth to that.  From my own personal experience, the number of ex-girlfriends, homegirls, and friends who have confided in me to being abused sexually, emotionally, or in some other matter is too numerous to mention.  The even sadder truth is I stop being surprised by these confessions before I was out of my mid-20s.  Of course, every community has these issues to different degrees, all I’m saying is that black people seem to have mastered hiding or disguising them (Chris Brown and Rihanna excluded of course).  So to have someone, anyone air the ‘dirty laundry’ as these movies do, is naturally going to get people talking (a good thing in my humble opinion).

This entry might not have been as entertaining to you as some others, but hopefully I gave you a little insight into why these movies are so successful.

Back to the funny next month…