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Last Year in Marienbad: Film as Art; And Musings on the Tragic Beauty of Traveling

September 23, 2016

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It feels good to be back on American soil after a much needed, extended vacation– although the comfort of being back in the states is comparable to returning to a cult. For the first time in my life I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on a trip that took me through two states and around four countries. I’ve had dreams of visiting Paris since childhood thanks to an early obsession with Madeline and an exposure to the French language. These dreams of visiting France got superseded by even larger ideas to check out Berlin after realizing the only tickets available to see Radiohead on their current tour was at Lollapalooza. “Why stop there?” my rampant imagination contemplated. “You’ll be close to Prague and even Austria…why not go to Vienna?” Instead of denying my big dreams, I said yes to them and I am eternally grateful that I did.

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Despite living in sheer beauty for three weeks of bliss exploring lands I never thought I’d actually see, I encountered decay and heavy-handed sorrow on my travels. Just like in America, Europe is ripe with social change and conflict. Their struggles aren’t in any images I’ve seen on television the way America’s struggle to admit its white supremacy has been. The challenges endured by the other side of the world is much quieter, albeit highly visual all over the streets of the inner cities.

Families of Syrian and African refugees lined the streets of Paris. The Champs-Élysées houses Syrian women with heads bowed begging for change. Families with toddler children run around barefoot on the streets camped out in metro stations and in front of restaurants begging for help. An entire park off the picturesque Seine river houses hundreds of tents where African refugees live washing their clothes in fountains of the park. All are waiting for the opportunity to make it to England where work and security is. Graffiti lines the walls of buildings in Berlin and Vienna vocalizing opinions on these social issues showing a strong mentality of socialist mindsets battling a nationalist rhetoric that shouts loudly across the media.

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This vacation turned out to be a realization of the cataclysmic state this world is undergoing, an issue that is not isolated in America as I so ignorantly attributed in the past. The waging conflicts taking place in America is happening on a macro level on nearly every major continent on the planet. Every stretch of my trip exposed me to more truths and realities I didn’t know existed. In some respects it felt comforting having critical conversations with liberal-minded Parisians as well as Malaysians and Turkish visitors in a hostel of Prague that reiterated the insanity of clashes happening all over the world. But each time after these conversations fueled by passion for humanity and a disregard for injustice ended we were left with the same question; “well what do we do now?” That reassurance that we aren’t alone only became more despondent at the realization that we are all suffering together, and perhaps the only remedy is to let the tides crash and work in our communities to soften the blow for those who can’t help themselves.

Courtesy of The Telegraph

Courtesy of The Telegraph

Nevertheless, these musings weren’t the whole of my trip, although I definitely welcomed them to take up much of my thought. I reveled in the wild nightlife of Berlin, the prismatic beauty of Prague, and the sheer opulence of Vienna. I loved every moment of my visit even when I was exhausted, drained, and ready to get back to the messed up home I know and love. It’s only natural that the highlights of each city were the cinematic glorification I received from each. I spent a night drinking beer and swapping movie recommendations with a German pal at Filmkunstbar Fitzcarraldo. The beers were cheap, the dance floor packed and moving, and the walls are lined with old posters and DVDs available to rent. I got to walk the streets of Paris imagining I was Jean Seberg in Breathless. A night out in Vienna introduced me to Top Kino, a comfy bar that houses an art-house theater in the back. But, it was in Prague that I marveled in delight at one of the most unique film exhibits I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.

Tucked away in the back of the Galerie Rudolfinum is the fall exhibit, Last Year at Marienbad: Film as Art Exhibit curated by Dr. Christoph Grunenberg. In an exquisite, carefully constructed exhibition that mixes mediums and themes, Grunenberg allows Last Year in Marienbad to be the pulse of a larger body of work that explores techniques and influences based around the film itself. The exhibition cleverly plays on the form and structure within the film giving credence to the halls of various artworks related to Alain Resnais beautifully abstract film. A set of five televisions flatly line a dark wall; each screen frozen on moments of the film until it’s their time in the queue to come alive. Each screen suspires in cross cutting action coming to life for a minute or two before turning a new page where one screen begins and the others end for spectators to view. The images on the screens drip with sensual intrigue balancing sharp angles with pointed objects and rounded edges as the camera moves in placid formation. Thick books are attached to each seat for spectators to learn the history of Last Year in Marienbad’s inception.

The product of a collaboration between French director, Resnais, and Nouveau Roman author Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year in Marienbad is a film in which its charms exists in its extensive tracking shots, slow fluid panning, and surrealistic dreamlike nature. Robbe-Grillet adapted the stream of consciousness screenplay in painstaking detail for Resnais to bring to the screen, creating a story buried in confusion and brain fog. Their collaborative efforts allow lighting to play a major part in the existence of characters while simultaneously creating characters from the essence of shadows. The blocking of actors on screen is immaculate as the space between the leads exudes an angst and tension between them allowing the absence of objects to tell its own story. The score adds a layer of cryptic tension to the overall feel of the film, and there are moments of it where I almost lost all composure at how beautiful the shots were. Last Year in Marienbad is living art, a manipulation of time and space.

The exhibit wraps around the inner walls of Galerie Rudolfinum lining the museum with poster art, behind the scene photos, storyboards, and artists renditions of scenes inspired by the film done in pencil, mixed media, paints, and photography. More televisions fill other rooms showing creative uses of movement captured through camera that are direct, and indirect, influences of the film. Last Year in Marienbad is a film that prior to this exhibit I had never heard anything of. This is film that during its time received just as much criticism as it did praise due it to his ultra bourgeoisie theme and its dismissal of a clear storytelling structure. This lack of focus on reality was directly challenged by other filmmakers in the rise of the French New Wave. If this exhibit taught me anything, which I think the film itself intends in its own way, it is that despite the opulence and luxury one may see on the surface, reality is always a matter of perspective. All that glitters isn’t gold and though at times beautiful, life is a confusing, unscrupulous mess that we haven’t figured out just yet.

Best Films of the 21st Century

September 3, 2016

A few weeks ago, the BBC released a list compiled by 122 critics from around the world chronicling their favorite films of the 21st Century. From 2000 until now, cinema has continued to push the creative boundaries of what a film can and should do. Stories made for the big screen continue to reveal niche ideas and underrepresented moments in history to the masses. Each critic’s unique list reminds me that I have a massive amount of films to catch up on (y’all I still haven’t seen Lost in Translation or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), but in the meantime I have put together my own list to compliment the dozens of cinephiles around the world who made theirs. These films have not only reshaped the way I view movies, but they have prompted empathy for the world around me. What are some your favorite films of the 21st Century so far?

1. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

3. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)

4. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

5. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000)

6. OldBoy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

7. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aranofsky, 2000)

8. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

9. Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014) 

10. The Descent (Niel Marshall, 2005)

Honarable Mentions 

Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

American Pyscho (Mary Harron, 2000)

Wall-E  (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

The Philosophical Depths of Sausage Party (2016) – Movie Boozer Review

August 17, 2016

A psychedelic experience can be characterized by a fragment in time when your perception of the world becomes altered, bending in ways that allows the observer to see what is arguably considered the “real world.” Experiences within these moments are segmented by a bolder, brighter view of one’s physical surroundings as the senses are heightened. The observer begins having deep philosophical thoughts on what is around and beyond their current focal point.

The entire premise of Sausage Party roots itself in the psychedelic experience as a form of storytelling. Sausage Party feels like a trip because it is unlike anything before it. I’m not saying that Sausage Partybeing a raunchy comedy veiled in the childhood aesthetics of animation makes it exceptional among those before it. There have been porn films staring puppets, a R-rated animated musical staring adolescents, and a police drama with marionettes that still looms in the public consciousness.

Drink two beers, then read the rest of the review at Movie Boozer.

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4 Reasons You Should Host/Attend a Sharknado 4 (2016) Watching Party

August 5, 2016

sharknado4You know that shark attack in Deep Blue Sea after Samuel L. Jackson’s character gives an impassioned speech moments before a shark jumps out from nowhere and chomps him two? I wonder if Sharknado’s origins derives from that moment in cinema. Were the original writers of the franchise completely stoned out of their minds when they thought up the concept? It feels like they had to be, or at least for whoever wrote Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens. I’ve never seen any of the Sharknado films before. I don’t intend to see any of them– well with the right group of people I could. My introduction to the Sharknado world is owed to a random gif on tumblr that tickled me so hard I couldn’t help but let curiosity get the best of me to watch it. And oh my Lord, I’m so delightfully pleased that I did.

Sharknado 4 is stupid. It’s the most idiotic, wackiest plot with the cheesiest special effects you can imagine. That’s a given and duh, obviously it’s charm. But, Sharknado 4 is a lot smarter than it appears…I type this as two characters use two dead electrified sharks as a defibrillator on another character. Sharknado 4 is what it is, but what makes it so damn enjoyable is how straight it plays its own insanity. This is a film that realizes what its doing, and while everyone involved is in on its ludicrous nature, they all still realize this is a legit paycheck they wouldn’t come any other way which results in the team bringing their A-game. Tommy Davidson gives a rousing performance as the creator of the original “Sharknado” epidemic, Aston Reynolds. Ian Zeiring as Fin Shepard, the lovable badass lead, plays up his Evil Dead Ash inspired role with a genial humbleness. Most of the cast dives into their roles with awareness of action sequences and micro-expressions even when they aren’t the focus of scenes. And Tara Reid… poor girl does her best with the most she’s given in this film.

Most of the cameo appearances are well played garnering some fantastic death scenes. The  overall direction of the film is tailored to provide a high-octane thrill ride that ultimately gets exhausting halfway in because this film just throws everything at you. That expression “everything but the kitchen sink” doesn’t apply to Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens, they’ve thrown the sink in, the pipes, and all the dirty dead bugs under it. I mean anything that you can think of when watching this movie will likely happen. But you probably wouldn’t think of them because really, how does the concept of a Bouldernado even get brought up? I thoroughly enjoyed watching Sharknado and that was just by myself without a group of friends or the insane amount of alcohol that it will take to make this a greater watching experience. I can’t wait to rewatch it with both of the aforementioned items in tow. Until then, here are the best elements of Sharknado 4 that makes it worth the watch.

  1. The one-liners:

“Did you say Boulderando?”

“Sharkberg right ahead!”

“We gotta blow up the Grand Canyon.”

After a train wreck where (almost) everyone survives: “You guys alright?”

“But, no we gotta stay right here!”

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  1.  Major landmarks… only to see them blown up.

The Grand Canyon, Yellow Stone National Park, Salt Lake City Utah, and the Biggest Ball of Twine in Kansas; these are just a fraction of the landmarks they show before they succumb to various forms of destruction.

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  1. Homages to other films:

It’s seriously too much, but so great when they happen. There’s homages from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Wizard of Oz, to Men in Black, to Stephen King’s Christine There is no continuity, no consistency, no reason.

  1. The deaths.

A man dies from a sand-covered shark attack. Sharks defy gravity to kill humans. Humans develop extraordinary powers to defeat the sharks. Characters drop like bees on monocultured farms. Sharknado 4 pull inspiration from George R. R. Martin at times by killing off characters you wouldn’t expect and others you totally would.

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SEE IT. There are a multitude of other reasons why this movie, in all of its stupidity, is so worth the watch. I can only imagine watching it in a crowd with a drinking game attached as a necessity.

Examining Gender Identities with Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

August 2, 2016

Funeral_Parade_of_RosesThere are two things I didn’t know existed in Japan during the 1960s: A hippie counterculture and an open community of LGBT citizens. Homosexuality in Japan has always existed, but I was never exposed to how Japan viewed this part of society. My knowledge of Japanese culture derives almost exclusively from cinema. The films that I have watched over the years curtailed any representation of Japanese counterculture pre-1980s to miniscule images. This lack of insight has giving me a very formal, skewed vision of Japanese lifestyles. Thankfully, Funeral Parade of Roses came into my life via an open screening by Atlanta’s underground movie rental spot, Videodrome. Funeral Parade of Roses metaphorically knocked me on my ass. Not merely for its stunning, avant-garde images, but for its unwavering eye into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the gay community with an Oedipus Rex twist attached to a brimming social commentary on the period itself.

Funeral Parade of Roses came during the zeitgeist of the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave movements. Godard and Truffaut are often lauded as the forerunners and stable forces within the “new wave” genre of filmmaking that took place largely between the late 1950s-1970s. My own ignorant knowledge has long attributed “new wave” to the French as so much of the movement was gestated, popularized and romanticized by the French. But, their methods of deconstructing linear plots, cutting up narratives, breaking fourth walls and begging the audience to engage their critical mind while watching wasn’t just limited to France. Japan, Czechoslovakia, the U.S., India and Brazil are among the many that sought to revitalize and deconstruct the art of cinema all around the same time frame. Film school, unfortunately, left this part of history out. Although it’s disappointing to know that there are movements I’ve been completely unaware of, Funeral Parade of Roses has led me down an exciting rabbit hole of great Japanese cinema to get lost in.

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The social climate that Funeral Parade of Roses exposes is boldly astonishing for its time. Toshio Matsumoto forces a controversial lifestyle into the faces of viewers with strategic ease and brazenness. While America tiptoed around the topic of homosexuality in 1969 with Midnight Cowboy, Funeral Parade of Roses leaps into the topic with sensuality, rawness, and humor. We bounce around the city into the outings and interrelationships of a group of transsexual and gay individuals while the bitter rivalry between Eddy and Leda rage on in the film’s background. Leda is a Drag Queen in charge of a ritzy nightclub, but now worries about her place in her social group when a younger, more attractive Queen, Eddy, begins to draw Leda’s spotlight away from her. The battle between new and old rages through fashion and cat fights. Eddy’s youth grants her the trendiest outfits and accessories while Leda’s traditional kimono laden style of dress implicates her age as the warring battle of past versus present takes place.

 

Matsumoto does absolute wonders in this film through stunning visuals. Funeral Parade of Roses‘ radical film style completely sucks you in to the eye of the storm then pushes you out into a magnificent world of diversity and bold color despite living within a realm of black and white. Shot without color on 35mm, Funeral Parade of Roses jumps out in audacious tones and schemes. The lighting is a completely adulated physical aspect of the film that highlights all the right angles, expressions and nuances of these characters and their world. Matsumoto doesn’t want you to forget that this a film though. In one particular scene Eddy has sex with a gentlemen she meets at the bar. The low-key lighting of the scene shines from below her face that is framed intimately tight in a close-up as she moans. The scene lingers here putting viewers smack into the middle of this deeply intimate moment behind closed doors before a “cut” is heard. The scene then widens out to show the cast and crew and how the camera managed to make Eddy look so flawless and silver.

These moments of breaking the fourth wall with audiences repeat frequently throughout the film in ingenious bursts. We are shown interviews with cast members in their on-set wardrobe as they candidly discuss the notion of their sexuality. One must remember this was filmed in 1969 so the language seems harsh during Matsumoto’s questioning, but this marks the first time to my knowledge, that homosexuality had ever been addressed in Japan, with such gallant openness. Regardless, the interviews are warm and enlightening expressing the confusion of sexuality, the reality of a sexual spectrum and the honesty of both the joy and sorrow that comes with being non-cisgendered individual.

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Funeral Parade of Roses does a lot in its hour and 47 minutes that should get viewed firsthand to fully enjoy. It’s a film that mixes hippie avant-grade experimentation with a social essay that holds a mirror up to society and begs it to study itself. My love of Jean-Luc Godard and the entire French New Wave movement only speaks to my biased love for what Funeral Parade of Roses does as a piece of art. It breaks apart preconceived notions of film to give visibility to members of society who don’t usually have a voice. All the while it completely draws you into its dramatic story while being able to shock and amaze all at once. It’s a shame more films didn’t follow suit… If they did, please suggest more to me!

SEE IT. And revel in amazement at this highly relevant, impressive gem.

The O.J. Syndrome: Race, Civil Unrest, and America

July 22, 2016

Television has sucked me into a vacuum lately. My screen time has involved a copious amount of historical docudramas, most notably, documentaries and shows focused on famed football player and accused murder OJ Simpson. I’m not sure why in the midst of tragedy around the world I tend to be a glutton for more sorrow, but this long-term form of coping has always been one my defense mechanisms. This tragic head space began months ago with “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson”. Each episode drew me into the horrific death of Nicole Brown Simpson and the unhealed wounds of systematic racism across America. Just when I thought I could breathe again once the claustrophobic, captivating effect of “The People Vs. O.J.” ended, ESPN’s “30 for 30” series made its way into my sights on the back of the ever-growing, current social unrest in America.

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Despite everything I thought I knew of the O.J. trial based off my own experiences growing up with the case and having just finished “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson”, “30 for 30” managed to further school me on the radical nature of America at the height of the Simpson’s murder trial. Then, halfway into watching the series, news hit that Alton Sterling was killed by police as the chilling video made its way into my consciousness. I was completely at a loss for words and still reeling from the racial tensions already plighting the country. Any semblance of a band-aid of healing got ripped off repeatedly by the wall-to-wall O.J. drama I kept digesting. The next day news of Philando Castile’s murder hit and the video instantly transplanted itself into my memory. That’s when I shut down. I immediately felt drained. Every essence in my body, soul, and mind broke and a miserable depression fell over me. It felt as though I had devoted entire lifetimes on a solution only to see it explode into burnt ashes in my hand.

Over the course of 40 years in America it feels for many as though nothing has changed. This heavyhearted feeling is problematic. In 1965 Marquette Frye, a Black man in L.A. got stopped in Watts for reckless driving. The resulting scuffle between him, his mother, and officers caused Frye to get forcefully subdued by officers sparking anger in the Watts community of L.A. This predominately Black neighborhood subject to routine abuse at the hands of law enforcement fought back. A six-day riot took place. In 1979, Eulia Love, a mother of two, got shot to death on her front lawn by L.A. officers disputing a gas bill. In 1993, 13-year old Latasha Harling was murdered by a convenient store owner. Trayvon Martin’s death on 2014 ignited fervent anger and resentment as well as a chain reaction of Black bodies succumbing to their death at the hands of police on camera. There are hundreds of unnamed victims before, after, and in-between each of the aforementioned citizens. The Washington Post tallies 533* deaths by police in 2016 alone. The website Killed by Police counts 643*.

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Alton and Philando’s deaths along with the shocking murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge shortly after had everything to do with me as an individual. Initially, it felt like an odd sentiment to hold, seeing as how these men were adults with their own lives and loved ones who feel a pain that I can’t imagine. I am me, a Black woman with relatively astute privilege in life that has lived ignorantly to the fear of cops over my body. I can only wish love and comfort for the families of these victims. I am not Philando Castle or Alton Sterling. But, these men are my people. Their deaths hit me hard. Once again the historical oppression I have always been aware of and the inherent fear of Black bodies that only recently began to truly get unpack and understood was reaffirmed. 

I am all too aware of the painstaking hardships Black bodies have endured under the oppression of white authority. I am aware of the lynchings, house burning, beatings, forced labor and public scorn men and women of the African Diaspora have encountered so that America could rise to power. I know how Blacks have worked tirelessly to catch up to a society that has been allowed to speed ahead. And, whatever fruits African-Americans have come to own of their own accord have been spoiled and left to rot at the hands of others resistant to change and progress.

I know the long road of the Civil Rights moment, the Black is Beautiful movement, and how disparaging it was for Black citizens who finally felt they had a chance at true freedom, the pure taste of light, only to have their leaders killed, their organizations destroyed, and their people dissipated by crack, heroin, crime, systematic oppression, and violence. These issues were created and still held in place by a society that fears change and refuses to allow Blacks the same agency that they themselves receive. Racial tensions creep beyond skin deep issues, they are a socio-economic matter. This racial construct of “whiteness” even eluded Irish citizens who came to America in the early portion of the 20th century.

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When Alton and Philando died it felt like progress once again not only hit a halt, but barely ever existed. Watching “30 for 30”, “The People vs. OJ”, and CNN’s underrated series “The Seventies,” I came to realize how the exact same issues that plagued our society barely 40 years ago are still chipping away at us today. This notion nearly defeated me and my charge for social and political justices. What’s the point of fighting it anymore? Our leaders were way more organized and closer to the zeitgeist of change in the 60s and 70s than we are now, and we’re still in fighting the battle. I felt depressed. Unwilling to do anything else except shut my brain off and cry.

Then a spark happened. While watching the 3rd part of “30 for 30” when the trial begins and the focus shifts to how the people of America, essentially aided in Simpson’s not guilty verdict. Black America felt so exasperated with the American justice system, a system that had just excused the actions of police involved in the Rodney King beating, that the masses took advantage of their power to mobilize. The trial of O.J. Simpson is an anomaly, a truly awe-inspiring event that changed the course of history leaving ripples along the way that still bubble at our feet today. On an individual level, Simpson somehow transcended race. He looked within himself to be the best and created an impenetrable wall around him that kept him exalted. He avoided controversy early in his life by living a parallel existence.

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While Stokley Carmichael and Fred Hampton fought, got exhaled, and died for the equality of African-Americans, O.J. avoided politics, earned money, then franchised himself to become an entrepreneur that left racial issues in the dust. Simpson’s case is a rare breed, but it opened the door for dialogue on race and society that continues today. This is a topic that many are dying to ignore and others are dying because it’s undeniable. Skin matters. We may not want it to, but it does. The repeated deaths of Black individuals throughout history isn’t as simple as a racist with a badge and gun.

This complex reality is because we live in a society where Black bodies have been feared for centuries. Black bodies are despised. Coveted. Hated. Ignored. Looked down on. Centuries of this type of thinking has embedded itself into our psyche. So much so that it feels normal to avoid certain parts of town because it’s the “Black side of town.” It becomes commonplace to clutch a purse when around Black men or cross the street at night when a Black person is nearby. “Driving while Black” remains a dangerous reality. These biases exist for a reason, and when we don’t contemplate or discuss them in conversations with each other, they only fester to a point of fear and reaction.

We have become a reactionary society in our contemporary time. We react with anger ,then move on forgetting about the past instead of evolving to a better place. We can’t afford to be reactionary and despondent anymore. Innocent lives are hanging in the balance. Now is the time be creative and enlist community help. To change laws. To mobilize. A whole slew of Americans fed up with the lack of justice in their communities ultimately helped a murder, and possible sociopath, walk free to capitalize on his crimes. In 1995, it wasn’t because they didn’t know any better, or because they were race-baiting. It was because they were angry and tired of watching a criminal justice system work for some and not all.

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We as individuals and on larger scale are allowing these injustices to continue when we just sit back and complain. Atlanta alone has shown the power of mobilizing in the wake of these issues. After five days of protesting racial injustice, the city got the attention and ear of the Mayor. We have the power to make change on a larger scale when we are faced with tragedy. We must remember to keep fighting, and not with fire or guns, but with our bodies and voices. We’ve all agreed to a social contract that pits people of color below whites. This social contract gives us credence to fear each other based off race. We are not bound to this contract. We can break it at any time. We must. Lives depend on it. 

Confronting Hard Decisions with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

July 6, 2016

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You wake up in a strange room tied to pole after a car accident. Attached to you is an IV. A meal has been placed in front of you. No signs of stress or force are apparent. The person holding you captive is convinced he just saved your life from the madness taking place outside of those walls. You’re in his bunker – a specialized place built underground to protect from the sort of chaos and life threatening ills that are transpiring outside of it. You know shit’s hitting the fan, but can you really trust that this stranger is who he says he is? There’s a locked door to the outside and a ring of keys that can open it on your captive’s waistband. What do you do?

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10 Cloverfield Lane presents this scenario for viewers and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the film’s lead character, to chew on and ponder during Michelle’s stay with Howard (John Goodman) and fellow bunker mate Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) after a car accident links their paths. This intelligent sequel to the massively hyped Cloverfield works more as a psychological thriller as it does an alien horror. Our time in the universe where 10 Cloverfield Lane exists thrives in the bunker over a span of days, or weeks, or months. We’re never sure. Like the characters in the film who rarely see the light of day or the glow of night, time isn’t of the essence here. A clock is never a focal point.

Instead, the emphasis is on the relationships built between Howard, Emmett, and Michelle.  This trio must learn to live with one another when they are led to believe that they are the only people left alive after an explosion of apocalyptic proportions takes place. Together the trio experience a full spectrum of emotions, attachments, and paranoia that leads to some of the film’s best moments of intensity and shock. Through tight close-ups and a fantastic emphasis on sound coupled with a deliberate use of color and lighting, the cinematography and sound editing team concocts chilling atmosphere filled with uncertainty and paranoia.

Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damen Chazelle’s script allows its actors to fit comfortably into their roles feeding into the innocence of some and the mistrust of others. It’s here that the pressure of Michelle’s dilemma is felt in nuanced degrees. What would you do in her situation? Would you try to escape into chaotic, threatening terrain on the outside for the illusion of freedom or would you find comfort in the embrace and hospitality of a mentally unstable person who did save your life from certain death before? This was the question that rattled through my head for a majority of the film as the tension escalated and the pacing of my heart picked up.

Having only directed shorts and television episodes before, Dan Trachtenberg impressively creates confining spaces and nerve-wrecking situations for both characters and the audience. We get to know this bunker and its comforts making the thought of leaving even more difficult. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance filled with amiability contrasted immediately by his cold, explosive demeanor. All of these elements align themselves making for a fantastic film that sets itself apart, and arguably higher than the original that came before it.

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Cloverfield was a great film during its time, but relies heavily on a gimmick to withstand its core. 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like a much more mature sibling with a solid centerpiece and an impressive vision for the story and its future. Other film-goers have even tied its plot to serving as a metaphor for domestic abuse. Still, some viewers have complained about the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane claiming it doesn’t make sense to the overall story or its connection to Cloverfield. These arguments aren’t necessarily valid seeing as the ending is the only element of the film that ties it to it’s original counterpart. It expands upon and liberates the world created by Cloverfield’s ending, setting itself up for the possibility (likely certainty) of another addition.

SEE IT. What choice would you make in Michelle’s situation?

The Legend of Tarzan (2016); And Safety in Grossly Watered Down History

July 1, 2016

the-legend-of-tarzan-poster-imaxI don’t go to the movies too often anymore. I feel like a bad critic or a failure among film theorists because I realize that I’m not exercising my critical mind by keeping up with what studios think the masses like, and what the masses actually like. There’s a multitude of reasons that I don’t hang out at the theater like I used to years ago. Mostly, I refuse to pay the jacked up prices that inner city movie theaters get away with charging these days. Another large reason is that most films I’ve seen in theaters tend to air on the side of sub par. The gems that I keep unearthing now is through streaming television.

Lo and behold, I got graced with the opportunity to see an early screening of The Legend of Tarzan. This moment of film going cemented itself as the exact reason why I don’t frequent the theaters anymore. Seeing it for free arguably made the film much more tolerable. But, make no mistakes about it, The Legend of Tarzan is barely adequate. It’s the “just right” of Goldie Locks’ testing throughout the 3 Little Bear’s home. I give it kudos for revisiting taxing subject matters of the past, but it never goes too far into controversy.

The Legend of Tarzan is just lukewarm enough to please enough movie goers that it’ll make its millions before vanishing from public consciousness a few years from now. It’s a film that lacks any flavoring. It’s bland enough for those who don’t like salt in their dishes, and peppered just enough to convince others that it has a distinctly different taste.

The story of Tarzan isn’t a relevant tale that stands the test of time. Long ago in the African forests legend had it that a child was raised by apes. That child, shipwrecked and abandoned on an island, grew to become Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), a half-man, half-ape being that swings through trees, talks to animals, and married a Western woman named Jane. How director David Yates tells the story, Tarzan’s relevance to our current time is his existence during an age of colonialism, rampant racism, and slavery throughout Africa thanks to the European countries that surrounded it.

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In this telling of Tarzan’s legend, he has escaped the forests and lives with Jane (Margot Robbie) in English civilization. That is until a worried ex-Civil War solider, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), convinces Tarzan to return to Africa after he smells something amiss about how the bankrupt King Leopold of Belgium is still able to work on building a railroad system.

Tarzan’s place among the trees serves as a backdrop for him to return to Africa and free the people he’s known and the animals he’s loved from white oppression and greed. For this, I respect The Legend of Tarzan, deeply. My knowledge of Tarzan comes from the Disney version where Africa is filled with singing animals and the people of the land with melanin don’t exist. The Legend of Tarzan gives representation to various tribes in the Congo and other parts of Africa. It also touches on the injustices experienced by minorities due to white commands as George Williams even recalls his own recoil and regret in his role of displacing Native Americans after the war.

The Legend of Tarzan does a menial job scratching the surface of the problem of colonialism and white supremacy, but it’s only superficial. There is no deeper digging or kicking up dust here. Instead, The Legend of Tarzan plays it safe keeping the African characters as background props limiting only a handful of Black men with speaking parts and minuscule back stories that aren’t explored if they don’t have the film’s white counterparts as the forefront. There is a diminutive amount of individuality. Black bodies act as a mass, a dark form to see as “other” and not people with stories, loves, hopes, and fears. Black women don’t speak unless it’s all at once through song. Aside from a few scenes with Djimon Hounsou as a tribal Chief, only Jackson as George Williams gets major screen time as a bumbling, sassy sidekick who I repeatedly expected to say “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

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Jackson is the comedic relief, but leaves much to be desired in his role and character. That’s not his fault, however. Writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer were much more focused on developing Tarzan’s relationship with Jane which musters up to nothing more than physical affection. We get the opportunity to see George open up and explore his feelings in the few moments of focus he receives. The same can’t be said for Tarzan and Jane, whom we are constantly reminded are the breadwinners of the film. They don’t open up to one another or goof around like a real couple would. We continuously only hear about how much they love one another.

The Legend of Tarzan chooses to avoid going too deep into the politics and brutality of King Leopold or his advisory, Leon Rum (Christoph Waltz), and their exploitation of human bodies in the Congo. Instead, their heinous legacy gets watered down to slavery for the promise of diamonds. Nowhere in the film does it allude to the reality that Leopold was a mass murder who committed genocide for mere rubber, yet still managed to end up broke and bankrupt. Nowhere does the film mention that Leopold openly abused and mutilated the Congo residents that he forced labor upon. The nameless individuals whose lives were lost to Leopold’s greed is once again glanced over and ignored shifting the focus to a stock evil European bad guy and a bland love story between two unimpressive people.

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The Legend of Tarzan attempts to go there without actually going there which makes for a disappointing tale. Meanwhile, the CGI is so prominent and weak that it actually detracts from the film’s aesthetic potential. Action scenes are rubbery and flaccid sucking out any tension or fear for character’s lives with it. I never worried about Tarzan’s safety because when ever he’d jump into fake trees or into a fake waterfall his body adopted an elastic sheen that I knew would protect him. There’s no magic to Tarzan which is all the more reason to avoid watching this film and wasting your time. Honestly, The Legend of Tarzan would have been better off as a porn film where Alex Skarsgard’s physicality could get showed off properly while all the sexual tension built between him and doe-eyed Jane could work out with better ease.

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AVOID IT. Just read up on the real story of King Leopold’s exploits for yourself. 

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