Monthly Archives: June 2015

One honky’s take on ‘Dear White People’

dear-white-people

Sam and her supporters bring passion to the fight against racism, even if sometimes they lack direction.

I read a number of reviews of Dear White People when it came out in theaters. It wasn’t something that was on my radar, so it piqued my curiosity.

The handful of reviewers I read were white, all but one male. On the one hand, they seemed to like the movie to a point, particularly the cast. On the other hand, they all eventually gave it less-than-enthusiastic reviews. Yes, the third act is a bit weak and the sick father subplot isn’t relevant or necessary, but I can say that for most of the movies I see and plenty of them received better reviews than Dear White People.

Am I claiming racism? No, I don’t know any of these reviewers personally. I’m in no position to say. But it seemed largely that these reviews were the product of … discomfort, rather than something seriously lacking in the film itself. Discomfort at the portrayal of white fraternity brothers and sorority sisters who would wear black face, dress in over-the-top hip-hop apparel, even walk around carrying pieces of watermelon and buckets of chicken, all part of what is considered the party of the year on campus. There was discomfort, I’m sure, with the portrayal of President Fletcher, the white head administrator of Winchester University, when he denigrates his black counterpart, Dean Fairbanks, by blowing off any concerns he might have about racial issues on campus while the president’s son is simultaneously planning said party. Discomfort when the white student newspaper editor plays with a young black man’s hair like he’s a pet. And so on.

As someone who was in high school and college when Spike Lee’s racially charged films Do the Right ThingJungle Fever and Malcolm X were released, I can attest to feeling that sort of discomfort as a white kid raised in rural America traveling to a larger city to watch these films with largely black audiences. But in Lee’s films, the racism was blatant, obvious, old-school. It was a much easier racism to attack because it was so open and unapologetic. It was righteous rage against racist rage, and Lee understood how to portray battle that in unique and vivid ways. It was always apparent who was in the right and what was unacceptable. It made it much easier for someone like me to say, “Hey, I’m not like that.”

The discomfort here is because – I’m making a leap here – these reviewers probably believe much like President Fletcher, that they are living in a post-racism America. First black president. Will Smith is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are almost unparalleled global sports superstars. Busing is over, black people can vote and hardly anyone blinks at mixed-race couples anymore. How can we be racist and love Jay-Z and Beyoncé? Also, they see this sort of mentality among the people around them, for example, that it’s OK to rattle off hip-hop lines with the word “nigger” tossed around here and there among your white friends. What’s racist about that? It’s not a big deal when you pass a group of young, black males to grip your phone a little tighter, walk a little faster. Everyone knows so many of those young, black men are “thugs.” Just pays to be careful. A lot of these people just don’t get it, believing that if you’re not out on a black family’s front lawn burning a cross, you can’t be a racist. If you’re not turning dogs on peaceful black protesters, you’re not part of the problem. If you’re not flying a Confederate flag on your front lawn, it’s the equivalent of standing strongly for equality among the races.

Because of how American racism largely works now, writer-director Justin Simien has a more difficult path to walk than Spike did. Simien is trying to attack the racism inherent in the American system, a racism that is more subtle, harder to codify, deeply ingrained, more polite and often generally acceptable among white people who believe they have no racial bias. Yes, in plenty of ways we still have our obvious racism – hello, Confederate flag (it had a rough week, but that fight’s not over), Fox News and burned black churches – but when it comes to systemic things like housing, college admissions, career paths, earnings and more, it’s there, but it’s harder to grab it by the throat and scream in its face like Lee once did.

I think, largely, Simien pulled it off. Yes, Dear White People‘s third act is a bit weak, trying a little too hard to wrap it up neatly. But really, the only thing that I found unrealistic about the film was that, when there was a riot between black and white students during the hip-hop party, none of the black students ended up hospitalized or dead at the hands of the responding police.

State sanctioned white-on-black violence, in post-racial America? Maybe I give America a little too much credit for being polite and subtle about our racism. Which is why we need filmmakers such as Simien to continue to make movies that make white folks like those reviewers I read – and me – uncomfortable.

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No ‘Jaws’? Seeing ‘Jurassic’ for free not a worthy substitute

If I had actually paid to get into see 'Jurassic World,' I'm sure my reaction would have been much like this.

If I had actually paid to get into see ‘Jurassic World,’ I’m sure my reaction would have been much like this.

For Father’s Day, the family went to see the 40th anniversary showing of Jaws. The kids have never seen Jaws, and as it’s my favorite creature flick, we were ready for some bloody fun.

Unfortunately, the theater had not received the film in time for the showing we were attending. We were bummed, but the manager offered us – and what seemed like a fairly long line of people hoping to see Jaws – the opportunity to see any other movie for free. As my son has been dying to see Jurassic World, we chose a 3-D showing of the dino flick.

So here’s my 11-word review of Jurassic World: It wasn’t worth the price we didn’t pay to see it.

Sure, the dinos looked cool, and seeing them in 3-D added a little oomph. I’m not sure that was ever a concern, though. The problem with the Jurassic series has never been the over-sized, newly un-extinct reptiles. Beyond the first film in the series, it’s always what has been going on with the humans that causes problems.

Same here. The two brothers, shown above, are serviceable. However, these kids are pretty much just the two from the first movie, subtract one white girl, add one white boy. Instead of hanging with their grandpa who owns the park, they’re hanging with their aunt who runs the park. Instead of riding around in a jeep before a grumpy dinosaur sets them on another path, they ride in a gerbil ball before a grumpy dinosaur sets them on another path. And so on. The writing and the plot are some seriously lazy, weak fucking sauce. And it took four extremely overpaid people to come up with this lazy, weak fucking sauce.

You’d hope, of course, Chris Pratt might be able to save the film. And had they let Pratt be Pratt – or, in this case, Indiana Jones, since that’s who he looked like throughout the flick – that would’ve worked. Instead, they gave him no real sense of humor and tried to make him a sensitive yet macho-posturing bad guy with nothing but rote, obvious lines to spew. Bryce Dallas Howard fares worse, because her character is supposed to be a stiff, so she has even less to work with than Pratt. Their romantic coupling at the end is trite and unbelievable. There’s more chemistry between Pratt and the CGI predators than there is between the human leads. Hell, there’s more chemistry between Pratt and corporate soldier baddy Vincent D’Onofrio than there is between Pratt and Howard.

No more Jurassics for me. Period. … But I still can’t wait to see Jaws.

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More fun with an ‘Electric’ Serge

There are two things that really make Electric Barracuda worth the read. The first is main character Serge Storms, a one-man hurricane of energy, vitality and mayhem, who – with his stoner pal, Coleman – blazes a trail across Florida, leaving behind broken hearts, dead bodies and signatures in museum visitor logs. Sure, Serge is a serial killer, but he only kills serious douchebags like would-be child molesters, corporate executives who rob their companies and, of course, accountants. How much harm can there be in that?

The second is Serge’s – and apparently Dorsey’s – passion for all thing Florida. In Electric Barracuda, everything is set against the historical background of Al Capone-era Florida and all of the money, corruption, guns and illegal booze that came with it. We get fascinating glimpses at roads that barely exist in harsh swamp environs, out-of-the-way islands where only those who venture far off the beaten path ever end up and even the less-than-criminal blooming of a rare flower found only in the Sunshine State. Electric Barracuda gets to be fun and informative, mixing both in a breakneck pace that only makes you want to read further.

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On second thought: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road”

Skulls everywhere ...

Skulls everywhere …

Had the opportunity to catch Mad Max: Fury Road for the second time in theaters. It’s not something I do often. In fact, it’s probably been since Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty in the late 1990s that I’ve seen a movie a second time on the big screen. Two takeaways from George Miller’s latest Mad Max frenzy:

1. The amount of detail is incredible. Skulls everywhere, on steering wheels, on grills, on shifters, on the girls’ chastity belts, on Immortan Joe’s get-up and so on. The variety and variance among the vehicles – from the drum-and-guitar deathmobile to the unique war rig of Imperator Furiosa – isn’t new to the Mad Max franchise, but taken to a new level here. Hill even uses that to remind us what’s been lost in all this war and terror. There’s a moment between attacks where one of the girls is looking at the ceiling of Furiosa’s truck, and there’s this simple, beautiful pattern covering it. In the days before, that pattern would have likely included birds or cats, but here, more skulls. I can’t wait to watch it on DVD so I can pause to get a better look at those little but visually and stylistically important things that are hard to catch in a movie that moves at the pace Fury Road does.

I live, I die, I live again.

I live, I die, I live again.

2. A new creation story. Miller toyed with that some in Beyond Thunderdome with the story told by the kids who lived isolated from the terror of the world in their own little oasis. Here, the merging of pseudo-Viking religion as well as the worship of good, ol’ Detroit steel and chrome create a blind, unquestioning, suicidal warrior culture not unlike the Islamic extremism seen in pockets of the world we live in today. Immortan Joe is both a priest who preaches about the rewards of virtue and faith as well as god on Earth, controlling the most vital of resources: water. His cult insulates him from the rabble and wholeheartedly seeks to do whatever will most redeem them in Joe’s eyes. Joe promises them that their loyalty will be rewarded when they have left this hard, wretched place and live again in the afterlife. It’s a bit … Margaret Atwood-esque. In the Oryx & Crake/Year of the Flood/MaddAddam trilogy, Atwood shows that a creation story and the religion that develop from it are part truth, part fantasy shaped by necessity and part off-the-cuff bullshit, a mix that helps believers buy in. Miller’s Immortan cult has that feel to it. Brilliantly done.

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06/13/15: Pixies in Indianapolis

The Pixies rock Old National in downtown Indy.

The Pixies rock Old National in downtown Indy.

I felt like I watched two concerts Saturday night. In the first, I saw a rote but solid run through of the Pixies catalogue. It wasn’t bad, but it just felt a little uninspired.

But then, late in the show, the Pixies started in on Indie Cindy and the energy changed. From that point throughout the final half hour of the show, we got to see an energized, engaged band that really blew the crowd away. I’d never seen the Pixies live before, one of those bands I’d just never managed to synchronize schedules with. That last half hour made me glad I’d made the trip.

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Time to ‘Party’

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

I am fond of writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 revenge flick Blue Ruin (Thoughts on Blue Ruin). The plot is dark, the violence merciless and the conclusion inevitable, but the quiet, deliberate pace, the performance by lead Macon Blair and the overall craftsmanship of Saulnier combined to create a powerful if somber film.

After seeing Blue Ruin, I was eager to see what else Saulnier had done. Most of his credits are for cinematography, but he did direct one other film, his debut, Murder Party.

Whoa.

Talk about film-viewing whiplash. On the one hand, Blue Ruin gains its power from the quiet and the contemplative. It is open, with space for the viewer to meditate on what’s happening. On the other hand, Murder Party has a guy wearing a werewolf Halloween costume who accidentally sets himself on fire while smoking a cigarette.

I really enjoyed Murder Party. Is it a great film? No, but watching a bunch of pretentious, dipshit art students completely fail in the simple task of murdering a man who practically volunteers to be the victim is a hoot. From the homages to other films – the art students are dressed as a zombie, the aforementioned werewolf, a vampire, a replicant from Blade Runner and member of the baseball gang from The Warriors – to the complete absurdity of the deaths of most of said artists, Murder Party builds relentlessly to a completely over-the-top ending. It’s also an example of great low-budget filmmaking, maximizing humor, personalities and the ridiculous elements of the unfolding events, and minimizing the lack of money available for FX.

If Army of Darkness and Shaun of the Dead are your kind of thing, check out Murder Party. Bask in its bloody foolishness.

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