Saturday, September 29, 2012

Loop-de-loop links

So I was gonna write about The Master today, but I've pushed it back (again) because Vija wants to see it next weekend, and maybe some of our friends too (don't know for sure yet). Getting kinda anxious, I admit, but hey, I've waited this long...

Is it madness to write about movies for 1000 days in a row (and counting)? Not if you're Ryan.

The Lady Eve spotlights Mickey Rooney on the occasion of his recent birthday. (I had no idea he's made so many movies.)

I have not become "the movie guy" to my friends yet (mostly because I've been "the cartoonist guy" for a lot longer), but John's post about the perils of being one still rings true to me.

Raquelle saw The Birds re-release and was not freaked out.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a really short story. Nevertheless, it has a long and distinguished history in film and other media.

In Contention has your Best Picture Oscar scorecard for this season.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The Paramount Centennial Blogathon is an event commemorating one hundred years of movies from Paramount Pictures, hosted by The Hollywood Revue. For a list of participating blogs, visit the host site.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
from my DVD collection

The final episode of the original Star Trek TV series, "Turnabout Intruder," aired Tuesday, June 3, 1969, at 7:30 PM EST. Unlike the previous two seasons, there would be no reprieve from NBC brought about by a letter-writing campaign from the fans - which, it should be noted, was orchestrated by series creator Gene Roddenberry himself. Still, the science fiction adventure show that captured the imagination of millions during its brief three years continued to inspire its audience long after its cancellation, and that fervor became a major factor in bringing Star Trek to the big screen in a feature-length movie.

I've been a Trekkie for over twenty years, but by the time I first got into it, times had significantly changed. There was a second Trek TV show on the air, one that was every bit as popular as its predecessor, with a third one on the way. Trek fandom was a worldwide, multi-million dollar phenomenon, and a bunch of Trek movies firmly established it as a lucrative franchise. I couldn't have picked a better time to become a Trekkie.

But what was being a Trekkie like without any of that? Even during the period between the last Next Generation film, Nemesis, and the JJ Abrams reboot in 2009, when there was no new Trek, I still had plenty of other outlets to sustain me, not the least of which was the Internet fandom. In the 70s, however, it was vastly different.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Runnin' down a dream

(Between Won't Back Down and a film with "Mary Jane" in the title, I felt the need to continue the Tom Petty theme.)

So did I mention how Being Mary Jane director Salim Akil made fun of me for having a cellphone camera? It was on Thursday, during the red carpet photo op prior to the movie, and both Akil and his wife, writer Mara Brock Akil, took their turn in front of the paparazzi. All the hotshot media people were there, with their digital cameras and video cameras and there I was, little ol' me, clutching my cellphone camera like a lifeline, thinking that if I just look like a serious journalist, I'll fit in. 

I hope Salim Akil's pic came out
as good as mine.
I imagine I did a better job of blending in than this guy in the back who tried to crash the red carpet earlier by taking pictures of his own, not realizing that this was for accredited members of the press only. He got into a shouting match with some shutterbug whom he leaned on a little too much. That was as bad as it got, though.

Anyway, the Akils arrived and the cameras flashed and clicked, and suddenly Akil sees me with my cellphone and laughed, saying something like, "Man, get a real camera! You're supposed to be a professional!" I suppose I could've explained to him that no, I'm not really a professional, I just play one on TV, but it's not like our paths were gonna cross again after that night, so I grinned and tried to play it off like it was no big deal. 

BET CEO Debra Lee
Fortunately, he wasn't mean about it - he came up to me, asked me my name, and shook my hand, joking that he'd buy me a camera. He even whipped out his own cellphone and took a picture of me as I took one of him.

I suppose it really isn't a big deal. I mean, if you had told me five years ago that I'd be snapping pictures of Hollywood film and TV stars on a for-real red carpet at a film festival, I wouldn't have believed it. But I made this happen, so I reckon it counts as one more milestone in my life. I won't always use a cellphone to take pictures, but it's what I've got right now, so it's what I use.

Once again, the tendency to see more movies than I have time for was a strong one. On Friday night I had to forego seeing another movie after Won't Back Down so that I could post some of my reviews. I had written them down in my notebook before, and now, sometime after 8:30, I was running around trying to find someplace that was (a) still open, (b) had wi-fi, and (c) had an outlet I could plug my laptop into. 

'Being Mary Jane' co-star
Tika Sumpter
Eventually I settled on the same cafe I used last year before going to Vija's party. They didn't close until ten, and I was the only customer in there, typing away as they started putting chairs upside-down on the tables.

I talked about the craziness of waiting for Middle of Nowhere, but I don't think I fully emphasized the excitement there was over this movie, and what that excitement means. It means that there is an audience that craves better movies by, for and about people of color. We don't have to settle for the same old Hollywood pap, and to see audiences turning out in large numbers (Nowhere was a sellout) is really encouraging. 

It would be even more encouraging if an Oscar campaign could get going for it (Original Screenplay? Actress?? Cinematography???), but even if it doesn't happen, everyone who has seen it knows its worth, which does not need to be measured in little gold men. And that goes for all the films that played at Urbanworld.

I'll have more pictures from the festival on my WSW Facebook page later in the week.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Middle of Nowhere

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

Emayatzy Corinealdi
The truth is, I did not see Middle of Nowhere under the best of circumstances. The Saturday night show was a sell-out. While I was taking pictures from the red carpet, the lobby was quickly filling up with ticket holders and VIPs with all-access passes. I was actually warned of this by a woman whom I met in between shows on Saturday afternoon, and I believed it, given the excitement generated by this film. 

By my reckoning there were at least two lines: one for ticket holders and the other for all-access pass holders. I was told I could get on the latter with my press pass, so I did, but the lines were malformed and spread out over a great deal of limited space. Then we had to wait. And wait. And wait. Show time was eight PM, but we went well past that, and some people on my line were getting ticked off. The woman in front of me (who claimed to be from HBO) went up front to investigate, and she was told that the film arrived late and director Ava DuVernay was running a sound check. Arrived late? Really? 

Everyone REALLY wanted
to see 'Nowhere.'
On top of all that, when they finally let us in, there was more than a little confusion; they seemed to be alternating between the VIPs and the ticket holders, which was annoying the ones with large advance passes. As far as I could tell, everyone got in, but between the long wait and the confusing order of the lines, it was more than a little stressful. 

I ended up sitting in the second row, which was great for taking pictures afterwards at the Q-and-A, but not so much for watching the film - especially this film, which has a whole lot of close-ups, so not only could I see every pore, hair and blemish on the actors' faces, but I felt like I was looking up their noses as well! 

Corinealdi, right, with director
Ava DuVernay at the Q-and-A
Plus, it was the end of a long day for me personally, and though I didn't nod off, I was physically tired - and this is a quiet, introspective film that requires a good deal of attention. So what I'm saying is that I'm gonna have to watch this film again when it comes out next month in order to write about it properly. In the meantime, however, I can provide a few impressions.

Nowhere is about a woman who struggles to help her imprisoned husband get released early. At the same time, she's being pursued by a different man. Visually, this looks quite different from DuVernay's previous film, I Will Follow. Her DP was Bradford Young, who worked on the breathtaking Restless City and other films that played Urbanworld in the past, and also Pariah. He gives Nowhere an artier feel than Follow. Remember his name; I firmly believe this is only the beginning for him.

L-R: DuVernay, Corinealdi, producer
Paul Garnes, and DP Bradford Young
Newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi (em-ee-YAHT-zee kor-en-AHL-dee) carries the film and carries it very well, backed by a strong cast that includes Omari Hardwick and David Oyelowo, who's been everywhere lately and has lots more work coming up. In DuVernay's script, you feel one way about certain characters, then you feel another way, and you're never completely sure which way to stand with them. I'm fairly certain there are a few things I missed, story-wise, hence my desire to see this again. Do I recommend it? Yes, because this is black filmmaking on a higher level and it needs to be supported.

Being Mary Jane
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
Won't Back Down
Soul Food Junkies
The Last Fall

Urbanworld FF: The Last Fall

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

Professional sports are great and all, but in this country, we sometimes place unfair burdens on our young when they try to pursue a career in them. We have a tendency to make too many concessions to them, pampering and coddling them and making sure they succeed at all costs, even if it means sacrificing their education, all in the name of entertainment. The fact is, however, that only a select few can compete on the professional level, and out of those few, even fewer have what it takes to sustain a career. The rest end up fending for themselves.

Matthew Cherry had a brief NFL career, spending one season with the Baltimore Ravens, before turning to filmmaking - first music videos, and now, with The Last Fall, feature films. It's a semi-autobiographical tale of a pro football player who has reached the abrupt end of his young career at 25 and now must learn how to begin his life all over again.

Last year at Urbanworld, the film All Things Fall Apart examined similar territory, but a good premise was undone by the mediocre acting of rapper 50 Cent. Here, star Lance Gross is much more polished and believable, as is co-star Nicole Beharie (whom you may remember from the Michael Fassbender movie Shame), who plays an old flame he tries to get back.

Cherry's screenplay has the ring of authenticity to it, informed as it is by his own experiences, though I would've liked to have gotten a little more insight into the circumstances that led to Kyle's premature retirement. When someone asks him why he's out of the game, Kyle says something about internal politics, a vague and to me, unsatisfying answer. I would've liked a little more elaboration, or failing that, a simpler explanation - perhaps he didn't perform as well as anticipated.

All Things felt heavier because of the cancer angle (and 50 Cent's opportunity to go all Method by losing a ton of weight), but Fall, by contrast, addressed not only the embarrassment and shame of falling short of a long-sought career goal, but the misconceptions that other people have about such a high-profile occupation. All Things felt like a star vehicle, but Fall felt more like the story was the main attraction, and that's a big reason why I prefer it.

Being Mary Jane
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
Won't Back Down
Soul Food Junkies

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Soul Food Junkies

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website. 

We never called my mother's cooking "soul food" when growing up. It was just what we ate, though perhaps our menu wasn't quite the same as in other black families. We had the fried chicken, we had the collard greens, we had the corn bread, but we had other kinds of food too. For instance, I remember some Sundays when my father would simply buy a pizza pie from our favorite pizza joint on Junction Boulevard, along with a dozen Dunkin Donuts, but that was an occasional treat. Both my parents grew up in the south, so I have no doubt that they were familiar with the phrase, but while we did eat together (though not all the time, I admit), we didn't necessarily need dinner or any particular meal to get together and talk. That was just us, though.

Director Byron Hurt (taken at the
'Middle of Nowhere' screening)
Many black families have grown up with soul food dinners as a cultural heritage, and the documentary Soul Food Junkies examines this relationship, particularly in light of how recent years have shown traditional soul food to be not all that healthy. This film attracted a large and boisterous crowd at Urbanworld, and it was clear that this was a subject close to many people's hearts. Director Byron Hurt weaves a general examination of black communities and their long relationship with soul food with the story of his own father, who ate pork sausages and candied yams and hamhocks all his life and saw no reason to change, not even when his own health was at risk. Seeing his father die from pancreatic cancer made Hurt think his diet was to blame, and making this film was his way of searching for answers.

Hurt goes all over not just the American south, but across the country, talking to all kinds of people, black and white, who love soul food, and asking why. In interviews with health experts and other scholars, he traces the roots of the cuisine back to the slavery era, and shows how cooking soul food grew to become a point of pride in many black communities, eventually spreading out towards the rest of the country as well. In the after-show Q-and-A, Hurt made the point of how throughout it all, he wanted to maintain respect for the people who make and eat soul food, without judgment. It's full of laughter and poignancy, and the story of Hurt's father makes it all the more intriguing to watch.

Being Mary Jane
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
Won't Back Down

Soul Food

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Won't Back Down

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

Co-stars Rosie Perez & Lance Reddick
Appropos of nothing: I remember how surprised I was earlier this year at the Oscars, seeing Viola Davis appear baring her natural afro. Surprised a lot of people too. Whether or not actors in general and black actresses in particular wear wigs is not something most people tend to think about - I never did - but from now on, whenever I see her in a movie, I probably will... and to be honest, I kinda wish she were able to go au natural more often. But that's a discussion for another time.

If it weren't for Urbanworld, I probably would've passed on seeing Won't Back Down (of course they use the Tom Petty song in the closing credits). I saw the trailer prior to this week, and to me it looked like one more inspirational "true" story that Hollywood loves to make every so often. The depressingly generic and unimaginative title certainly didn't help. 

Lance Reddick, with his wife
I didn't doubt the film's quality, but the trailer made it perfectly clear what kind of movie this was gonna be, as well as how it would end. Maybe Gene Siskel was right about not watching trailers.

Anyway, it turned out to be exactly as I expected, but I gotta admit, I was entertained by it, and that was due to the outstanding work of the film's stars, Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The latter plays a single Pittsburgh mom with a dyslexic daughter, trying to find a better school for her than the one's she's in, until she learns about a way to organize parents and teachers together into forging a better school system, even though it means defying the powerful teachers' union. Davis plays the first teacher Gyllenhaal recruits for the cause, one with a learning disabled child of her own, as well as a terrible secret.

Co-star Dante Brown
It's absolutely an important story. Won't Back Down goes into how the Pittsburgh school program proved inadequate to the cause of helping children like those of Gyllenhaal and Davis, through negligence or bureaucracy or both, and how the union is a vital force for providing security for its members. There are no villains in this story, just opposing points of view, and I appreciate that director Daniel Barnz went to such lengths to make this clear. 

Still, the film does follow all the familiar Hollywood beats - romantic subplot, darkest hour, rally from an unexpected source, final confrontation - and the outcome is never in any real doubt. It's a formula that doesn't provide much in the way of surprises.

That said, however, Gyllenhaal and Davis make it watchable. I never really gave Gyllenhaal much thought beyond being Jake's sister, but she was powerful in a great role that let her shine. As for Davis, she had me from the start, but she also has a crucial late scene with her son that sold me on the entire film. She didn't oversell it - god knows she could have - but it was one more reminder of why her work is so admired by her peers. (If only it was admired enough to have given her that Oscar...)

Being Mary Jane
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till

Friday, September 21, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

I've heard of actors who put on one-man stage shows, and I've always wondered how they do it. Taking on multiple personalities all at once is one thing, but then it's also making the characters relate to each other and to the audience, how to stage the whole thing so that there's a sense of action... it has to be one of the greatest challenges any actor could ever face.

Mike Wiley is a North Carolina actor who wrote and performed a one-man show inspired by the brutal 1955 murder of the black Chicago teenager Emmett Till at the hands of two white Mississippi men, and their subsequent trial, at which they were found not guilty. The case was one of the major flashpoints of the black civil rights movement that would extend into the 60s and beyond.

With director Rob Underhill, Wiley adapted it into the feature film Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till, which played at Urbanworld today. Wiley once again plays every character, and special effects made it possible for them to interact with each other and occupy the same physical space, so that every character on the screen, from Till to the black and white Mississippi residents, and even the women, is Wiley - 36 characters in all. He doesn't use wigs or makeup to play the women, nor does he perform in "whiteface" - changes in wardrobe differentiate everyone visually, but the rest is all Wiley. Once you get past the gimmick, he totally makes you believe in each character he embodies. It helps that many of the major characters have long monologues and the editing allows for that.

The illusion is not perfect. At least one jump cut is visible, and some scenes clearly look like they were done in front of a green screen, but then, this is a small, low-budget movie. Still, give Underhill and Wiley credit for what they were able to accomplish, which is considerable. Also, I didn't care for the score. I felt it was intrusive and tried to compete for attention, which a good score should never do. Still, it was marvelous to witness such an acting tour-de-force.

Regrettably, neither Underhill nor Wiley could make it to the screening. Much of the information I got about the film was from a couple of the people in the audience: a former student of Wiley's and an acting professor from North Carolina who knows Wiley (neither of whom could tell me what the title means). If you wanna know more about it, including watching the trailer, here's the website.

Being Mary Jane

Urbanworld FF: Being Mary Jane

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

Gabrielle Union
I don't watch much television in general, except for TCM here and there, so I'm not terribly familiar with the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network. Numerous Boondocks comic strips have given me a certain impression, of course, but that is, after all, only one side of the story. Thursday night at Urbanworld, I saw another side. 

Being Mary Jane is a just-over-an-hour-long pilot movie created by a pair of BET veterans, the husband and wife team of director Salim Akil and writer Mara Brock Akil, both of whom have worked on the shows The Game and Girlfriends. In addition, they were responsible for last month's remake of the film Sparkle

Being Mary Jane stars Gabrielle Union as the host of a news talk show on a CNN-like network, and her various trials and tribulations: dysfunctional family, work drama, and of course, finding a man.

Mara Brock Akil & Salim Akil
From The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Murphy Brown to Ally McBeal, the "career woman" trope is well-worn territory, the major difference here being that it's now from a black perspective. Based on what I saw from the crowd on Thursday, many black women saw themselves in Mary Jane, which is a credit to writer Brock Akil's stated goal of authenticity, not to mention Union's performance. 

The relationship stuff got the biggest rise out of the audience - Mary Jane has a very, shall we say, healthy sex drive, even when there's not a man around - but I was more interested in the work and family stuff.

There's nothing particularly new or different about Being Mary Jane aside from the black angle, but I can appreciate the fact that it attempts to fill a niche. In the post-screening Q-and-A, Brock Akil made clear how much it means to her. 

L-R: Union, Brock Akil & Tika Sumpter at the Q-and-A
After a brief prologue, the film begins with a title card stating that 47% of black women in America are unmarried. Brock Akil said that she wanted Mary Jane to be a human being and not a statistic, and honesty and authenticity was crucial to that goal. 

She also praised her director husband Akil's contribution, saying that she needed him to help her tell this story. "Part of our love affair is our art," she said in describing their working relationship. It was announced last night that the Akils signed a deal with Paramount Pictures, so it appears that that relationship will continue to flourish.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


The Camp and Cult Blogathon is an event looking at movies on the fringe - obscure, overlooked, often unpolished films throughout history that still managed to attract audiences in spite of, or often because of, their lack of professionalism, hosted by She Blogged By Night. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

Psychomania (AKA The Death Wheelers)
from John & Sue's DVD collection

Participating in this blogathon made me realize I don't own any DVDs or VHS tapes of films that could be considered "cult" or "camp" - at least, not now, in 2012. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean, it's certainly no crime to the cinematic gods that I, a film geek, don't own a Russ Meyer or a Ray Dennis Steckler film (despite what some of you may think). Anyone who has read WSW long enough knows that I've written about cult films, underground films, whatever you wanna call them, but when it comes to owning movies, I guess I've always favored more mainstream material. (Relatively speaking; I own films by Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson and Kevin Smith, for example, and they're not exactly middle-of-the-road filmmakers.)

What does "cult" even mean in 2012? To me, part of the implication of the term within this context is that it's somewhat obscure, rare, hard to find. But as I've talked about here before, the internet has made practically everything in pop culture relatively easy to buy, rent or watch. It's certainly easier, say, than traveling 100 miles from Smalltown, USA to the nearest big city to see a 16mm print of a 60s biker flick you discovered in the Leonard Maltin guide, or searching all the video stores in town for an out-of-print 70s slasher flick you read about in Fangoria.

This is something I was aware of when I collected comics: the thrill of the hunt, the long search for an item that's rare or hard to find. I know I'm not the only one who considers this to be part of experiencing anything considered "cult." When you don't have easy access to something, you tend to appreciate it more, and that's where the devotion and reverence for a cult film comes from. 

Still, I'm not exactly an expert on the subject, so take my views for what they're worth. And I'm even less qualified to attempt to define "camp," so I won't go there.

I knew I could count on my pals John and Sue to have a fair amount of mondo bizarro films, and after perusing their selection, I settled on a British creeper from 1973 called both Psychomania and The Death Wheelers. It's about the world's most wholesome looking biker gang who, through their leader's spirit medium mother, discover a way to cheat death. The good bits: the score, which includes an original song sung by one of the bikers that's more Donovan than Steppenwolf. Also..., actually, that's about the only thing I liked about it. The premise has potential, but it's undone by its need to take itself way too seriously. Maybe it's the British way to approach even Z-listers like this as if it were Macbeth, but it could've used a good shot of John Waters-like self-aware silliness. Plus, not enough sex and/or violence.

Psychomania happens to be the last film of none other than veteran Brit character actor George Sanders. He plays butler to the biker leader and his mom, but alas, Addison DeWitt doesn't get any really juicy scenes. I've written before about how heartbreaking it can be to see Golden Age Hollywood greats slumming in low-budget genre fare in their twilight years. The money for something like this couldn't have been that good...!

The great thing about watching movies like this with John is that he is a champion heckler of many years standing, and he was in rare form on Sunday when we all watched it. Sue is almost as good - her heckling has a sillier edge, while John tends to go for the jugular. I, on the other hand, am the type of person who thinks of a great one-liner five minutes after the moment arrives. Heckling is often a vital part of the camp and cult experience. I just wish I were better at it.

The King of Pain Blogathon: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Masterful links

Not a whole lot to say this time round. On the Facebook page, I put up my schedule of films for Urbanworld next week, but I forgot to take after-show Q-and-As into account - another opportunity for pictures, not to mention behind-the-scenes information, so I may have to adjust it again. Also, it looks like the 70mm version of The Master will play at the Ziegfeld. I went there on Tuesday thinking I could get a ticket in advance, only I didn't realize Tuesday was an exclusive advance screening. I can't begin to express how excited I am for this. I've never seen a 70mm film before.

Slightly off-topic: NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg gets his large soda ban approved by the city board of health.

Jacqueline has an informative piece that looks at how classic film stars felt about evolving film trends in sex and violence.

Pam on the divide between modern special effects and older ones.

No surprise that Grease is one of Alex's all time favorite movies.

Despite the total financial failure of the recent kiddie movie The Oogieloves, I personally respect the filmmakers for attempting something new. Here's a review in which the writer saw it with her toddler child.

What's the big deal about the apocalypse sub-genre in general and zombies in particular?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


seen on TV @ AMC

One thing about the concept of living forever which nobody ever considers: how do you know for  certain that somebody's immortal and not just very-long-lived? The only way to know for sure if someone's immortal is if they really do live forever, and unless you're immortal yourself, you can't really measure that, can you? (I wish I could take credit for such an observation, but I can't. I got it from a Star Trek novel.)

But let's say that immortality is totally possible. Is it something that anyone would want? In many stories about immortal beings - vampires, gods super-advanced aliens, what have you - it's as much curse as blessing, and I gotta admit, it doesn't sound appealing to me either, but there have gotta be some advantages to it, right? Well, I thought about it, and it seems to me that whether or not living forever is a good thing depends upon a number of things:

- When you were born. If it was any time within the last fifty years, that doesn't seem long enough to really appreciate the alleged benefits of immortality. You'd need at least a century behind you, since that's about as old as humans can get on their own.

- Where you were born. Combined with when you were born, this is pretty important. It's one thing if you were born into, say, the royal family of King George III during the 18th century; another thing altogether if you were born in a small African village in the 19th century during the height of the European slave trade. Still, immortality could be a big problem either way.

- What kind of person you are. Maybe you think being immortal makes you superior to everyone else. Maybe you wanna take over the world because of it. If you're the religious type, maybe you think God's punished or rewarded you in some way. If you're the scientific type, maybe you wanna figure out how this is possible, and whether or not it can be duplicated.

- How you got that way. If you got bit by a vampire, you might feel angsty and melancholy, or angry and bitter, or thrilled and happy, depending on what kind of vampire it is. If it was a random accident of some sort, involving either magic or science, who knows how you might feel?

- How many others there are like you. Eternity might be so bad if you had someone to share it with. Then again, maybe you don't know how to find others like you. What if you were completely unique though? Would you be doomed to outlive humanity itself, all alone?

Highlander addresses some of these issues, but it doesn't go deep enough into the rules it sets up for itself, like why does there have to be only one? What I remember of the sequels (which is very little, since none of them are as entertaining as the original) doesn't provide a very compelling answer (and I've never seen the TV series).

I'm surprised no one's tried remaking or rebooting this franchise yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I'm inclined to think, though, that it could use a reboot, with a greater sense of mythology and history, in addition to cool swordfights. Give the franchise to a young director like Neill Blomkamp or Duncan Jones and let them recreate the whole thing while keeping the essentials: immortal Scotsman, swordplay, "There can be only one," and Queen. Oh, wait...

And by the way, AMC, do you think you could plan your commercial breaks a little better and not go to one in the middle of a fight scene?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WSW returns to Urbanworld 9/20-22

It's official: I just received my press confirmation this week and once again I'll attend the Urbanworld Film Festival in Manhattan on September 20-22. This was the first film festival I had ever attended, and if you click on the "Urbanworld" label in the sidebar, you'll see my coverage of it last year. It was exciting, and I was more than a little starry-eyed and nervous, but now that I've got it behind me, I feel like I'm ready for another round. 

Urbanworld is the fest where I saw two outstanding films from last year, Kinyarwanda and Restless City, as well as a good documentary, Brooklyn Boheme, and I'm expecting more of the same this year. Highlights include: Middle of Nowhere, Ava Duvernay's Sundance winner, which will be the closing night film; Won't Back Down, Viola Davis' new one; and Being Mary Jane, the opening night film from the Sparkle team of Salim & Mara Brock Akil. The full schedule can be found at the Urbanworld website. Once I decide which films I plan to see, I'll post my schedule on the WSW Facebook page.

Monday, September 10, 2012


seen on TV @ TCM

There's a book that came out in the 90s that I bought after reading an excerpt in a paper, called The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans. It deals with how differences in shades of skin color within the black community unite and separate us, in all facets of daily life. It's a problem that dates at least as far back as the slavery era, when being either a "house nigger" (light-skinned) or a "field nigger" (dark-skinned) made a huge difference in how you were treated by the master.

I spent Labor Day weekend on the beach, so right now, I'm perhaps a little bit darker than normal, but I've always had a medium-brown complexion, leaning towards the dark side. My sister is somewhat darker than me. I can't say for certain whether I've experienced any kind of color bias amongst other black people, though I don't believe I have. That seems like something I'd remember, like the very light-skinned girl in 3rd grade that I mistook for white for a long time until I discovered otherwise.

Reading The Color Complex was quite a revelation for me, but I think I may have been aware of this mentality, on some level, growing up: for example, seeing Lisa Bonet on The Cosby Show or Jasmine Guy on A Different World and how popular they became in comparison with their co-stars, or watching Michael Jackson's strange transformation from one album to the next. I may not have been able to put a name to it or why it existed, but I think I knew somehow that light-skinned blacks tended to be more prevalent in pop culture than dark-skinned ones, especially women.

In the chapter on media, The Color Complex deals with, among other elements, the trope known as the "tragic mulatta" - the light-skinned black girl who is light enough to pass for white, and can go places and do things that her darker brethren can't. As a result, she has a foot in both the white and black worlds, and this dichotomy always tends to lead to Bad Things. Stories like these were immensely popular in American literature during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book offers speculation as to why:
One theory holds that White females, the main reading audience for romantic fiction then and now, saw the mulatta through a veil of resentment. Southern White women, in particular, had felt victimized by their husbands' raping of slave women, but, being ladies, they had had to look the other way. Stories featuring mulattas may have offered this segment of the population a way tacitly to acknowledge the unsavory history of plantation rape; but the mulatta heroines had to die tragically, lest the stories appear to sanction miscegenation. In the North, and in the South after the Civil War, the stories may have served another purpose. The mulatta represented the vanguard of a fully integrated society, and stories about her tragic downfall might have helped soothe White anxieties about unchecked mixing of the races.
The protagonist of Elia Kazan's Pinky (based on a book) is a mulatta, but her story has a more-or-less happy ending. She doesn't die, at any rate. Pinky, played by a white actress, Jeanne Crain (another issue in itself), returns to her Southern home after studying to be a nurse in the North. She moves back into the shack she grew up in with her grand-mammy, who urges her to work for an old white woman that was mean to her as a kid, but showed her grandma kindness. Pinky's parents aren't talked about much. 

The old white lady eventually dies and leaves Pinky her house, but her will gets contested in court by a distant relative on the charge that the old lady wasn't in her right mind when she wrote it - because why would a white woman bequeath property to a black woman? Also, Pinky's white boyfriend from up North shows up, wanting to marry her, but not knowing that she's bi-racial.

I've known quite a few bi-racial people in my time, which, admittedly, is quite different from 1949. I'd say the one thing they all had in common was that whether they self-identified as one race, the other or neither, it was their choice. Often, it had to do with how they were raised: for instance, I know bi-racial sisters, half black, half white, who grew up with their black mother, so they tend to identify more as black. I also know a bi-racial guy - again, half black, half white - who was raised by his white mother and is married to a white woman, and I would say that he doesn't tend to emphasize one side of his heritage over the other most of the time.

We as a society tend to notice the black side of a bi-racial person over the white side most, if not all of the time. We need only look at our president for proof. Barack Obama can't be seen any other way but black. His place in a position of power has social implications for blacks and whites alike that are impossible to ignore. Fair? No - but it's reality. Within the film world, the same could be said for Halle Berry, who, ever since her Oscar win, hasn't had as many plum roles as comparable actresses like Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore.

I wanted Pinky to realize that she didn't have to be one or the other if she didn't want to. Her boyfriend struck me as being insensitive to her situation and the old lady seemed to get off on keeping her in her place, so maybe Pinky didn't think she could be anything other than "black" in the eyes of the world. This movie is very much of its time, well-intentioned though it may be, but it's interesting from a sociological perspective, I guess.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Muppets Take Manhattan

The Muppets Take Manhattan
last seen @ High Line Movies @ The High Line, New York NY

The next time you visit New York, make sure you spend an afternoon on the High Line. The High Line is a totally unique reappropriation of public space that's unlike anything you've ever seen. Located on the far west side of Manhattan, running up Chelsea and into Midtown, it used to be a set of elevated train tracks for freight usage. It fell out of use in 1980 and laid fallow for many years until 1999, when the idea to convert it into a park first gained traction. It went through city channels, designs were made, and construction began in 2006. Three years later, the first section of the new park opened to the public, and slowly but surely, the park expanded further north.

The park, accessible by both stairs and elevators, has a narrow walkway surrounded by a combination of wild-growing flora and cultivated foliage in a wide variety of patterns. Some of it grows so high that it engulfs the walkway, hanging low over it like an natural archway. The way the walkway is built, however, there are areas where one can still see the original train tracks underneath. 

There are benches, including a section with large wooden reclining benches, where you can lie down and spread out. There are areas where the former train tracks run underneath entire buildings, providing shelter from any precipitation. Mostly, though, the surrounding offices and apartment complexes look down on the High Line from above. Original art is often installed in spots. There are food carts all around the park, offering all types of fancy snacks. (Only one set of bathrooms, though. They could really use a second set.)

The view from the High Line is wonderful. To the west, one can look out over the West Side Highway into the Hudson River and New Jersey beyond that. Closer inland, one can see art studios along the streets below. To the east, there are the fashionable restaurants amidst the cobblestone streets of the West Village, and the Empire State Building and similar landmark buildings beyond that.

What makes this place so special is that it's all above street level. It twists and turns through buildings on either side of it, making you see New York in an unusual manner, yet all this concrete and steel mingles with the flowers and grass growing up from the park. The combination seems jarring at first, yet the longer you hang around the more enthralling the mixture becomes. I've only offered you the roughest of outlines; it's something that really needs to be seen to be believed. (If you ever come visit it though, be careful; it can get very crowded on the weekends and evenings during the warmer months.)

Given all this, when I saw that they show movies here too, I was curious as to how it would work. This month they started up a new series of films, beginning with The Muppets Take Manhattan, so I went down there for a look.

What they did was to get one of those giant air-filled projection screens and set it up underneath one of the larger overhangs - a part of the park underneath a building. (I was kinda hoping they might project the film on a wall.) Seats were set up in front of the screen, about 100 at least, and most of them were filled last night. This being a kiddie movie, there were kids, and I ended up next to one who wouldn't shut up. He looked like he was about two or three. He didn't seem to have much interest in the movie at all, even though his mom kept changing his seat. Plus there were a few kids seated on the floor in the front, and one of them kept sticking his hand in front of the projector at one point.

Regardless, I loved seeing this movie again. The songs aren't quite as good as in the original '79 movie, but as a kid, I never made that distinction. And seeing this definitely takes me back to childhood in a big way. I've said it before, but it's true: the Muppets are as real to me as any flesh and blood people, and I'll always cherish them.

The Muppets
The frog prince: The legacy of Jim Henson