Looking For Langston
A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.
It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.Continue Reading
Spike Lee’s films have always been hit or miss for me. I grew up watching them, as they were fictitious and familiar depictions of African-Americans, but for the longest time I fell just short of pleased with his work. Forgive me for going on a tangent, but I feel the need to cite the differences and subject matter of some other Spike Lee Joints before raving about this one.
The first Lee film I saw was Crooklyn, and it is perhaps the only other that I am fond of. In short, it is an energetic, sometimes melancholic film about a family in Brooklyn—more or less through the eyes of the couple’s only daughter in their large brood. Overall, the movie is harmless, though it deals softly with substance abuse and death, but it’s a little too gentle; it held up when I was a child, but lost flavor for me in adulthood. This criticism does not translate to it being a bad film, but rather anticlimactic. Another that comes to mind is Jungle Fever—a ballsy film about two co-workers (black male/white female) who become lovers despite their committed relationships. The movie unfolds with over-the-top characters and events, ultimately making it very black and white, both literally and figuratively. I remember being unmoved by the assumed dangers and taboo thrills of biracial lust. It disappointed me then, and it does now. Do The Right Thing, while it is Lee’s most popular and acclaimed work, still reminds me of the misdirected angst that would follow its release in the form of riots. Obviously the film is not to blame, but in times of such hostility, you'd think a message geared toward working together would be better suited and more universal. Its deadpan racist rants (common among his Italian and Black characters) hit you over the head so hard that it almost begs you to choose sides, if not fails to deliver a clear message.Continue Reading
Ice Cube delivers in his directorial debut with Players Club, a fast paced drama that leaves plenty of room for action, comedy and some well-rounded camp. Many of the scenes resonate with the feel of a late 90's music video on MTV, filled with tons of grey and green hues, over-exposed camera shots, and quick-cut editing. Players Club contains elements of some of my favorite films within the past 20 or so years. Morals are lifted from movies like Showgirls (the passion to stop at nothing to find and finish your dreams) but without all the over-acting and ham-fisted directing. Or it could even be compared to a newer film like The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (the human spirit going to the darkest recesses of the mind to rise above the constraints of reality no matter what the cost).
How about we stop here to say I really do not want to turn this review into a serious critique on film and cinema by using these movies as examples of the human struggle in comparison to Players Club, but this movie has the goods and goes into situations all of us have to face in daily life. Showing us how our actions have consequences. With all that said, remember, this film has a strong "scent" of the movie Friday written all over it, so it's not all just drama and seriousness. Ice Cube hasn't forgotten that films are here to entertain us. ....STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON!!!Continue Reading
Raisin in the Sun
"What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"
Langston Hughes' opening lines to his poem "A Dream Deferred" inspires the title of the film, which is adapted from Lorraine Hansberry's 1951 Broadway play. The story is about the working-class African American family in Chicago, each member struggling against the idea of deferred dreams. The way each character has to fight against generational prejudice to achieve their dreams makes a most powerful, touching story, as deep to the core of African American history. And while I want to cry at the injustices that bind many to social despair, I am inspired by the moments of strength that the human spirit can possess.Continue Reading
About the only thing this Shaft remake has in common with the original Richard Roundtree cop classic is that great Isaac Hayes theme song and similar funky score (and Roundtree pops up in a supporting role in this one). Both Shafts are swinging ladies men and both have to deal with race issues being African-American cops in a hostile world and working with a corrupt police force. What makes the remake stand out as more than just a serviceable late night TV time killer is the presence of two great unlikely villains teaming up, played by two great actors, Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright, working at their scenery chewing best.
The original Shaft, directed by Gordon Parks is usually unjustly labeled "blaxploitation," but it’s degrading because Shaft was actually much closer in class and style to an acclaimed crime film like The French Connection than say, some jive like Superfly. Shaft became a minor cultural phenomenon, birthing two decent sequels and even a short-lived television series. The inevitable remake comes 30 years later, and though it might not have delivered as a franchise starter, it does deliver perfectly as a solid action guilty pleasure.Continue Reading
Released in 1972, Gordon Park’s Superfly immediately became a classic of the “blaxploitation” genre. Sporting the most stylish pimp threads of the early seventies, Ron O’ Neal plays “Priest” — a smooth talking, high rolling, cocaine dealer with a steely gaze and a firm backhand.
As the story opens, Priest finds himself in a bit of a mid-life crisis. Realizing that his days in the business are numbered and that if he wants to make it off the streets alive, he needs to cash in with one big final score of the white. The problem is, the police want him in prison or dead, and the mafia have no intention of letting their top earner enjoy an early retirement.Continue Reading
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½
My most favorite movie titles: (1) Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties & (2) Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1 ½, directed by William Greaves. Greaves’ title refers to the term “symbiotaxiplasm,” a concept coined by social philosopher Arthur Bentley. This term describes the assimilated totality of a society and its affects by humans and to humans. Every person, place, object, and thing that a society creates, maintains, and destroys is accounted for in the word symbiotaxiplasm.
Greaves added the “psycho” to affirm how our creativity and psychology can affect our society, and in turn, how we affect it. Make sense? Good. Moving on…Continue Reading
The Brother from Another Planet
Who knew that you could use extraterrestrials to make a bold statement about racial conflict and immigration? Seems all too easy when you think about it, but John Sayles did it here with a surprising amount of brilliance.
It's been years since I've seen the film, and one of the joys of revisiting a classic movie is being able to finally understand its message through the humor and irony of the plot. In the movie we find an alien with African-American features (Joe Morton) who ironically crashes his spaceship at the Ellis Island Immigration Center. He hobbles around injured and observes the foreign surroundings before healing his wounds with a simple touch. Though he's unable to speak or make vocal sounds, he can understand every language on Earth and has other abilities that could be compared to that of a psychic superhero. The first that we observe is his ability to touch inanimate objects and hear the pain and anguish from spirits that used or were around the object. The only physical feature that sets him apart from others, besides the fact that he's black, are his three oversized toes as feet, which he keeps covered, of course.Continue Reading
A "vacation film" seems to be in order before the summer ends, so I chose an old favorite of mine which was set in the '70s and has early performances from several great actors, many whom have been forgotten, and others who rose to stardom. Larenz Tate (Menace II Society, Why Do Fools Fall In Love) plays the leading role as a young teenage boy named Drew. It's difficult to explain why you start to feel for his character very early on, but I'm sure it has to do with his disposition. Besides being a shy virgin whose only friend is his doll, his parents Brenda (Suzzanne Douglas) and Kenny (Joe Morton) seem convinced that he is mentally disturbed and that a blaze he recently set in the house might not have been an accident. With all the bad vibes floating around they decide to spend the Fourth of July weekend at Brenda's sister's house in Martha's Vineyard.
Upon arrival, things go exactly as they seemed to go for me when I was young and going on family vacations. In fact, I think this is one of the few films I've seen that hits the awkwardness of distant and eccentric relatives on the nose. There's that annoying first night when you're not in your own bed—the aggravation from your cousin(s) who are either more boring than you thought any teenager could possibly be, or worse, they're too cool to socialize with you. For Drew, his problem rests in the latter as his cousin, Junior, is a pompous, smooth-talking bully. But Drew isn't the only one having problems with the relatives, and the narrative of the film works wonders by having people for his parents to hate as well, thus putting them in their son's shoes for once. Brenda's sister Francis (Vanessa Bell Calloway) and her husband Spencer (Glynn Turman) are two conservatives who have all the great Republican presidents' portraits on their wall, while Kenny is a former Black Panther and Brenda wears a dashiki. As you can imagine, things get quite messy between both the youngsters and the adults.Continue Reading
The Spook Who Sat By the Door
For years I was inundated by requests for this seemingly much-in-demand film that I'd never heard of. It played in theaters for only three weeks upon its initial release before being yanked. Despite being successful and popular, the FBI and COINTELPRO put pressure on the film's distributors, fearful of what it might inspire in viewers. When it finally came to DVD, I watched it.
The plot concerns a white U.S. senator whose political career is faltering. In a cynical bid to appeal to black voters and save his career, he voices his support for a C.I.A. drive to recruit more blacks into the organization. This works but - in a move that's both comical and obviously designed to rile up viewers and sets the tone for the rest of the film - the new recruits are graded on a curve. Only one of these new, token black agents can pass - quiet, polite Dan Feldman. And Dan learns that his new position will be as Reproduction Chief which requires him to man the copy machine in the basement at all times.Continue Reading