Let’s Do It Again
What do you get when you mix funk, hypnosis, boxing, hustlin’ and church? You get Let’s Do It Again, starring the Uptown Saturday Night duo Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier and the ever-hilarious Jimmy Walker, who most know from the TV show Good Times. Apparently, this film is seen as a sort of trilogy with Uptown Saturday Night and A Piece of the Action, but I’ve only seen this one and have yet to blur in other films into its overall plot since it stands up great on its own.
Clyde Williams (Sidney Poitier) and Billy Foster (Bill Cosby) are two friends who desperately want to help their congregation, awesomely named The Brothers and Sisters of Shaka, who are in need of financial aid. In order to keep it from breaking apart, Billy refreshes Clyde’s memory of a time when they harmlessly used Clyde’s solider-derived knowledge of hypnosis to have a little fun and to make him see the advantages of using such a tool to place bets on boxing. The two come to an agreement and take what little money the congregation has in its savings and venture to New Orleans in order to bet on boxers, with the pressing deadline of the congregation's need in mind. There they scout out the most pitiful opponent, Bootney Farnsworth (Jimmy Walker) and hypnotize him into thinking that he is practically invincible. From there they place an astounding bet that Farnsworth will win his match against 40th Street Black. The plan works and the two win boatloads, returning home where they save their congregation and sit on easy street as local heroes, leaving behind angry and street-smart betters who know something fishy has happened.Continue Reading
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
Crooklyn is a love letter from Spike Lee to his youth. Co-written with his sister Joie and brother Cinque, it draws from memories of their childhood growing up in Brooklyn. It is the story of the Carmichael family made up of a jazz musician father, an overworked and harried schoolteacher mother and 5 children. Seen from the eyes of ten year old Troy, the only daughter, we see the chaos and turbulent joy, frustration and sorrow of the Carmichael family. The movie plays like impressions with abrupt shifts from comedy to drama and has no political or dramatic motivation other than a look at life through the eyes of a child. Even without this the movie provides a true emotional arc and one is absorbed by the nostalgic and slightly foreign era where children are not afraid to play in the streets or confront crazy neighbors. Nobody walks around shaded by hooded sweatshirts and assuming menacing anonymity simply for their own protection. The only drug users are two ridiculous glue sniffers who are the neighborhood's sad joke.
When we follow Troy, who visits her relatives in Virginia, there is a wonderful shift of perspective as the differences in environment and behavior are cataloged and deciphered through her eyes. You can feel the strength of her mother rise to the surface as she adapts and dismisses affection and manners from her southern family. There is no arguing her demand to go home and, once there, she must draw on that strength again to see herself and her family through tragedy.Continue Reading
Touki Bouki (The Hyena's Journey)
Two poor, restless University students in Dakar (Mory and Anta) attempt to raise the funds to move to Paris in search of a better life. To accomplish this end, they engage in petty thievery and steal some expensive threads from a rich, gay fellow who's picked up Mory and taken him back to his palatial estate. In the process of raising funds they ride around on a motorcycle adorned with a cow's skull.
The tone is langourous and playful, similar to Godard's Pierrot Le Fou or Malick's Badlands. Unlike the didactic types in many of Mambéty's peers' films, Touki Bouki's protaganists are merely two characters in a diverse milieu which views neo-colonialism vs. African traditionalism with a fair amount of ambiguity. The visuals are pretty stunning too. There are a lot of shots of the heroes riding around the city and countryside on the aforementioned motorcyle and in a beautiful, customized Citroën 2CV. There are a lot of great threads and vibrant colors fill most of the stylishly composed frames.Continue Reading
Niankoro, a young man in the powerful Malian Kingdom, is relentlessly pursued by his evil sorcerer father Soma in this mythological tale set in the 1200s. It seems Niankoro has stolen secret knowledge reserved exclusively for a secret society of old men with the intention to share it openly. He seeks out his father's twin and fellow sorcerer, Djigui Diarra, for protection. Niankoro's travels take him through the lands of the cosmologically-oriented, cliff-dwelling Dogon and the Peul, whose king enlists Niankoro's aid in protecting them from raiders and giving him a child - which he does (although not through magic) and Niankoro picks up a wife in the process. Niankoro avoids his father but Soma won't back down, however, and the confrontation between father and son becomes inevitable.
Cissé attended the Moscow School of Cinema and Television on a scholarship and Yeelen, based on Bambara legend, is very reminsicent of the Soviet films of Tarkovsky or Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami with a slow, methodical pace and lots of quiet space. Salif Keita and Michel Portal's score is minimal and used sparingly. The use of magic is handled similarly without flashy special effects along the lines of Tarkovsky's Stalker or Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock. There's ritualistic drinking, sniffing and smoking of various unnamed substances and Cissé depicts everything with an appropriate sort of hazy, dreamlike detachment. For a genre not generally known for restraint, this is one of the calmest films you'll ever see.Continue Reading
Set in Columbus, OH and filmed over 4 years, Flag Wars is not only a film about gentrification, but also of racism, homophobia, and privilege. Throughout the film, you will follow Linda Mitchell as she fights for both her home and her life, Chief Baba Olugbala Shango Obadena as he struggles to keep a simple sign with his name above his door, and Jim Yoder and Nina Masseria as they face hate crimes and resistance from their neighbors. You will meet African-American families who have lived in their homes for 40 years and now face the fear of losing them to a wave of mainly white, gay professionals looking to rehab properties and better the neighborhood. While one side strides toward change, the other enjoys a life established long ago. Flag Wars shows us, quite literally, the middle of the road where the two sides meet....Continue Reading
We've all seen the gang leader film a few hundred times. We've seen him in "tha hood" starting fights, we've seen him in a classroom getting into trouble and reporting to the principal's office, we've seen him ride slick cars, and we've seen him lead labor unions into civil uproar.
Place him in South Africa - we have a teenager named Tsotsi (meaning"thug") who doesn't know emotion and lives alone in the ghettos outside of Johannesburg. Place him in a wealthy city, and he steals a woman's Mercedes, as well as shoots her. Riding off, he finds himself not alone - the woman's baby is left in the backseat, and he is left by himself to take care of him. The film follows his journey as he learns how to care for someone other than himself, and the lessons and people that come along the way.Continue Reading
The Wiz has one of the worst reputations in film history. It was a commercial and critical flop and is said to have ended not only Diana Ross' film career but Hollywood's investment in musicals and the era of black-centric movies that had recently evolved from blaxploitation to character driven drama and comedy. Made in 1978, it is the film version of the staged musical that took Broadway and the Tony's by storm in 1975. The staged production starred a teenage Stephanie Mills (who would later become an R&B sensation) who was also signed to play Dorothy in the film version. That role went to Diana Ross who critics, and even some involved with the production, felt was too old for the part. She was supported by an outstanding cast including a young and vibrant Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Ted Ross reprising his Tony award winning roll as the Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Joel Schumacher wrote a flimsy script using very little of the play's libretto and instead infused it with “feel good” jargon from motivational guru Werner Erhard including the song “Believe in Yourself.” The critics nailed the film and Ross' performance with brutal accuracy but also gave high praise to its practical production including costumes, choreography, and cinematography. In fact, it was nominated for 4 Oscars but failed to win any. As a child I was mesmerized by this film. Dorothy did seem too old in the beginning but as she began dancing down the yellow brick road her joy and beauty emerged until I thought she herself was magical. I remember rejoicing in the new “modern” versions of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. They felt so tangible and textured - more so than The Wizard of Oz of 1939. The Munchkins were kids, like me! And the people of Emerald City were extravagantly beautiful. I remember being frightened and on the edge of...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
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was one of the towering figures of African-American art, culture, and politics in the 20th century. An All-American collegiate athlete and attorney, he became a star of the dramatic and musical stage, an international concert luminary, recording artist, and the first black leading man on film. But his outspoken opposition to segregation and his support of Russia’s Communist regime made him a pariah during the Cold War ‘50s; the U.S. State Department lifted his passport for nearly a decade, until the Supreme Court overturned its action in 1958. Only near the end of his life did his singular achievements begin to be recognized without the taint of racial or political prejudice.
Robeson’s 1924 appearance in the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones launched him to stardom. He portrayed Brutus Jones, a Pullman porter turned murderer who becomes the despotic ruler of a Caribbean island. The expressionistic 1933 film production recreated that heralded performance, and was expanded to include several musical numbers featuring Robeson’s peerless, profound bass voice. The last 15 minutes of the film is essentially a soliloquy by Jones, who, hunted by rebellious natives, is terrorized by “haints” from his past; it’s an acting tour de force.Continue Reading