Sunday, January 29, 2012

Red Tails: From History to PSA

Its distasteful, the way media engines and outlets have been going into overdrive brainwashing the masses, the black masses, into believing that Red Tails (Hemingway, 2012) is a story about us. The us who weren’t allowed into the mainstream simply due to our skin color, the us who turned the tide of a world war with little acknowledgement thereafter, the us who have since been little more than a footnote in history and occasional proud reference during February, you know the month when we’re able to unfold all our accomplishments of the past with little regard now for what they stood for then. This movie is more about the special effects of dogfights than it is about historical accuracy and paying homage to the Tuskegee Airman.

Now, I completely understand the difficulty of compressing years and years of historical fact into 90 minutes of entertainment but, when the subject matter has been notoriously glossed over since its first making history, one would hope the parties involved in its theatrical conception would use every avenue available to give as well rounded and accurate an account as possible. This was not its fate. Though hyped to be a marvel of African-American cinema, which it actually wasn’t, George Lucas (executive producer) was very hands on with its creation, it tumbled across the screen like an Afterschool special touting the saccharine importance of diversity and “when working together we can accomplish anything”-ness.

But, not all the blood, even though a great portion does belong on the hands of the production team, is on the hands of the production team, the black community has to share in this formidably poorly conceived concoction. The community’s lowered expectations and overly grateful attitude toward being thrown a bone are to blame. We don’t hold ourselves or accomplishments to a high enough standard and therefore are willing to accept anything with a brown face attached to it as another achievement in our history even when it is rubbish and we know its rubbish but don’t want to say anything against it for fear of being against “black films” and thus against the community. This is a bullshit excuse. Statuses on Facebook and Twitter, not surprisingly, hailed this as a great achievement, are happy this film got made, are giving mad love to Lucas for finally getting his “passion project” into theatres and loving up this farce beyond its deserving it. When we, and yes, this must be a collective we, are finally able to look beyond the façade of supporting our own and are able to critically analyze what is being pitched to us, then we will finally be making the films we want to see and will tire of showing forced gratitude for films that maintain the status quo of prevalent stereotyping, buffoonery, and of being relegated to the past with “our best days”.

Now, for the review.

To begin, it was clear from jump, ala the red opening credits, that this ride was going to be subpar. However, the overarching problem fell mostly on the hands of the puppet pre-production crew: the writers and director, which is surprisingly disappointing because of one writer in particular, Aaron McGruder creator and amazing brain behind the Boondocks comic strip turned television series. McGruder is known for his expansive wit, sharp cleverness and determined, if not aggressive, ability to pull back the curtains on society’s shortcomings and provoke a thoughtful insight that both challenges and motivates his audience. None of this was put to use in the movie. The quick-witted dialogue he’s executed between the two juvenile characters in his animated series is more judicious and natural than all the scenes in this movie combined. The lack of fluidity and emotionless recitation of dialogue was utterly distracting and made seasoned actors look amateurish; a complete disrespect to the multitude of talented cast members. Perhaps the bureaucracy surrounding this movie suppressed the creative genius bubbling beneath but goodness did no one read the script prior to production? Apparently, not. Which brings me to Anthony Hemingway who, contrary to what this movie may say about him, has worked on many notable projects that I’ve enjoyed tremendously. The majority of his credits are in television, which is a whole other animal entirely from film, though respectfully, is not outside of the family. However, to allow that bit of difference to justify the multitude of wrong turns would be an even bigger cop-out than the film. I just can’t understand why or what caused Hemingway, a reoccurring director on The Wire (Simon, 2002), where a number of Red Tails cast members once shined, to misuse their abilities so consistently, its almost a talent within itself. It was as if this was a big budgeted read-through. On top of the conservative directing was faulty editing; whole scenes felt too short, incomplete, or entirely unnecessary. One scene that embodies all these virtues takes place in a conversation between Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terence Howard) and Marty “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker), captain of the Airmen. After a dogfight between the Tuskegee Airmen and German fighters one of the airmen David “Deacon” Watkins (Marcus T. Paulk) goes down and could have possibly died if it weren’t for the guidance of “Easy”, who directed the pilot home blind, but “Easy” is supposed to have a drinking problem, which is constantly brought up and beaten to death by his frienemy John “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), a drinking problem that never affects his work, but whatever, don’t me started on their nonsensical beef. Anyway, “Easy” believes he’s no longer fit to fly because… I’m guessing the Germans wouldn’t have shot one of their planes down if they knew he was sober…and wants to relinquish his position, setting Bullard (Howard) up for an inspiring speech worthy of thundering applause, the likes of Gladiator, Braveheart even 300, instead Bullard sends “Easy” off with, “sometimes you won’t make the right decisions.” end scene fade to the next. Yes, “Easy” looks as confused as you sweet reader. A perfect home-run pitch ruined by a ball and walk to first base; that was tragic. Many of these frustrating scenes fill in the time between finely executed dogfights and gorgeous aerial shots of Italy…oh I just remembered one scene where “Lightning”, the rogue arrogant one of the bunch, enters a white officer’s only bar in town and refusing to take anymore of their guff, starts a fight with the entire bar filled with angry “nigger hating” officers and comes out without a scratch; yes, 30 men, one dude, no marks. I hope I’m getting the point across.

But, then again perhaps I’m over thinking this whole thing. It is after all just a film, right? And this is Hemingway’s first feature at that. And, there’s word that Lucas just wanted to make a good ol’ cheesy, fun war flick for African-Americans since we don’t have a long lineage of crap-busters of our own. But, I call bullshit on all the excuses and exclamations of enjoyment. Unfortunately, the African-American community doesn’t have a long line of blockbusters in our history nor do we have a history of getting our historical accomplishments seen, enjoyed and discussed even in our own communities. I don’t believe such powerfully, significant historical events should be taken lightly or be made “cheesy” for the benefit of a few forced cheap laughs and high ticket sales, ‘cause when will be the next time an opportunity to tell a story like this will happen? I take offense to this sugarcoated, insincere dribble, the overall lack of research and nonchalance toward the atrocities of war (i.e. the POW sequence—watching this you realize there’s more danger in attending summer camp in Wisconsin). The lack of a personal touchstone or history of the Tuskegee Airmen project is horribly misguided. This is a complete disappointment, which the Black community should not support (note: the film industry is as bad as the Democrats expecting the black population to support crap candidates solely because a brown face is attached) Pssh! The only films I support are ones that bestow upon me a perspective I’ve never imagined; that introduce me to worlds, ideas, events and people beyond my own experiences, expand the limits of my imagination and challenge what I believe to already know. I look forward to that opening weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Misunderstanding of Freedom

It’s dull now, this deliberate misinterpretation/misrepresentation of the principles and foundations upon which our country was built and is supposed to rest. Its doubtful that the ones who so vehemently argue the sacredness of the written law even know the depths upon which they nitpick or even that they are arguing against their points and selves or the selves they choose to project for the aggressive and fickle validation of their peers. If they truly knew the point and purpose of the Constitution and its Amendments, they wouldn’t be speaking at all or would actually be speaking in favor of the people they so desperately want to claim and control. If they truly knew then they would in fact be of the people and then this country would be on the road to peace and that thing we call Freedom. Unfortunately, they haven’t made it there just yet. Instead, they speak fear and praise the narrow morals of a past gone 300 years since; that never actually had form or foundation on this planet in all our history. They speak of Freedom loosely, never actually pursuing the idea or entity itself, just soliciting the word in the “right” pitch to garner a reaction. If they knew what Freedom was, there’d be blissful silence abounding through their microphones, echoing in staged High School gymnasiums, reverberating through open air stadiums, resting in their hearts. If they knew what Freedom was they would speak harmony and seek it with all their fellow Americans, fellow humans, eager for the solidarity; and in actually hearing them would encounter the leadership they so shamelessly hunt. If they knew what Freedom was they would speak love and in knowing the beauty and safety of that virtue, first within themselves, would cast the heavy hate off their diminished souls and would for the first time in a long time truly know what we name God. If they knew Freedom, they would cease their bitter campaigns of suppression in the false and hypocritical name of Freedom, no longer afraid of seeing their true selves. If they knew Freedom they would reel from the irony of their words and the documents they “uphold”, they would read each word with fresh eyes, a willing mind and too many ideas and questions to count. They would understand the optimism, sincerity, courage and struggle of building a nation as close to ideal as humanly possible for their time and would be grateful to the framer’s of these documents for their foresight and willingness to try at all odds to seek and know Freedom; the Freedom that sparks, lights, revs and drives our bodies, minds and lives. The Freedom we all know but suppress and darken for fear of judgment and being struck powerless from the lack of validation and acceptance from others, our social currency. If we all accepted Freedom, we would all be nation builders, leaders and drafters of the true world order, what we know is truth at the core beneath everything. We would have peace, and all that we know and see now would be unrecognizable, blasphemous, against our collective morality and we all would be free.

Friday, January 13, 2012

CGI is ruining everything

Having recently seen Rise of The Planet of The Apes I think it's high time we discuss the direction that special effects have been heading in cinema for the last 20 years.  One of my favorite movies of all time is James Cameron's Aliens which came out in 1986, and I am happy to say, that watching that same movie 16 years later, the special effects still hold up.  But how could this be possible?  Did they even have computers back then?  How could anyone possibly render a realistic looking xenomorph on an Apple II?  What do you mean all of the creatures in Aliens were people in costumes and highly detailed moving models?  All kidding aside, take a good look at the effects in Aliens then pop in Alien 3 and tell me, which movie looks dated? 
Recently movies like Avatar, Tron: Legacy, and Rise of the Apes, have boasted the use of image capture technology.  Using hundreds of sensors placed on an actors face and body it is possible to get an incredible amount of detail on faces, and expressions.  In movies like Avatar where most of film is shot using the image capture tech, the effects work, beacuse of consistency,  the indigenous humanoids in Avatar all exist in the same space.  Now I am not saying that I think Avatar was a great movie, but there is no denying it's achievment in a visual sense, there were times that I didn't even think about the fact that I was watching one giant special effect.  But in films like Rise of The Apes, there is something that just looks wrong.  The apes look almost cartoonish, they are so clearly a special effect that I don't for a moment believe that they are truly interacting with the environment around them, or the people in the scene.  It seems that the films using fantasic model making and amazing costume design are fewer and farther between, I can only hope that in the future, movie makers will be able to opt for a CGI effect over a classic one because it looks better, not because it's easier, or simply available. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Just Bending Air

As a kid, nothing compared to the torment of waiting months for the opening night of a movie you’ve been dying to see. The anticipation of losing yourself in a world guessed but never fully imagined sends your mind into a frenzy of wonder and excitement contained only by your will to carry-on until that Friday night. And if, by some stroke of luck, the movie is based on characters you cherish and the story is one you know so well you could retell it in your sleep you know that nothing short of magic awaits you in that theater after the lights go down, the people recline and the boring rubble of trailers have ceased. This, I imagine, is how the target audience of The Last Airbender approached their experience as they descended on the theatrical rendering of the Nickelodeon series of basically the same name. What I wonder, is, just how deep did the disappointment cut?

In an attempt to explain the fantastical eastern inspired world of elemental kingdoms, hybrid creatures and a child-monk resurrected to save the land, director M. Night Shyamalan opted to open with the very basics, setting a trend for the entire film. A scroll of introductory block wording leads the way into a shallow opening, now setting the tone of film. Within the first five minutes the principles have met and are out on their mission to save world and within the next five minutes absolutely nobody cares. These character outlines scurry through scene after scene with no real urgency or insight into their quest, each other, themselves or the incredible world around them. It’s the lack of weight and regard for their circumstances and cultures, cultures whose connection with their ruling element have no identifiable correspondence or purpose other than obvious color matching and stereotypical costuming, that make taking The Last Airbender seriously absolutely impossible. The dominant Fire Nation could be Roman or Chinese or Indian or whatever as long as they’re fiery, angry and with enough trace references to the Orient. This mishmash of ethnicities had its 15 minutes of controversy well before the releasing of the film and continued to confuse well into the film. How the only Caucasians in this world came together to form a coalition of the willing is beyond me. Their Anglo features stand out greatly against the casted Asian Diaspora, which may serve to help them stand out and based off their performances they need every distraction available. Another particular stand out was the abundance of close-ups on Aang (Noah Ringer) to capture “overwhelming emotions” but these aren’t just regular close-ups where the subject’s face actually fits on the screen, no we’re talking lengthy shots of extreme close-ups where Aang carries on conversations with the top and bottom portions of his face missing. The multitude of annoyances are far too frequent to recall and far too unimportant in the grander scheme of actually surviving this film. For reasons unbeknownst to those in search of logic it seems this film was given up on by all production parties involved, save for the F/X department. Everything acts as a mere device to keep things moving to the finish line where no prize awaits upon crossing.

This film is a disservice to all, movie goers taking a chance on new world to explore, the fans for not pursuing the fertile material from the original series and the director who has destroyed his chances of gaining any trust with audiences by completely throwing this opportunity away. Avatar: The Last Air bender is an engaging exhibition of the Hero’s Journey where the virtues of “self-belief”, friendship, courage, spirituality and justice are upheld in every episode. To extinguish every possible spark that sincerely captivates the minds of viewers to not only believe in the story and its characters but to also believe in these virtues is a crime against storytelling and the filmmaking process. To know what talent lies in the mind of the once gifted director proves that this exercise is nothing short of pure laziness, unfairly condemning the potential of this film to the legion of frequent displays of incompetence. Despite the multitude of missteps made previously this one disappointments me most of all. I expected Mr. Shyamalan to be better than this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

M. Night and The Last Airbender

      This Post was written 1 week prior to The Last Airbender being released in theaters

        Two years ago when I was first introduced to Avatar: The Last Air Bender, I was skeptical. At first glance it seemed like just another children’s cartoon on Nickelodeon. But after just a few episodes I was hooked. The writing was clever, the animation was great, the story was very innovative, and the fusion of actual martial arts with the elemental “bending”was seamless. I immediately went out and bought the 2nd and final seasons and finished them within weeks. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that the show had been optioned for a movie. My excitement quickly faded back to skepticism when I saw who was to direct the movie. M. Night Shyamalan.

      Shyamalan’s first film The Sixth Sense was great. It was frightening, it had great suspense, it was well acted, and had a twist that belongs up there with The Usual Suspects "Keyser Söze" reveal. Since then M. Night’s movies have taken a steady downward trend. Signs I enjoyed, it offered some good suspense and some truly frightening moments, Unbreakable I initially did not like, however after seeing it a few more times I grew to appreciate the movie. The Village I was excited for, unfortunately it failed to deliver.  The story was intriguing at first but quickly became nonsensical, culminating in a twist that left me feeling cheated. Lady in the Water was a  poor departure from Shyamalan's usual formula, aside from some interesting visuals, the film fell flat.  Shyamalan’s latest installment, The Happening, remains one of the worst movies to date that I have ever seen. I will not even begin to describe all of the faults in this film, but after watching it, I had a decent idea of why all of the characters were inexplicably killing themselves as I felt a strong urge to shove something sharp into my throat rather than finish the movie.

      Why Shyamalan was selected to direct the film adaptation of Avatar, I do not know. But I am hoping that it will be the movie to re-establish him as a visionary young director, and not proof that his first couple films were nothing more than happy accidents.