Tag Archives: wu-tang clan

Straight Outta Compton: A Film Review

It can’t be easy making a biopic.

Err to much on the side of leniency and you get a sappy, self-congratulatory, and ultimately meaningless popcorn flick. Err to much on the side of harsh truth and you’ll often get a vicious hatchet job.

Now try doing that while the main character’s still alive.

Suddenly there’s the additional burden of being honest and fair and avoiding litigation at the hands of the offended and his or her legions of lawyers.

Now try doing that with eleven characters at once.

Against all odds, Straight Outta Compton does just that.

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Slavery and Movies

I recently had a chance to see The Man with the Iron Fists, a gritty Kung-Fu-Spaghetti-Western-70s-Exploitation mash-up film presented (of course) by Quentin Tarantino. I say presented by Tarantino; the creation of the film itself is owed largely to The RZA of the former (and still awesome) Wu-Tang Clan. In addition to co-writing and directing the film, the RZA stars in the epic slug-fest itself, serving as the narrator and titular character.

Now I went into this film simply suspending my disbelief. I assumed all the nonsensical elements in the film would simply be loving jabs at the old-school kung-fu and action movies that Tarantino and Roth grew up on. That’s why Russel Crowe’s character has a gun-scissor-knife weapon, or why (and here’s the big thing) the blacksmith in this fictional Chinese village is black. Much to my surprise however, the movie began offering explanations (though not to the gun-scissor-knife). The blacksmith is, in a flashback, shown having grown up on a plantation and receiving his freedom from his dying master. Despite having papers declaring him a free man, he is continually treated as a slave- in one scene he is told by a couple of dandies that there’s no way he can read, and therefore understand what’s written on his documents. The two men crumple up his paper and proceed to slur and shove him until he fights back, inadvertently killing one of them. He flees west, and after his ship is wrecked, finds himself in China.

Now obviously that whole last bit about him running so far he winds up in the far east is obviously just the movie shifting back into fantasy, but what really got me was the depiction of slavery. Not prejudice, not segregation- slavery. When’s the last time you can actually say you saw a film deal with that? Glory in 1989? Some Little House on the Prairie episode sometime in the 70s? It simply isn’t done (and that one episode of The Boondocks doesn’t count).

And that’s what I want to talk about. Our depiction, or lack of depiction, of slavery. For all our grand talk of freedom, liberty, and American “exceptionalism,” we do tend to gloss over the uglier elements of our history, such as Manzanar, Wounded Knee, and perhaps most notably, slavery. It brings up all sorts of uncomfortable, and frankly unresolved conflicts. It throws a dark shadow over all of our self-reported greatness. Nevertheless, we really can’t shove it under the carpet, and it looks like, at long last, it’s starting to all come out.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels takes place during the years following the close of the Civil War, and like The Man with the Iron Fists is one of the few depictions of slavery I’ve ever seen on film or TV. In addition to its frank depiction of slavery, I want to take a moment to give the show some applause for the historical accuracy it had in general, depicting Northern racism towards the ex-slaves, as well as the racism inflicted to (and by) the Irish immigrants- another nasty little thread in American heritage you won’t find in most history books.

Of course, beyond that, there’s the highly anticipated Tarantino film Django Unchained, which we’re all expecting to be jaw-dropping in how good or bad it turns out to be. Unlike the previous two examples, which depicted slavery only briefly, this is a movie set completely in the antebellum South. That’s another hefty jump, though again, how well this is going to be executed is still very much up in air.

Now I’ve been struggling all night to come up with a conclusion for all of this, but I’m really not sure what to say. I can’t say why we’re suddenly interested in a subject we’ve been ignoring for the past century and a half. I can’t quite figure out if this is some little trend or the awakening of some part of our culture that’s been dormant so long we’ve forgotten it. I can’t pinpoint what’s causing this. I can’t tell you where it’s all going. I can tell you, however, where I hope it goes.

I hope this is the beginning of something that might pass for maturity in our culture or our generation. I hope that movies depicting the reality of slavery become a thing. I hope that they open up the doors for the rest of our small-pox-infected, witch-burning, Japanese-interning, waterboarding history. I hope we can actually learn something from all of this once it’s out there, and hey, maybe we can actually get some racial diversity in our movies for a change.

Maybe.

P.S. I haven’t seen Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter or Lincoln yet, so I can’t say how they deal with it in there.

Bad Influence

Last night, I watched Brideshead Revisited, and let me tell you, it is one festering pile of garbage.

Seriously, **** this movie…

Now before anyone launches into a tirade- yes, I am aware that Brideshead was originally a novel and, from what a lot of critics have said, one that was infinitely better than the movie, the later of which reduced all of the author’s points on culture, religion, and relationships to a couple hours of pretty set design and not much else. Simple fact of the matter is Everyone Poops could have been adapted for the big screen and still have been better than this confusing mess.

Michael Bay was going to, but the book was too cerebral for him…

Look- I can’t speak to either the novel or the author. People who have read the book say it was better than the film, and while I have difficulty believing that, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m not hear to address that- I’m here to address the fact that someone at some point did actually think that what they presented in the movie was somehow not only worth watching, but worth paying for.

It aint- in case you haven’t gotten that message yet…

I’m not a fan of British period-pieces; if I wanted to see eloquent people with miserable lives, I’d talk to English majors.

What we have in this movie is a group of extremely rich youngsters lounging about an elegant mansion, downing enough alcohol to make newyears in Vegas look like a Baptist ice-cream social, and whine and wail for over half an hour about how miserable their lives are. Not in any existentialist sense, mind you- these characters aren’t disillusioned with luxury, they’re just frustrated that they can’t have everything that they want when they want it the way they want it. This is essentially Walden without any redeeming qualities- just pasty, entitled brats with delusions of insight, giving trailing speeches about their long “suffering”.

And I’m not bringing this up just because one movie sucked- this seems to be part of a greater problem in our culture. I’ve seen the same kind of problem in the film I Love You, Man.

Back in college, my housemates loved this movie. Suggested it every movie night just to see me shiver with horror and disgust. In case you’re not familiar with the plot line, let me break it down for you:

Peter’s getting married. Peter simply doesn’t have any guy friends outside of his brother (played by Andy Samberg, who was the only good part of the movie), and he one night overhears his fiancee’s vile, harpy collection of friends gossiping that it’s weird Peter’s not going to have a best man at his wedding. Peter, who apparently bases his self-esteem on the idle chatter of obnoxious strangers is filled with self-doubt and embarks on a quest to get himself a male friend- because, you know, what will his future wife’s evil friends think of him if he doesn’t?

If you’re trying to jump through the screen, grab this guy, and slap him across the face while screaming quotes from Nietzsche- don’t worry, that was my first reaction too. How we’re supposed to sympathize with this self-pitying sadsack is beyond me- the guy makes Ted from Scrubs look like Teddy Roosevelt by comparison.

I’m not trying to say that every character in a movie- or even every main character- has to be someone admirable. Just look at American Psycho. I’m not saying that these characters have to be ultimately successful. Just look at Goodfellas or The Godfather trilogy. I’m not saying that the characters have fit a classic/stereotypical form of “manliness” (in the case of male characters, anyways)- just look at Zombieland, Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, or Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

Between movies like Brideshead Revisited, I Love You, Man, and pretty much every romance movie that ever has or ever will be made, there’s this common attitude of entitlement, self-pity, and melodrama.

Ok, you could kill yourself or- OR– spend some time working at a homeless shelter, petition on behalf of political prisoners, overthrow corrupt dictatorships since you are, y’know, immortal…
Just say’n…

Now I know you must all be saying “But Gordon, you charming devil- what’s the big deal? So what if a section of film is dominated by this lousy message of egocentricity, ignorance, and impotence?”

Let me show what the big deal is.

See this guy here? This is goth shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. If you’re not a fan, chances are you’ve still heard of him- in the days that followed the Columbine Shootings, Manson was argued by many conservative and religious critics as having been responsible for influencing the shooters. And obviously, that’s just a single example- whether it’s true or not, we’re all familiar with the outcry against violence in the media- be it anything from video games (see any GTA game) to music (Wu-Tang Clan aint nothin’ to fornicate with) to movies (just take your pick).

Let’s assume, just for a minute, that this is all true. I’m going to discuss the whole “does-violence-in-media-cause-more-violence?” question later in the week, but for now, let’s just say that the answer is “yes”. If these things have a serious negative effect on the views- especially young viewers- and deserve to be censored or even banned on that logic, surely the same can be said for the equally detrimental attitudes and actions (or lack thereof) found in movies like Brideshead Revisited and the like. What do these things teach us?

I was going to say “Stalking and manipulative relationships are romantic”, but I really didn’t have the stomach to slog through countless Twilight posters looking for Edward crouched in the window- enjoy this picture instead…

Again- the problem isn’t with romance as a concept or a plot device or anything like that. I’m not a sensitive guy in even the loosest use of the word, but despite my callousness, I really don’t have a problem with romance- it’s just that romance, as a genre, tends to produce these awful, reprehensibly selfish attitudes, and at the same time make the actual relationships pretty dumb as well. Though no one is ever going to admit it, couples like House and Cuddy or Scully and Mulder are both more believable, moving, and inspiring at their worst moments than any Romance film couple at their best.

Obligatory “Still a Better Love Story Than Twilight”…

What else can I say? Romance movies, and indeed, all media that promotes this whiny, entitled message seems to be just as harmful- if not more- than the bloodiest action flick or the most violent rap or rock. I’d be just as worried about the effects of such media on young minds as I am about the most car-stealing-liest-prostitute-beating-iest video game ever made. Allow me to leave you with this brilliant tweet from comedian Dave Chapelle to drive my point home.