Monday, October 31, 2016

Reel Talk- Mr. Church

Director:Bruce Beresford

Release Date: September 16, 2016

Synopsis: The story of  a unique friendship that develops when a little girl and her dying mother retain the services of a talented cook.

Review: More befitting for the Hallmark channel than the silver screen, Mr. Church is the latest entry in "The Magical Negro" cannon that somehow manages to transform the charismatic Murphy into a stilted caricature which may result in the viewer chuckling at inapporiate times. Never the less, the movie does have its' heart in the right place and at times, succeeds in hitting some rather sentimental,albeit predictable, notes. Thus, allowing the film to pass off as suitable, family viewing.  (C+) - CgN

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Reel Talk: The Birth of a Nation

Director: Nate Parker

Release Date: October 7, 2016

Synopsis: The rousing story of one man's quest for justice and freedom in Southampton County Virginia.

Review: Whew! Such onomatopoeia is usually reserved for Facebook status updates and whimsical text messages . Nevertheless, it's quite appropriate when thinking of the sheer weight this movie holds, especially in these racially tumultuous times. "Whew" also seems appropriate when I, as a reviewer, have been positioned as the referee between my objective and subjective lenses. But since we are reviewing Nate Parker's The Birth of The Nation, a title that cleverly takes its' namesake from D.W Griffin's cinematically groundbreaking but shamefully racist  film released in 1915, let's go back  down memory lane. I was first introduced to the story of Nat Turner in my sophomore year of high school. Luckily, I attended an institution that had one of the few African American study courses in the state. Instantly , I became enamored with the story of this rebellious servant who went against the depiction of the docile  and subservient slave I had been force fed my entire life. Fast forward to my junior year in college, in which his story was expanded upon by the genius that is Dr. Gayle Tate, and I instantly had a hero that would be forever revered. The running joke amongst my small inner circle was that we would never, EVER, see two films come into fruition: A film about Black Wall Street and a film about Nat Turner! For years, our beliefs were stone cold facts. And though we would be patronized with hollow mockeries such as D'Jango Unhained and (Scratches head) D'jango Unchained, we were nowhere closer to the public being exposed to this polarizing figure. Now, this film steps out from behind the Oscar so White Curtain, to take center stage!

Though I initially chomped at the bit when it came to its' release, I remembered  that I was now a different individual then that sophomore in HS or that junior in college. I was now a thirty something year old who had witnessed a bevy of racial injustices and an all out assault or exploitation on the cultural sensibilities of African Americans. My hard exterior  had been dealt blows and I now bore the tattoos of experience that reminded me of the woes of a racist society. So yes,  as i walked into the theater, I was anxious and reserved, willing and tentative, and any other paradoxical combination you can think of. But what would be the result of my advance viewing?

Well, I witnessed the visceral,systemic breakdown of  a man whose own convictions and beliefs were used against him and his people. I saw a man being choked by the vines found in his own blissful paradise of ignorance but used those some constraints to break free and engage in an internal tug of war between his destiny and reality. I saw a warrior who was forged from fire and now ready to bring damnation upon the wicked. And yes, Nate Parker encapsulated all the characteristics, both in front and in back of the camera, that made Nat Turner a dynamic figure . Sure, there were some questionable editing and cuts that made the viewing a bit  more kinetic than needed but Parker soon reigned it in and allowed the viewer to focus on the delicate nature of relationships, draw one into a world of deceitful tranquility and  immediately thrust all into the darkest corridors of this country's most shameful act. All subsequent actions then lead to a fever pitch  that impatiently gnawed at the viewer's patience as everyone awaited the rebellion that bared temporal vindication, reveled in justified carnage and then escorted everyone from the theater into a state of solemn reflection. 

But it wasn't enough for me! Why? Had my expectations been built so high that anything less than a masterpiece would have been disappointing? Or was I so familiar with the historical context that I simply could not be satisfied with the notion that  "At least the movie got made?".And here lies the philosophical debate that will decide the level of satisfaction one would receive from this movie. As a film itself, the principal actors do a fine job, the scores were suitable, go Nina Simone, and the direction hit most of its' marks. But was it truly remarkable? No! We have seen this story before thanks in part to films such as 12 Years a Slave and the series Underground. Therefore, the fatigue of witnessing brutality against slaves, coupled with the reality that is faced today, left me in a fatigued state.Furthermore, without spoiling the film, the payoff seem truncated and the slight historical revisions left me unjustified.The selling point of this movie was the telling of a narrative that is often ignored in history :the slave rebellion. But I could not shake the feeling that this film had been neutered in a sense.  Simply put, no matter what is  "produced" the distribution companies have the final say in what is released. But I will give Mr. Parker a standing ovation for getting us this far. But once you raise your head and look down the path ahead, you'll realize that our ability to tell our stories with out mitigation or restraint is still off in the horizon.  (B) - CgN

Monday, October 3, 2016

Classic Corner- The Book of Luke

by  Da CogNegro

They could have taken the easy way out and relied on his seventies blaxploitation origin that was replete with stereotypical caricatures, broken language and ornate pageantry. They could have taken the easy way out and leaned on the  Brain Azarello's interpretation, under the Marvel Comics' Max banner, which portrayed the titular character as a gold teeth five finger ring wearing womanizer with a panache for profanity and thug tendencies (as if we needed more of these depictions that have already flooded our media and entertainment and have ultimately  tainted the perception of black males.) Outside of guest appearances in some Marvel licensed video games, the only other  adaptation of the Luke Cage character ,that I am aware of, was found on the animated series entitled Avengers Earth Mightiest Heroes where he was portrayed as a hot-headed and narrow minded individual who was more concerned with being paid for his services as oppose to doing heroic deeds. This was even made more apparent when compared to his partner: the noble and leveled Iron Fist. Fortunately, Marvel and Netflix did not take the easy way out. Instead, they provided us with a much long awaited hero whose role goes beyond the realm of satisfying comic book enthusiast and entertaining casual viewers!

Where do I start? How about the beginning! The opening hip-hop theme, that is drenched in bluesy sensibilities  and highlighted by a sun dew, Harlem backdrop,  merely teased our pallet in expectation for a feast of unapologetic cultural offerings. The Apollo Theater, Malcolm X Boulevard, yea, it was all there! The show did not shy away from its' African American history. In fact, it reveled in it .Thus , harkening back to a time where John Singleton  would drop "messages"of truth throughout his movies, or your favorite black sitcom would have its'characters overtly discuss black issues or subtly adorn the attire of HBCU(s). Whether it was Cage toting around a copy Ralph Ellision's Invisible Man,  the villainous Mariah Dillard (played exceptionally well by the seasoned veteran Alfre Woodard) name dropping Madam CJ Walker or even Cottonmouth's (one of Luke's nemesis  portrayed in a deviously effecting manner by Mahershala Ali ) henchmen schooling folks on Daniel Moynihan's theory of Benign Neglect,  Cheo Hodari Coker, the show's central writer,  was unabashed in his intentions to educate viewers on the black experience. I'm going to say that last one again, you had a HENCHMEN WHO WAS SPEAKING ABOUT  BENIGN NEGLECT...let that sink in !

However, Luke Cage doesn't just discuss matters of yesteryear. The show commences to tackle heavy subjects that are at the forefront of  today's black experience. The usage of the "n-word" comes to play during a scene in which a gun wielding youth proceeds to call Luke Cage said word thus sparking a discussion of  Crispus Attucks and how such a term is a not a fitting description of who he has come to be. Furthermore, another major theme that resonates in the latter part of the season is the tumultuous relationship between African Americans and the police. It was actually quite chilling to experience the parallels between the show's narrative and what we are currently facing in our country today, including the irony of our hero being "bullet proof".Other relevant topics that are touched upon  include gentrification, gang violence, PTSD and the privatization of prisons.Something else that was noteworthy was the fact that the drug epidemic was downplayed. Now some may see this as not painting an accurate picture of urban life. However, I see it as deciding not to seek the low hanging fruit that we have feasted upon for so long. Also, doing so avoided the trap of glamorizing such a lifestyle that is readily encouraged by today's entertainment outlets!

Now ,I would be neglectful if I failed to commentate on  the lifeblood of Luke Cage which is the music! How many of us were pleasantly stunned to see Raphael Saadiq and Jidenna grace the stage of Harlem's Paradise,  energetically nodded our heads to some of Wu Tang and Gang Starr's dopest joints, or did our best hard bottom twirl when the Delfonics hit the scene? Not only were we treated to familiar names, we also got the opportunity to be exposed to lesser known acts such as Charles Bradly and Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.The music chosen and highlighted throughout the series showed how nuanced the developers were in sonically painting a vibrant picture, filled with a cavalcade of players, that only served to enhance the narrative of this Harlem Knight!
Charles Bradly

Not satisfied with being a side-note, distraction, or a damsel in distress,  Simone Missick, better known as Misty Knight,  was a shinning example of  an empowered woman of color. I for one have been a fan of Misty Knight  for quite sometime and though I  was bit disappointed that she didn't receive her bionic arm, everything else about her depiction was satisfying. Here, we had an intelligent, clairvoyant, and no non-sense woman who was determined to protect her city at all cost Even when her vulnerability was on display, it was tool that didn't exploit her weaknesses. Rather, it allowed us to empathize with her and avoid her becoming another one-note, stock character! And yea, she was super bad! (Those curls and that fro!!!!) To find out more about Misty Knight, and other black super-heroines, click here !


And how could we forget to speak on the man himself:Luke Cage! In an past entry entitled Unsung Hero, which you can read here, I spoke at length about the lack of proper representation when it comes to black heroes. Yes we've had our share of blaxploitation figures, comic relief super beings, and downright insulting depictions. But never have  we had a serious minded, intellectual man  of honor and conviction be so prominently projected to the mainstream .Now, is Luke Cage Marvel's best Netflix offering? No! I will not allow cultural bias to cloud my critical eye. There were times when Micheal Coulter (Luke Cage) could have been more convincing in evoking certain emotions, sorrow comes to mind, as well as other actors who may of had some wooden deliveries (although this has been a common Achilles heel throughout all of the Marvel/Netflix series). Furthermore, the final battle came off a bit "cartoonish" and somewhat diluted the gritty tone that the show had spent its' entire run cultivating. Nevertheless, these are minor gripes that in no way could discredit Marvel's most AMBITIOUS show to date and it feels damn good to finally  see someone who isn't a sidekick or a successor to another hero! It feels damn good that when America watches this show, they won't be looking through binoculars to experience another tour of the urban jungle. Rather  they will see a champion fighting to preserve the legacy of a city and people rich in culture. It feels damn good  to know that Marvel and Netflix allowed this character to evolve from a 2D relic of  a bygone era into a three dimensional celebration of black masculinity that is so needed in this time where black males are seen as nothing more than deviants and criminals worthy only of  imprisonment and death. And finally, it feels damn good for me to not have to wait until December to say that revered saying made famous by the man himself:  Sweet Christmas!!!CgN