Wednesday, July 20, 2016

That's What You Told Me, Baby

I am a monster.
I am a monster.  
That’s what you told me, baby!  

And so goes the chorus to the song “Monster” by the heavy metal band Unlocking The Truth (UTT).  I am quoting these lyrics because I just checked out Breaking a Monster, a documentary about the band.  And what is so interesting about this metal band?  It’s gotta be the shoes packaging.  [Channel the patron saint of Brooklyn Mars Blackmon here.]  UTT is composed of the most unlikely of metalheads --Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins, and Alec Atkins--three African-American kids from Brooklyn.   They started out as 11-year-old buskers on the streets of New York, posting their performances on YouTube.  Their videos eventually caught the attention of Alan Sacks, a television producer whose claim to fame includes the creation of Welcome Back Kotter and The Jonas Brothers tv series, and he became their manager.  

The documentary tracks a year in UTT’s life after just landing a $1.8 million dollar record deal with Sony.  The deal is a dream come true, but the realities of the music business bare down on the group.  Although they have a ton of notoriety and invitations to perform (Coachella, anyone?), they don’t have a song recorded, much less an album.   They are great instrumentalists, but their voices haven’t changed yet, and a lot of pressure is placed on lead Malcolm who has no confidence in his singing ability.  Their parents are well-meaning and invested, but have no experience in the music game.  Sacks is enthusiastic and helpful, but there is always a looming question as to whether he has the kids’ best interests at heart.  Then there’s the reality that these are just regular kids, who like to skateboard and play video games, but are being held accountable for adult-sized obligations under the auspices of their record company handlers.  Nothing is just about the music.  In an ominous tone, as the kids seem burnt out over the prospect of doing yet another television interview, Sacks warns them that they don’t want to become like Bieber.  Indeed, while the dynamic of the band is interesting, this documentary provides a rare look at the music industry itself.  Rather than artists, bands are looked at as commodities that need to be packaged, marketed and sold in order to be successful.  That reality leaves a bitter taste.  

If you are interested in a double feature, I would recommend watching Breaking a Monster with the 2012 documentary  A Band Called Death, which you can rent on Amazon.  You can make it a triple feature by adding on the 2010 Fishbone documentary  Everyday Sunshine, which is also available on Amazon.

Rock on.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I'm Back with The Fits

So, I haven’t posted on this blog for a while.  I’ve seen plenty of movies, but haven’t felt inspired to write.  But I’m out of my funk, so to speak, and want to tell you about an indie called The Fits, which was an Official Selection at this year’s Sundance Festival.  

The film’s protagonist is Toni, a tween girl who seemingly spends all of her time at the local community center boxing with her older brother.  However, most, if not all, of the other girls at the center are involved with the championship dance team known as the Lionesses.  Intrigued by the older girls who run the Lionesses, Toni decides to step out of her brother’s cocoon and join the dance team.  Soon after joining the Lionesses, some of the older girls begin to suffer from a mysterious illness that induces a trance-like state and a jerking of the body similar to what one might witness in an old-school church when a parishioner “catches” the Holy Ghost.  Toni and her friends are frightened by what they see and no one understands what’s happening to the girls, especially since the boys at the center are unaffected.  

As the  film progressed, I kept wondering if I was watching some sort of stealth horror movie or some cautionary tale about drinking the water (i.e., Flint, MI).  But it’s not the water, we learn, or some demon possession.  As the “fits” begin to plague more and more Lionesses, the girls start swapping stories of their experiences and a clear line emerges as to those who have had the fits and those who have not.  If this film had a Hollywood treatment, our Toni would probably forge her own way and not be influenced by what everyone else is doing.  But Toni is a keen observer of the other girls and their motivations and she is not confused by the choices she makes.  And so in the final scene, we are treated to a rapturous dance by Toni to an ephemeral song that asks, “Must we choose to be slaves to gravity?”  The other girls ooh and ahh as Toni takes her turn at the fits, and, just as the screen fades to black, Toni’s clear eyes stare back at us.

As my description indicates, The Fits is quite an unusual coming of age story, but that’s a good thing. [And yes, it is a girl's coming of age story, which some might equate to true horror.  But I digress.]  The film’s  uniqueness, however, is not what struck me the most.  I was captivated by the sweet relationship Toni has with her older brother and I was overjoyed to see African-American children being portrayed as children rather than mini-thugs or world-weary mini-adults.  The visuals were also stunning. Indeed, I am always intrigued by films that can convey a rich story with very little dialogue.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Youthful Heart is DOPE

Dope is the type of movie I wish had come out when I was a teenager.  Watching as a 40-something black woman, there were moments when I wondered whether I was too old to appreciate such a film anymore. [My tolerance for stoner comedies and gratuitous use of the n-word have declined over the years.] The movies available to me as a tween and teen were those trifecta of John Hughes films Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club.  And while those films resonated with my feelings on the inside, nothing on the screen was depicted to coincide with my outer reality, including characters who looked like me.  


Dope, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, tells the story of Malcolm, a straight-A high school senior looking forward to applying and going to Harvard.  He and his two sidekicks, Diggy (a girl) and Jib, are nerdy teens who like girls, computers, playing in their punk band, and 90s fashion and hip-hop.  [When was the last time you saw a Cross-Colours shirt or hat?]  But life for Malcolm and friends is not easy as they navigate the streets of Inglewood, California where dangers lurk in the form of gangbangers and drug dealers.  Things go awry when Malcolm unwittingly ends up with a bag full of cocaine and has to get rid of the drugs, while also nailing his entrance interview and recommendation for Harvard.  If I had to compare Dope to any film of my generation, it would be Risky Business, minus the prostitutes, tighty whities and that old time rock n’ roll; but just as full of all the angst and exuberance that young people experience when coming of age in the modern world.  Thrown in with the comedic elements is some consciousness of the times, as Malcolm dons a hoodie, looks into the camera and asks, “Am I a geek or a menace?”

So Dope speaks for a generation that is not me anymore, but syncs up to my youthful heart just the same--and, unlike then, has characters who look like me. As icing to the cake, Dope also features a catchy 1990s soundtrack which put a big smile on my face.  If you don’t come out of the theater doing the Humpty Dance, then something is wrong with you.  Check it out.







P.S.  I need someone to make a "Dopeified" version of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.






Tuesday, May 12, 2015