Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's a Chick Been Up To

I'm finding that my blogging has not been keeping up with my movie-watching.  Since I don't have cable anymore, I tend to fill up weekend nights with what I can see on Netflix Instant.  And every once in a while I make it over to the multiplex to see something I'm super motivated to see.  [My plan had been to see Gun Hill Road this weekend at the Tara, but that didn't really work out.]  Still my motivation to write trails my motivation to just watch and be entertained.  So, in this post I'm writing about four films in an effort  to get my thoughts all out in one fell swoop.

So  last night, after a long day of errands, I fired up my Roku to watch Kevin Smith's Red State on Netflix Instant.  First of all, the Netflix description for this film is totally off.  It is neither a horror film in the traditional sense, although horrific things happen in it, nor does it have anything to do with the supernatural.  In the purest sense, the film is literally about guns and religion.  The plot centers around a religious cult, ala the Branch Davidians, which stock piles weapons and makes it a practice to rid the world of gay men.  Things come to a head when the group has a shown down with the U.S Marshalls.  I must say this is probably the most mainstream film Smith has ever made and the most unfunny.  No Jay or Silent Bob here or really any overt satire as in Dogma.  But it does make you think about gun violence and whether it can ever really be justified by religion, government, or any other social construct.  I was riveted.

Since Saturday Night Live was a repeat and I was still awake, I followed up Red State with the documentary White Wash.  Still using my Roku player, I watched this film through Amazon on Demand for $3.99 (for a week long rental).  This film has been making the festival circuit for a while, but I was never able to catch it when it played in Atlanta.  Basically it tells the story of African-Americans' foray into the sport of surfing.  Because of slavery and institutional racism, African-Americans have had an aversion to and/or lack of access to water sports such that there are very few who surf  today.  The film, however, was quick to point out that before the slave trade was in full force, Africans along the west coast of Africa did in fact surf and swim as did the natives of Hawaii and the other islands of Polynesia.  While I learned some things, I would have liked more in-depth conversations with the surfers profiled.  I think the film-maker may have relied too much on archival footage of the Civil Rights Movement.  While the footage was certainly relevant,  the amount of archival footage highlighted the dearth of original content.

Last week, I watched White Irish Drinkers on Netflix Instant.  Set in 1975, the movie focuses on Brian and Danny Leary, two brothers trying to make their way in working-class Brooklyn.  Both are deeply affected by their abusive, alcoholic father.  Danny copes by turning to petty crime and Brian draws and paints while toiling away in a neighborhood movie theater.  When Danny hatches a scheme to rob Brian's workplace on the eve of a Rolling Stones concert, things come to a head.  This film is the epitome of what independent film is all about.  No big names or overwrought special effects or gimmicks, just a good, heartfelt story worthy to be told.

Finally, last weekend at the multiplex I saw the documentary  The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975.  During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, several Swedish journalists came to the United States to document the upheaval.  The film is comprised of the footage they captured and the news they reported back in Europe.  In addition, the film includes commentary on the footage by several public figures and celebrities including Erika Badu and Questlove of The Roots.  Much of the footage documents Stokely Carmichael who traveled the world speaking about Black Power and Angela Davis during her murder conspiracy trial.  In addition, there is footage of Black Panthers Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, and some footage of every-day black people primarily living in Harlem.  What struck me the most was when a Swedish journalist was speaking to Angela Davis in jail and asked her whether she believed in violence.  Very poignantly she told the story of the four little girls who were blown up in the Alabama church.  One of the girls who died was Davis's friend and another was her neighbor.  When they learned that the church had been bombed, Davis's mother went with the neighbor's mother to gather up the children, but they were met with burnt body parts on the church grounds.  Davis's father and other black men took their guns and stood post to protect the neighborhood from further bloodshed.  Her point--African-Americans' existence in America has been replete with violence primarily perpetrated against them.  What's most refreshing about this film is that the footage was captured by and reported by non-Americans, shedding a more objective light on the history of race in America.  Although the Swedes weren't above stereotypes.  There is also footage of a Swedish tourist group riding through Harlem on a bus and the tour guide politely tells them  not to go to Harlem on their own because Harlem is for black people and is full of drug addicts.  I chuckled because our basest prejudices are really never far from the surface no matter how much we attempt to rise above.  Anyhoo, go see this film.

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