October 28, 2008

Movies That Are Actually Scary

Because far too many people falsely believe bloody=scary.

And, frankly, there's a difference between thrilling (i.e. 28 Days Later) and frightening.

I'm talking about the stuff of nightmares, here.

So, in honor of All Hallow's Eve, here are some films that legitimately made me afraid to turn off the lights at one point or another, in no particular order.

Anyone out there want to suggest any additions to my list?

Three Strikes

Christopher Nolan on 'Dark Knight' and its box-office billion: 'It's mystifying to me' | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times

Reading this great interview with Christopher Nolan as he contemplates the possibility of doing a third "Batman" film really does raise the question: Has there EVER been a third film in a trilogy that's as good or better than the first two?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was quite good, and definitely better than The Temple of Doom.

Revenge of the Sith? Well, it's the best of the three, but the whole trilogy is so suspect, I don't really want to count it.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a very good 80's horror film, definitely better than part 2, but not as freakishly scary as the first film.

Matrix Revolutions contains elements of a brilliant film, but there spliced in with nearly an hour of a really terrible mecha war movie, so, no.

Rocky III? Not a particularly artistic or emotionally honest film like the first, but MAN, that movie is good clean fun! Mr. T and Hulk Hogan? What's there not to love?

Die Hard With A Vengeance? I enjoyed it, but it's not nearly as tight or well written as the first film, and the ending is kinda random, so, no.

Batman Forever? Again, I enjoyed it, but it was not nearly as rich as either of Burton's two films (of which, I think Batman Returns is the best).

The Bourne Ultimatum is an exceptional action movie, but, without the Marie character, it really lacks emotional resonance and, in the end, it's about very little.

Return of the King is, in my mind, the only one that surpasses the other two films in the series. And that's only because the entire series was conceived as one complete story beforehand, where Act Three is the big payoff.

Most other part threes are commissioned largely for commercial purposes, with people trying to find a story to justify a reason to capitalize on the success of the first two films.

In short, I would LOVE to see Nolan find a reason to do a 3rd Batman.

(My recommendation? Cast Daniel Day Lewis as Dr. Hugo Strange for the main villain. "Who the Hell is Hugo Strange?" you ask? Who cares? Outside of comic fanboys, who the Hell ever heard of Ra's Al Ghul before "Batman Begins"?)

But I hope it's for the right reasons. Story reasons.

October 16, 2008

Diary of a bunch of Mad Black Writers

According to Nikki Finke, it looks like Tyler Perry finally got the message and is going to sign onto the WGA contract.

"Peace in our time", ladies and gentlemen.

And I'll refrain from referencing Chris Rock's old joke about people who want credit for things they're supposed to do. For now.

Mirror, Mirror

As I've mentioned in the past, one of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek is entitled "The Enemy Within" - a transporter malfunction creates two versions of Captain Kirk.

One is intelligent, wise, compassionate, yet indecisive.

The other is....

Well, see for yourself:

Forceful? Yes. Decisive? Yes. But also crazed, lustful, paranoid.

And yet, as Spock points out, while separated, neither one is capable of surviving without the other. In the end, as much as the two repulse each other, they're forced to literally embrace each other to both survive and lead.

So, I've been following the coverage of the growing lynch mob qualities of the Palin/McCain rallies over the last few weeks.

And let's be real about this: McCain may be the official party nominee, but Sarah Palin is really the standard bearer for this particular facet of the Republican party these days. Given the choice, I'm sure many of them would prefer to have her at the top of the ticket simply because they trust her more. In their mind, she's one of them, through and through. McCain is, sadly, just someone who's hitched his carriage to them on the vain hope that this pony will carry him all the way to the Oval Office.

Honestly, I feel sort of sorry for both of them.

McCain, because, after the abuse he suffered at the hands of Bush & Co. back in 2000, could not get over his Presidential fixation and has debased himself over and over again by cowtowing to Bush, Falwell, et. al., hoping that these people that he once scorned will finally let him in the club. Frankly, much of his career has been spent seeking acceptance from the "cool kids". Originally, he hoped that by being a rebel Republican, he'd be popular among the Hollywood & press elites. And it worked. But it wasn't enough to get him elected, because as far as most Democrats are concerned, he's still a Republican. One they might want to have a beer with, but a Republican, nonetheless. So he did a switch, seeking favor from within his party. But, by then, it was too late, he'd pissed too many of them off. And the only reason he's the nominee now is because everyone else in the GOP field proved to be unacceptable to at least one sizable faction within the party (Rudy's too liberal and Romney's too Mormon for the cultural conservatives, and Huckabee was too much of a policy lightweight for the neocons and finance conservatives). In short, everyone else's constituencies killed the one guy they were the most offended by, and none of them were paying attention to McCain, leaving him the last man standing.

Sarah Palin's just like McCain in that her ambition consistently overrides whatever better judgment she may have about her career. I get the sense that when she was approached about taking the VP spot, she must have said to herself "well, how hard can it be?" My sympathy for her comes from the fact that she'll probably go down in the annuls of presidential election history in the same breath as Admiral Stockdale or Dan Quayle as a figure of national ridicule. But don't be misled. Even if McCain loses, we've probably not heard the last of Gov. Palin on the national stage.

Of course, there are limits to my sympathy.

And I suspect that McCain didn't fully appreciate the Frankenstein's monster he'd created by turning Palin loose to stoke up her base with the notion that Obama might somehow be a member of some fictitious joint Black/Muslim sleeper cell.

And, for the record, I'd just like to say two things:

1. If I were Obama, I would stand up during that prime time speech he's going to give the week before the election and say "Yes, my full name is, in fact Barack HUSSEIN Obama, and I have about as much in common with with Saddam Hussein as Bill Clinton has with George Clinton. Think, people!"

2. "Muslim" != "Enemy". My family was all raised in Protestant, Methodist traditions in the country churches on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Yet, my uncle converted to Islam some 30 years ago. And I can tell you that he, his wife, and his six children are among the most thoughtful, considerate, compassionate, disciplined, spiritual people I have ever known. His Islamic faith has given him a core of inner peace and personal strength the likes of which I feel I have almost never seen among even Christian clergy. And the VAST majority of Muslims are like that. Blaming all Muslims for the actions of a man like Bin Laden is like blaming all Christians for the actions of Hitler. Or Jim Jones. Or Timothy McVeigh.

But my point is this:

Even if Obama wins in a landslide next month (which, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, has a better than 50% probability of occurring. Hope springs eternal), these people who are currently literally screaming for his head aren't going anywhere.

The fearful, the paranoid, the hateful - these, too, are very much part of America. Always have been.

And yet, in these very same parts of the country, you probably get the highest recruitment ranks from the military. The highest church participation and activism. These people love this country. Many of them have wildly different, and, in some cases, mutually exclusive view of what this country is supposed to be.

And, as long as no one is picking up a pitchfork or a rope, that's actually OK.

It's called democracy.

I know Kos likes to talk about "breaking their spirits" and Karl Rove was renowned for seeking a permanent Republican majority, the fact of the matter is, short of straight up genocide, neither side can ever get rid of the other.

No matter how much it disgusts or repulses us, that other America is still America. And we could not have what we have without it.

That's not to say that it's a good thing. Far from it. The provincial hatreds and prejudices and fears are, in my mind, a part of our national shame.

And the generational times are changing for the better. But I don't think any of us on either side of the divide should delude ourselves into thinking that we can ever be rid of the other completely.

So, with that in mind, we have to look for the common ground, where it can be found.

And, where it cannot, and it comes to a point where we have to lay hands on each other in a non-Christian way to resolve our differences...

Well, just the thought of that makes me sad. But I have to acknowledge that there may just be some people who are beyond reasoning.

At which point, like Jill Scott said, we just have to take off these rings and deal with it.

It's ALL America. The good and the bad.

But, personally, just like J.J. Abrams, I'm encouraged by the fact that Star Trek is making it's return in the same year that a transformative, hopeful figure like Barack Obama potentially becomes the new leader of the free world. It's no accident that Star Trek's Final Frontier was the projected future from JFK's New Frontier. I mean, who can dispute the Kennedy-eque qualities of a character like this:

Yes, it's always been a challenge. But I, for one, am filled with hope.

The hope that this country will have leadership again who will once again make us proud through their actions at home and abroad. The hope that we will find the means and the will to resolve our most pressing problems while capitalizing on our most golden opportunities.

I believe the cultural zeitgeist is changing. I believe the sci-fi worlds of "Blade Runner" and "Mad Max" where an outgrown of our sense that The Future was dying. But now, people have hope again. The future looks bright again.

There will always be serpents. But that doesn't make the fruits of the garden any less sweet.

October 03, 2008

Crabs in a Barrel

So, first, let's get to the facts:

A few days ago, Tyler Perry fired a bunch of black writers from his cable sitcom "House of Payne". In response, the Writers Guild of America just filed suit against Perry with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging unfair labor practices. Perry says the writers were fired because of the quality of their work. The writers say they were fired because they were pushing to have the show covered under a WGA contract.

When I first heard this, I did a double-take. The highest rated sit-com on basic cable is a non-union show?

But, as I researched it more, it was even worse than I thought.

"House of Payne" is a DGA signatory. Of course it is: Tyler directs most of the episodes, and he's a member of the Directors' Guild, so it would have to be.

"House of Payne" is also a SAG signatory. Of course it is: if it wasn't, he couldn't have cast actors like Allen Payne, who, like most of his castmates, are members of the Screen Actors Guild.

But, "House of Payne" is NOT a WGA signatory.

I mean, the one group that he COULD screw, he DID screw.

Now, to be totally fair, a number of the fired writers are WGAw members, so, they really had no business working on a non-union show in the first place, unless, of course, part of their agreement when they were hired was that the show would become a guild signatory. The guild has provisions to allow for that. And, if I had to guess, that is probably the essence of the case they're bringing to the NLRB.

Tyler recently signed a deal with TBS to create 100 episodes of "House of Payne" for $200 million, or $2,000,000 per episode. The WGA considers a show a "high budget minimum" if its budget exceeds $100,000 per episode for non-network primetime, in which case, the guild minimum fee for writing one such episode is ~$12,000. It also requires that, if you're on staff, meaning you're under the regular employ of the producer instead of a hired gun who's brought in on a one-off basis to write an episode, your minimum weekly salary for a basic cable show of this length is roughly $3,000.

Plus health benefits, pension, etc.

Pretty good work if you can get it. But even if you assume they make an episode a week (and they clearly work much faster, given how many they've produced in the last two years), and let's assume that the pension & health insurance costs as much as the total salary & writing fees involved for these writers (and it's considerably less), and you round up to the nearest $10,000, you're still only talking about $50,000 per episode, or 2.5% of the total budget per episode.

And it's not like House of Payne is an expensive show. It's a three camera comedy, meaning they have a series of standing sets in front of a studio audience with two stationary cameras and a third on a track, so that the actors get to perform almost like it's theater. No expensive locations. No special effects. Allen Payne is probably the highest paid actor on the show after Tyler Perry himself, and I guarantee you that brother is not making a million dollars an episode.

But let's put all of that aside for a moment.

For a guy who's built his career around promoting a certain kind of Black Christian faith and community responsibility....

I just don't understand.

Just like BET. Actually, worse than BET. At least BET is more up front about the fact that they're making money by getting over on Black people.

I was never particularly a fan of Tyler Perry's work. The minute I'm shown yet another Black man in drag for laughs, I immediately turn off. I think this trend, going all the way back to Flip Wilson, and continued through Will Smith & Martin Lawrence, has always been a double-edged diss against Black people. It perpetuates a de-feminized stereotype of Black women & mothers while simultaneously emasculating some of our more prominent Black male performers. And yet, I always had respect for him as an artist and a businessman who'd found a way to successfully navigate the entertainment industry while still owning his original content. I was really happy to see him succeed in film, especially as his films seem to reach for more authentic representations of Black relationships.

But come ON, man!!!! Pay the fucking writers! It's not like you don't have it.


Wrapped in the Flag

Comic Book Resources is running a poll on who should play Captain America in the new movie slated for 2010. So far, here are the results:

And I have to say, I don't like the idea of any of these guys as Captain America, even though many of them are actors I really enjoy and respect.

Pardon me while I think out loud for a bit.

Here's the deal: Captain America is a scrawny blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid who grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan during the Great Depression who gets injected with some super steroids by Uncle Sam to become a patriotic juggernaut against the forces of tyranny during the 2nd World War before being frozen in suspended animation and thawed out in modern times. He's like a character out of a Mickey Rooney movie who gets transformed into the one superhero that every other superhero instantly defers to as soon as they're in his presence.

May favorite line about Captain America comes from the 1st issue of Mark Millar's genius re-imagining of The Avengers in "The Ultimates", where a paratrooper about to be dropped into a Nazi hot zone calls Cap crazy to his sidekick, Bucky Barnes, for not wearing a parachute.

Bucky just laughs and says "Cap things chutes are for sissies."

Or, better yet, towards the end of that same series, where a villain demands that he surrender, a bloodied Cap points to the "A" printed on his mask and shouts:

"You think this letter on my head stands for FRANCE?!?!?!"

So, which of those actors can you imagine believably pulling off that role in the same way that you just nodded in total agreement about the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? Honestly, the closest to it would be Matthew McConaughey - he's whitebread enough and, judging by his performance in "Reign of Fire" he can do intensity, but he's bit too southern to play a New Yorker, and he doesn't really have the steel in his eyes that I would want for that character.

Aaron Eckhart is pretty close, but just perhaps a bit older than I would want, simply because I have a hard time seeing him doing much of the fighting & stuntwork that goes into Captain America. Although, to be perfectly honest, Tim Roth did a great job as kind of a proto-super soldier in "The Incredible Hulk" this summer, but that was only in one scene against a CGI Hulk. Personally, I want the scene where Cap wades into a gang of 30 Hydra agents and hands them their collective asses like a red-white-and-blue fighting whirling dervish, and I want it as authentic as the fighting Messrs. Bale & Nolan put together in "The Dark Knight".

I love Wil Smith, but, I'm sorry, Captain America is not Black. Period.

Hmmm. Eric Bana? No, that would be like casting a Yankee to play James Bond.

Frankly, I don't think you need a big name. In fact, I think it's better that you go with an unknown and let him create the role.

How about Timothy Olyphant? Anybody who's seen "Deadwood" knows he's an intense bugger, can get physical, and is a heck of an actor. But, to be perfectly honest, I really want him for "Green Lantern" - he was born to play cocky test pilot Hal Jordan.

OK, now I'm really rambling. :-) I'll have a LOT more to say about Green Lantern at a later date.

The short answer is "Go with an unknown, Marvel". Captain America is not Iron Man. Everybody knows who that character is, so you don't need a star to sell the movie.

October 02, 2008

Fear of a Black President

So, this has been on my mind for a long time.

But first, a speech from Richard Truma of the AFL-CIO:

Now, lets be clear, there's race-based voting happening all over the place.

As a Democrat and as an American, I am proud of the stand, the policies, the campaign, and the kind of thoughtful, principled Federal government that Barack Obama represents. In many ways, he's an extension of what I loved so much about Dean for America.

But, as a Black man in America, I am even more proud that it is a Black man at the center of these representations.

So, yes, there are probably a fair number of people, across all races, who are voting for Barack Obama simply because he's Black.

Now, I'm going to say something that will probably get me into a lot of trouble, but, fuck it, here goes.

I have much less of a problem with people voting for Barack Obama just because he's Black than I do with people voting for, say, Michael Steele or Alan Keyes just because they're Black, because, frankly, I consider Steele and Keyes to be sellouts.

There. I said it.

And here's why.

Whenever you hear about voter suppression, it's almost always targeted at poor Black communities, and it's almost always done on behalf of Republican candidates. It's been that way since Nixon and his so-called "Southern Strategy". Someone, somewhere within the GOP has decided that they stand a better chance of getting into office when Black people are prevented from exercising their rights as American citizens to participate in the electoral process.

Now, if you're a Black conservative - you believe in strong defense (whatever that means) and lower taxes and school choice - that's all well and good. We can agree to disagree on this point, and I can respect your convictions.

But I have NEVER, EVER heard a single Black Republican condemn the obvious and well-documented history of Black voter suppression committed by their own party. Not one. Which says to me that they're more than happy to keep more people who look just like them from voting as long as it helps them advance.

If you are willing to get ahead at the expense of large numbers of people from your own ethnic background who're less fortunate than you, you have, by definition, sold out.

My larger point is, while there is plenty of race-based voting to go around, there is very little moral equivalence, in my mind.

So, just to be clear, yes, given the history of this country, I do think there is, in fact, some nobility in being more inclined to vote for Obama just because he's Black.

Now, let's look at the other side of the equation.

There are two types of anti-Obama race-based votes. There are those who just hate Black people, and there are those who are afraid of Black people.

Needless to say, there's probably quite a bit of overlap there, but I want to speak to these two camps.

Well, I only really want to speak to the 2nd camp because, frankly, if you just hate Black people, chances are, you stopped reading this blog the minute I wrote "as a Black man in America..." And, honestly, what do you and I have to say to each other? You hate me because....

Remind me why you hate me again?

Because I went to Princeton and you didn't? Nevermind the ~3000 rich white people who also got into Princeton while I was there, you're mad at me and the other Black Princetonians (who, at the time, I believe, comprised somewhere between 4-6% of the student body, i.e. half the percentage of our representation in the general population).

Because I got a certain job and you didn't? I'm always amazed when racists complain about how the negroes are taking all of their jobs. As I said before, we're only 12% of the population, and, in case you haven't noticed, a whole lot of us aren't working. Again, maybe you should talk to the 10 other white kids who got hired at that company's particular office at the same time I did. They might have a bit more to do with it, statistically speaking.

Because I hooked up with your sister? I don't know why? I mean, she sure seemed to enjoy it. :-)

Which reminds me of a story one of my college classmates told me, about a study session where the instructor made a comment about the presumed sexual prowess of the Black man, and some young white guy just blurted out "BUT THAT'S JUST A MYTH, ISN'T IT?"

Is that really what the race hatred all comes down to? Should I rename this post "Fear of a Black Penis", just to make it more accurate? And are all of these other little hate bullet points just variations on that theme - the sense of powerlessness and inadequacy that then gets personified in the form of the opposite, the other, The Blacks, and the only way you can prove that you are not, in fact, impotent, is to destroy and humiliate and dehumanize The Black?

In the end, I suppose, it's all based on fear.

There's that word again.

Which brings us to the other, probably larger camp: those who won't vote for the Black man out of fear.

Consider this report I saw a few months ago on AlJazeeraEnglish, at about 2:20 minutes in:

It's the heart of the same fear that mobilized so many in opposition to the Black Panthers. This notion that the Black people, after years of getting dumped on by the white establishment, are going to flip the script as soon as they get into power and bring some righteous retribution against the white majority.

Or, as John Stewart so succinctly put it to Senator Obama himself during an episode of "The Daily Show":

"Is it true that, once you're elected, you intend to enslave the white race?"

I wonder how many people know that the full name of the organization was "The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense"? Or that it was originally conceived in response to rampant police brutality and officially sanctioned violence against Blacks in cities around the country?

The short answer is, those of you who're afraid that Obama's going to mandate that all the major broadcast networks air a new reality show called "America's Next Top White Lynching", take a chill pill. Your fear has yet again demonstrated your ignorance about Black America. When we say we want what you've got, that doesn't mean we want to take it from you. It means we want one of those for ourselves. This is not a zero sum game. As my dear friend Brokenbeatnik likes to say, the pie is enormous, big enough for everybody to have as big of a slice as they like.

I mean, really, when people say they don't trust Obama or they're afraid of having a Black president, what do you really think is going to happen? Seriously?

Take a moment and really look at your fear. Spend some time with it. Talk it out.

And let's take a step back for a moment. For those of you who say "well, I don't think he's sufficiently patriotic enough to be President, what with Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright and all of that."

Let's just assume, for argument's sake, that you're right. Let's assume that Obama has a negative view of America, which means he wants to be president in order to change it into something more to his liking. Let's assume all of that.

Because clearly George W. Bush and Dick Cheney love America to death. Literally.

It's like, they loved America so much that they gave the country a gigantic bear hug for the last 8 years, breaking all of our ribs and puncturing our lungs in the process. Yeah, they really loved the Hell out of America.

I think what many Whites may not understand is that Blacks are deeply acquainted with the concept of "tough love". In other words, because I love you, I'm going to tell you about all of the unpleasant stuff you don't want to know about, because I believe you can be better and I'm not going to allow you to keep slacking off.

I think we could use some of that kind of love right now. Don't you?

Coming in the air tonight

I think this video says it way better than I ever could:

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Except for the telcos that were hoping to make a mint off of new exclusive rights, and who're already unleashing the stormtroopers of lobbying to make that happen.

Do us all a favor. Sign the petition.


October 01, 2008

You ARE registered to vote, right?

Maybe I'm just naive.

I simply cannot think of a single person who might potentially be reading this blog who is SO disconnected that they're not yet registered to vote. It would really just astound me, absolutely astound me to find someone on here who's not registered to vote.

Like, the crazy Jamaican guy next door might not be registered to vote, but, like I said, he's crazy. "Crazy" as in "talks to the side of your head, not to your face, before spontaneously bursting out into reggae free-style lyrics" crazy. Like "punching my driveway gate and cursing at me then saying that he would never do something like that 15 minutes later" crazy. That joker may not even be a citizen.

And, if you haven't guessed, he clearly does not read this blog.

That I know of.

I guess I have to go have a conversation with him.

Maybe I'll talk to his wife, first. She seems, well, normal. Except for being married to him.

But, you get my point.

Are you seriously not registered to vote? SERIOUSLY? Are you actually in the same category as THAT dude?


Uhm, go handle that right now.

Thank you.