Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Colored Girls

A good movie either needs the big screen, the big budget, or big stars to be worthy of an audience as large as Tyler Perry's. Tyler Perry's “For Colored Girls” is one of those movies that follows interconnecting stories of people going through struggles. The domestically abused, the sexually assaulted, accidentally impregnated, the baron, and hopelessly devoted. Think “Valentines Day” with more raping.

The movie is not unlike that of a, or, well, six lifetime films in that it's about women who don't need men. Or have been scorned by men. Or had their children killed by men due to PTSD. Okay, maybe that last one hasn't happened on lifetime yet, but I'm sure Army Wives has it cooking for a season finale.

Tyler Perry does not direct this film well. For example in this film there's a scene where a recently impregnated 16 year old girl walks down the world’s most clichéd back alley in the history of cinema. There's some skeevy looking folks playing dominoes, some other folks drinking booze, an angry dog barking, and yes, one crazy woman mumbling to herself. Bingo! I got Bingo!

This movie doesn't need the big screen. Perry does not take advantage of his stage, and there are no scenes, or shots, or effects that wouldn't be just as powerful on my TV screen at home. The movie is directed on a level similar to that of middling West Wing episodes. The camera doesn't do anything particularly interesting, things happening in the background look staged, and scenes that are supposed to be powerful or subtle drew laughs or lewd comments from the crowd, which, by the way, was the most entertaining part of the film. It knows how to elicit a reaction from its intended audience, though often at the expense, or in spite of, the story telling.

The writing has it's good moments, and the audience laughed in interesting places, and the barbs from Janet Jackson to her boyfriend with a fabulous secret are delightful in their sophomoric nature. As an adaptation, though, the bits Perry has written and the parts lifted directly from the play arrive at perpendicular angles to one another. Some are good. Anything that comes out of Loretta Devine's mouth is gold. But these little poetic monologues grow in occurrence toward the second part of the film, and I grew tired of the folks to talking in radio head style lyric every four minutes.

The acting is good, Whoopi Goldberg gives the best pissed off I can remember, Phylicia Rashad is able to captivate an audience without doing a whole heck of a lot, and Thandie Newton does her best Rosie Perez impression.

Now, this movie is called for colored girls, but all issues of race and color are literally left to the last 20 minutes of the film, where the words colored, black, and nigger find their way into the monologues. Nothing in the film features issues specific to the African American community, and if these characters had been white, pink, or purple, nothing would have changed but the color correction. So this sudden inclusion proved baffling.

Maybe it's because I'm not colored, or a woman, but this movie is not worth the price of admission. I'm certain issues of haphazardly handled domestic violence, laugh inducing rape, oddly implied incestual abuse, awkward directing, a drawn out ending and clichéd lets all hug as we ponder our lives without men scene, transcends all colors and genders but one. Green. Save yours. “For Colored Girls” would make a wonderful first season of a cable (or TBS) drama, but as a movie in a theater? It is not worth The Price of Admission.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Minutemen

“The Minutemen” plays things down the middle, content to observe. When watching a bias documentary, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, or An Inconvenient Truth, we expect to be shocked every few minutes. Well did you know this? And then this! Oh yes, here's this shocking fact too! And sadly the exhilaration of a pissed off point of view, is missing from this film.

In it's place is an overwhelming feeling of dedication. The film-makers to the documentary, the minutemen to their post, the illegal immigrants to coming here to work and survive. All of them out in an unbearable desert because they feel they need to be there.

This is a passion project and it shows. Anyone willing to traipse out into the desert day in and day over the course of four years has passion or a screw loose. Possibly both. These subjects, The Minutemen, are American Citizens who took to the Mexican border to monitor and report on any illegals crossing the border, are out in that desert. Morning, noon, night.

Technically the film is a little shaky, there's no narrative or thesis to the film, and instead it seems the crew took cameras into the desert, followed around the minutemen, then assembled the most exciting footage they had. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when watching the film, my mind wandered on some occasions, I was not compelled. I was informed.

That said, the movie does what it says it will do: It shows us what the minutemen do (watch, mostly), and on occasion surprises you with a development like a subject having a heart attack, two minutemen being investigated for robbery, or a stereotypically redneck Minutemom making a point that makes it hard to actively hate her despite the fact she was just harassing all the migrant workers outside of home depot with a video camera. And this almost works. It almost works because all the people in the film are intensely compelling.

They're an eclectic bunch. the kind of folk who could be on Jerry Springer if they didn't mean so well. They sit and wait and radio in, and well, it's actually pretty boring. No wonder so many of them have pets. From lil dog, to Minutemom, to Max Kennedy, the boston born guru of the minutemen who deserves his own twitter account more than anyone else on the planet, you enjoy the time they're on screen.

Since the film avoids making the minutemen out to look like crazed rednecks, it's important they're all presented as human characters, and they are. Too often we assume these people in the south going on about the evils of immigration are minus teeth and jobs and just want an excuse to go out with their gun and a bad attitude. And maybe that's partly the case, but there really is more to the issue than that, and everyone has a fairly reasonable excuse for playing cowboy.

Good documentaries make you ask questions, make you want to learn more, make you want to go on wikipedia and lose 45 minutes reading about the content. In a perfect world this documentary will get the film-makers a TV show on PBS, their next project more funding and a bigger staff, allowing them to assemble at least a touch more sleek production.

Interview with The Minutemen Filmmakers

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cool it!

Folks my age have grown up with lots of noise. Impending doom, the economy, school violence, violent video games, global warming. My generation grew up thinking this was the way to go about things, screaming at the top of your lungs like some crazed sports fan. The loudest baby gets the bottle.

Thankfully the documentary “Cool It” is here and ready to pacify us with a message of “Calm the heck down, folks, the world isn’t ending”. The rationale response to global warming is one we've needed for awhile.

The film follows controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, who, despite his jaw line, isn’t as entertaining as he thinks he is, as he informs us that the current world environmental plan is to spend 250 billion dollars to lower the temperature of the earth about .01 degrees. He says this is a colossal waste of money. And it is. He argues that the same amount of money can be spent adapting to the changing climate, used to research sustainable, clean, energy, and education.

It’s weird because for a movie with a theme of cooling it, and being rationale, a great deal of this film is spent harping on Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”, which came out something like four years ago, as well as 20 boring minutes spent telling us about Bjorn's trials and tribulations among the scientific community, because he's controversial!

It seems like Bjorn, who is the focal point of this film, had about forty five minutes worth of material directed at the craziness of the Gore documentary, another twenty or so on how wronged he's been by mainstream environmentalists, and that's really it.

The film detours into bits about sustainable energy, new nuclear technology and wave power, how education can cure famine in Africa, and interviews with school children I don't care about.

The movie is at it's best when it's soothing us with facts from real scientists at real institutions with real facts, statistics, and dollar figures. The polar icecaps aren't melting. The water level isn't going to rise. Hurricane Katrina wasn't a global warming created disaster.

I just feel like the movie could have been better as a PBS TV show, to watch casually while doing homework, Bjorn could certainly host his own show, and all of these subjects he covers are worthy of eyeballs. Just not in this way.

I know it’s not getting a wide release, and I didn’t pay to see it, and you probably won’t either due to the lack of computer generated explosions, but if you have a person’s attention for an hour and a half, you better make sure they want to be there the entire time, and I didn’t. Take the message, leave the documentary. Buy the book.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The offensive Joke

"Walked into a door" brand concealer by Loreal.
We know why, but we won't tell.
You better not either.

The difference between an offensive joke and an off color joke is pretty wide. The offensive joke is the sort of thing that causes boycotts and media coverage and David Letterman to eat shit on national television.
But think of the beauty in the cheap shot. The cheap shot is the thing a person thinks but doesn't say. The thing that is probably best left unsaid, but needs to be heard. Why? Ask Jon Stewart, ask Stephan Colbert, ask every late night talk show host. Ask Seth McFarlene.

Obviously these people have an audience and a big one, so does this all mean society is bigots and fans of the lowest common denominator? I doubt it.

The best kind of joke, to me, is the kind that starts in the belly with a "oh my god I can't believe..." gasp. From there it should transform the face into a contorted half smile of astonishment, before you start wondering which friends you can tell without offending.
Also there tends to be a discrepancies with jokes that are offensive. Obviously comparing the leader of the free world to Hitler, a man who killed millions, is much less offensive then a joke about a rape or abuse or abused animals. The more visceral action, the most visceral image, the more real the joke.

I don't know where I was going with this. Just felt like saying it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Technology Fidelity: A preamble

This is the first of several articles explaining why I think technology is rarely represented correctly in places other than the internet. This article focuses on the news.

About a year ago I wrote a research paper about watching the nightly news, which I promptly got a C- on. The reason? I decided to do the paper on the misrepresentation of video games and technology in the media.

While my professor deemed this a totally unimportant topic, I venture that the 500 million people who use facebook would disagree, as would anyone under the age of 30. But alas, I got a C-.

So, after watching the news for a couple of days, a story about video game sales to minors was featured. It also featured out of date and incorrect information. The story made it appear as though restricting the sales of violent video games to minors was a new thing, which it isn't, this particular practice began occurring during the mid 90's with the release of ECW Anarchy Rulz*. The piece displayed games that are an upwards of 12 years old and even ones that weren't sold anymore. There are plenty of modern violent video games to show, so why not show those?

If I was doing a story on current media sexism and showed you a documentary about ads from the 1980's, wouldn't you be confused and less likely to take the information presented to you seriously? Unless of course you're an interested viewer who trusts the news to bring you up to date accurate information.

It just shows that the media is sometimes out of touch. So out of touch, in fact, that this particular story featured the far right organization “The Parents Television Council”. This organization often cites (false) studies by the Family Research Council, run by Ken Blackwell. The FRC often times comes out with studies like “80 percent of video gamers addicted to games!” and so on.

The story also somehow manages to make the assumption that children are allowed to go to R-rated movies and buy CDs with curse words on them without being carded. In the end it was a special kind of news story, that manages to outrage and annoy the tech savy, all the while having enough misinformation and sloppiness to scare the masses.

The problem was that this story didn't give us the details. It didn't tell us about how the PTC are a buncha crazies who specialize in boycotting for attention, it didn't tell us about how many developers say games aren't for children, or how the majority of people who buy games are adults. To an uninformed viewer, they'd take it to be true. They'd believe everything that was said, and think how dastardly the video game industry must be to sell these terrible games to minors. And worse, they'd think GTA: VICE CITY, is the hit new video game of 2010. The worst part of this entire story, is that it played it as if there was a conflict between society and the video game corporations, when in fact, the video game industry has self policed itself into restricting the sale of violent games to minors via the ESRB, since 1999. It's Similar to the MPAA, but more open in it's rating process.

Let's play a game. How many times have you watched the news and stumbled upon a story about facebook, or myspace, or some other thing you may be interested in because you're a youth, only to scream at the TV for getting the facts wrong, missing the pieces that were important in order to fit a sound-byte or get people to come back after the break.

In regards to another story on Internet technology, specifically one about Facebook privacy. This particular media darling comes from the fact that certain websites will be able to access your Facebook, see what kinds of music, movies, and Television shows you're into, and then recommend ads tailor made to your tastes. So if, for example, notices you like Steely Dan and Dire Straits on your Facebook profile, it will probably try and recommend you some Neil Young.

The issue is that this kind of information transfers to the website passively. Essentially allowing a website to access information you make freely available to the public, and use it to make your web going experience easier and personalized.

But instead, the news reports it along the lines of “Popular Social Networking website Facebook is giving YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION to the Internet, is your privacy at risk!?”. This is one of those stories that gets teased throughout the show, the story that makes you come back from the commercials, so of course they have to deliver on their big scary message. This happens routinely with stories about the big, scary, Internet. Always about privacy, or how your kids could be under attack by predators, or viruses, or bullies pretending to be interested suitors.

What about the fact I don't need to wait 45 minutes on the phone to hear movie times anymore? That doesn't get enough credit.

The best part of this story was how the reporter fellow had to have a younger person use the computer for him, because he had no idea. Literally, it was some young guy teaching the reporter what to do to turn off the privacy settings. It's like teaching your grandmother how to upload a photo. Why would this be on the news? Doesn't this subject deserve a little more respect than the equivalent of tabloid headline? But the reality is far less entertaining than hysteria, this is why so many people like football.

Surely this is going to be a thing of the past, eventually news producers will retire and newer younger people will take over and been brought up with the internet and violent games and be able to separate fact from fiction and craziness.

So of course they'll work in cable.