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Rap music and I have a tenuous relationship. As time goes on, I’m increasingly puzzled as to whether rap wants me to love it. Maybe these are the symptoms of getting old and washed up; when I was young, rap is all I cared about. The music consumed me at my most pretentious years and I both cherished and defended it. Today, I find myself more interested in revisiting older music–from both my youth and before my time–due to a growing disinterest in what’s happening now. All of that being said, rap has always been ridiculous and fodder for comedy. The most self-serious rapper out is just as humorous as many gimmicky artists; it’s entertainment at the end of the day and the inherent humor in the outlandishness and boisterousness add to its charm.

CB4 is a silly little film that involves people who love rap making fun of it. Directed by Tamra Davis, a music video director for rap and alt darlings like NWA and Sonic Youth, CB4 is the story of Albert (Chris Rock), Euripides (Allen Payne) and Otis (Deezer D) and an obsession with rap their families just don’t understand. The three boys are desperately trying to find a gimmick that’ll give them the opportunity to get a slot at a famous nightclub run by a drug kingpin named Gusto (Charlie Murphy). One day, Albert heads to the nightclub in the early afternoon to beg for a timeslot for him and his friends to perform and ends up inadvertently helping the FBI bust in on Gusto and his crony, 40 dog (Ty Granderson Jones), in the midst of a drug deal. Naturally, Gusto thinks he snitched on him but it doesn’t matter; he’s going to jail and Albert realizes that the best move for his rap career is to embody the tough guy gangster as a character. He convinces Euripides and Otis to follow his lead and Cell Block 4 aka CB 4 (named after the jail cell Gusto was thrown in) is born, with Euripides as Dead Mike, Otis becoming Stab Master Arson and Albert becoming (what else) MC Gusto.

Calling CB4 a sharp critique of rap in 1993 is probably giving it too much credit, but it is very obviously made by people who enjoy rap music a great deal. It’s filled with plenty of gags and references to what was happening at the time: from gimmick rap and silly dance music to record industry execs trying to cash in to political candidates making anti-rap a platform. CB4 themselves are a parody of NWA and the impact gangsta rap had on rap at the time as well as the critiques about it. Within the group, Dead Mike played the role of the militant black Brand Nubian type while Stab Master Arson was the uncle Luke type woman-obsessed DJ (naturally he was the one with a hundred little sisters).

CB4 is pretty easily the highlight of Chris Rock’s career as a writer or filmmaker–he wrote it along with Nelson George and Robert LoCash–and that’s kind of a bummer. Of all the black comedians who should’ve made that Eddie Murphy/Richard Pryor transition to making great film work, Chris should’ve been the one to do it. The problem I’ve long suspected, is that Rock needs to be reigned in by other great writers. Left to his own devices, he tends to get trapped in this mode of taking movies he loves and turning them into one-liner heavy caricatures. With a Nelson George (or a Louis CK or Wanda Sykes), he can be utilized in a constructive way.

For as silly as CB4 can be, it’s a very controlled and focused film. The jokes may not always land, the story may have some cheesiness to it but all of it works. It’s a film that’s been vindicated over time but still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’ve often wondered how a film like CB4 would look today: is rap (music in general really) might be too niche-ified and vast for it but CB4 proves that a lot of the same things that are ridiculous now were ridiculous then, which puts a damper on all that nostalgic rose-tinted waxing about the good ole days. As I type this, a number of MC Gustos have popped up on Datpiff and that’s probably how it’ll always be. Rap music frustrates me deeply but I hope it never changes. Keep pumping out that music straight outta LoCash.

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martin

Here me out.

The first season of True Detective was a interesting concept and technical feat surrounded by smothering pretentiousness and often silly dialogue. The show was a work in progress from beginning to end but it was always somewhat entertaining and interesting. The most intriguing part of the series is that it’s limited: every season will bring a new story and a new cast. This season brought us Woody Harrelson growling and clinging on to some dated sense of masculinity while also wishing he cold give it up; it also brought us Matthew McConaughey’s jaded, College-junior level ruminations on the meaning and inherent hopelessness of life. It was ridiculous but also kind of fun and I think True Detective should continue down this path.

This is what leads to my opinion that season 2 should be about Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, otherwise known as Martin Lawrence and Will Smith from the 1995 film Bad Boys. For those of you who remember, Bad Boys was the directorial debut of a flashy commercial and music video director by the name of Michael Bay. It has the benefit of being early in Bay’s career, before he figured out how to shove in 4,382 explosions into a 2 and a half hour movie while still making time for racist stereotype humor and gratuitous shots of women’s asses. Bad Boys as it stands is just a cheesy action movie that looks like a sleek early 90s music video that is propelled by two great performances made by two Black actors about to completely blow up.

All this said, there’s no two people I would rather watch discover the evil hidden in all men while trying to infiltrate a secret cult of white supremacist Miami club owners who sacrifice 20-something bottle girls for their satanic rituals than these men. Just imagine it for a second: Marcus Burnett, family man, watching his 37 kids grow up and growing distant from his wife but refusing to admit that it’s happening. He just wants to do his job and go home to wife to spend some quality time. Instead he’s got to put him with this secret cult bullshit. He blames Mike for this because he blames Mike for everything. As far as he’s concerned Mike is a magnet for this type of shit. Everywhere ol’ Mikey Mike goes, there’s a secret cult sacrificing women in satanic rituals. The truth is, he blames Mike because he envies Mike. Who the fuck is this trust fund cop anyways? He rides around in the nicest cars, fucks supermodels and uses this job as an excuse to live out his Commando dreams. Marcus’ resentment is understandable: nobody envisions a life unfulfilled, a marriage with a spark that has faded and children who treat you like you don’t matter. This job is the only thing that makes Marcus feel like a man, even if only for a moment, but it isn’t enough. Marcus would never cheat on his wife though–he just can’t bring himself to–so instead he accepts this life; a life of emasculation in a world where male truthers are desperately clinging onto the most basest, aggressive senses of male ego. In this world Marcus continues to make sense of it all.

And what of Mike Lowrey: rich kid, action cop who crashes cars into giant explosion piles and buys another one afterwards. Who cares? None of it matters anyway. Another impossibly hot woman comes to his beautiful condo in order to be pleasured by him and then never heard from again. He’s happy to oblige because he’s always happy to oblige, doesn’t mean anything to him anyways, just the same thing every single day. Mike loved someone once but it didn’t work out, maybe it was the toll the job took on him, maybe he just didn’t know anything about love or maybe after years of causal meaningless sex the concept of love is too foreign to ever be taken seriously. Love is probably imaginary anyways, he figures, just something to distract us as we die alone. Something is happening to Mike the deeper he gets into the cult of Miami club owners. Clubs used to be nothing more to him then a place for overly priced Hennessy and scantily clad women paid to entertain your advances. It never occurred to him that this place could harbor the worst qualities in man but now it only makes all too much sense. The animalistic masculinity and aggression on display mixed with the countless cases of sexual assault? Of course nightclubs could be linked to satanic rituals, if only he’d seen it earlier. If only he’d seen a lot of things earlier. Mike’s been obsessing over this case in between periods of reading nihilist works from Jim Crawford and Eugene Thacker. He’s been trying to make Marcus understand his newfound viewpoint but Marcus isn’t having it. “Now’s not the time Mike” he says; he always says this, because time is a flat circle and we’re doomed to repeat the same things. Mike has found himself obsessed with the boogie monster that leads this cult. He wants to understand how he thinks. He’s stopped shaving and keeping up appearances, Marcus doesn’t get why. Marcus never gets why. At least not until the time is opportune for him to get why (probably episode 8), at that point Marcus will have some insightful commentary about the meaning of life and our place in it and Mike will look at him with bated breath and proclaim, “NOW THAT’S HOW YOU ‘SPOSED TO PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY! FROM NOW ON, THAT’S HOW YOU PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY!”

So yes, this absolutely needs to be True Detective season 2.

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A lot of time and energy is spent trying to divide life into this or that. Rather than accept that things are shaded in gray and deal with the murkiness that idea involves, people instead try to make things easy on themselves and group things into a series of good and bad or right and wrong. Truthfully, the two things aren’t exclusive from each other–that’s the messiness of living–people will make mistakes, try to fix them, make more mistakes and let the worst aspects of themselves get the best of them. It may be easier to ignore these aspects of life to make things neater, but it isn’t the right call. A lot of art concerns itself with wrestling with the dichotomy of right and wrong and dealing with inner demons. With Ukigasa, or Floating Weeds, Yasujirō Ozu paints the picture of a man whose life is filled with regret and a womanizing past and present is in conflict with an attempt to do right by a son who doesn’t even know him.

The film follows a traveling theater troupe lead by the lead act and owner, Kumajuro. The troupe makes a stop in a small town by the inland sea where the performers go about publicizing their kabuki performances, while Kumajuro pays a visit to his former mistress, Oyoshi. He reconnects with his son, Kiyoshi, who’s grown up and is saving up money in order to attend University. Kiyoshi doesn’t know anything about Kumajuro and believes he is his uncle. When Kumajuro’s current mistress, the lead actress of the troupe Sumiko, learns of this, she becomes jealous and tries to cause problems amongst him and Oyoshi. After Kumajuro ends their relationship, she pays one of the young actresses money to seduce his son Kiyoshi. Ultimately, the two young people genuinely fall for each other, despite Kumajuro’s distrust of her after learning of Sumiko’s plans and when it’s time for him to reveal that he is indeed Kiyoshi’s real father, he finds that it’s much too late for him to decide that now is when he wants to be a real father.

Familial issues are always a strong subject in film, television or music. It strikes a chord with a lot of people even if the story isn’t specifically theirs. Kumajuro wants to do what’s right in the situation he’s given but part of the problem is, he wants to do what’s right ONLY because of this situation is giving. He’s a rolling stone, touring with his acting troupe, he’s womanized and continued to womanized, he comes and the he’s gone in the same breath. His son has grown up and become an adult without his help. The idea that now is the time he wants to be a family would come off to anyone as inauthentic and ridiculous, let alone to his own son. It’s not that you don’t feel any real feelings of love from Kumajuro, it’s that that idea of love isn’t enough. when the two o them go fishing and Kiyoshi talks of going to University, you get the sense that he’s figured out a good portion of what he wants for his life. He’s done this without Kumajuro and that fact isn’t lost on him. There’s no instruction guide on what you’re supposed to do in life on any given situation, and the sense you get is that Kumajuro is a man who’s dropped the ball without even fully realizing it. Good intentions aren’t enough but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter.

It’s good intentions that eventually caused Kayo to do the right thing before it was too late. Kayo was the young actress paid to seduce Kiyoshi but instead found herself falling for him. She knew that she was wrong and didn’t want to hurt him so she confessed to it. Kiyoshi and Kayo’s fling was endearing and delicate; the spirit of young love and infatuation, the sense of adventure when you first meet someone and get to know them and the adrenaline rush of getting so caught in those feelings that you’d be willing to abandon your life and plans just to pursue them. Kayo warns Kiyoshi that she’s trouble and he has his whole life ahead of him but, as anyone who’s been 17 will tell you, those kinds of statements fall on death ears. What started as a mistake my by her becomes an opportunity for the both of them to find happiness and not just try and construct it like Kumojuro tries to.

Part of the beauty of this film is that it’s not here to judge or be cynical about its characters. It sits back and watches them wrestle with their insecurities, their problems, their choices and their beliefs. Kumajuro is a volatile, pathetic old man and yet by the end of the movie you feel for him. Sumiko lets her jealousy envelop her and make her foolish, but you can see that she cares for this old man dearly and has been there to pick him up when he needs it. You can even watch Kiyoshi let his youthfulness get the better of him at times, making him think with his heart instead of his head, but you know how that feels because you’ve been there too. The beauty of the film and the way it’s shot with care is similar to the characters’ portrayal. They’re beautiful and approached with care. There is sadness to the story with moments of sweetness strewn about. Weeds are still flowers and even in the ugliness there’s beauty to be found.

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I’m still sorting out my complete feelings for the movie but hopefully I can find something eloquent to say about this film. Needless to say,  Yasujirō Ozu’s story of mistakes, regret, jealousy and love is visually poetic and lovely to watch unfold.

My being more impressed of the film on a technical level isn’t an indictment to the story (because it’s great) but, as someone fascinated by the techniques, it was more exciting to watch the choices being made. The shot selection, scenery, color palette, set design; everything fit perfectly. 

This is my first Ozu film. With the emotionally resonant theme of family dysfunction, failure and young infatuation, it’s hard not to get sucked in. How Ozu is somehow still foreign, even to some film nerds, is peculiar. I look forward to digesting this movie some more and checking out the rest of Ozu’s filmography.

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A lot of things have been written about the message being sent by Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf Of Wall Street –mostly centering on its moral responsibility. The idea is that Scorsese seems to be almost promoting the reprehensible things in the movie by his decision to make a comical and exhilarating and entertaining film. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a film about terrible, narcissistic people in love with money, sex and drugs; Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, ruined many people’s lives and was just egregiously villainous. To present his life this way can seem to some like a stamp of approval.

These are fair feelings to have even if I don’t believe this film is endorsing anything. I don’t dispute someone making these claims but what I do disagree with is this idea that art should only push an agenda that matches that of what an audience deems morally upright. The job of art is to let the artist make their statement regardless of feelings. I don’t know why Scorsese or the film’s screenwriter Terrance Winter made this film but, if I had to guess, I would say that they found this story fascinating and wanted to make a movie just as fascinating.

I’m against this idea of hand holding that seems to be popular amongst the thinkpiece writers and morally upright that says that entertainment about bad people needs to succinctly tell you why these people are bad and why they need to be punished. Once again, I understand it, but I’m against it. Critical thinking tells you why Jordan Belfort is an egomaniacal monster–in addition to the grisly and dark last hour of the film–and I don’t need my intelligence insulted in order for me to get why all of this is wrong.

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What I found compelling about this film is how it deals with addiction. The addiction to vice, to greed, to masculinity, to alpha dog statuses; it’s a movie that indulges and gets hooked to the idea of indulgence and getting hooked. You feel the highs and the lows because you need to feel it. You need to witness the adrenaline rush that comes with making millions and getting high, you need the dizzying peaks and the sordid valleys that this film takes you through. Everything about this film is visceral and intense. You’re taken for a ride in order to understand why the ride is so addictive. The drugs in the film feel like a director waxing nostalgic about his own coke addiction and, most of the time, it’s effective. And every excess is a drug here: the money, the dirty sex and the animalistic nature of testosterone-heavy males getting off on making money– it’s all a drug and it’s all addictive.

Speaking of which, I’m of the opinion that Wolf Of Wall Street is one of the more scathing indictments of greed and American capitalism that we’ve seen in a long time. It may not come off as the most responsible but it gets to the dark, inhuman underbelly inherent in these types of people. Rather than telling you why they’re bad, you see why they do it. I wouldn’t call it an endorsement but I get it. The adrenaline rush and excess that comes with this business is tempting, outrageous and enviable; you know it’s wrong and why but you’re sucked in anyway. It gets into a primordial state of your being: that’s why the chest thumping, beastly, frat-boy ra-ra-ra-ing is important. It’s in our nature to conquer, destroy and con and Jordan Belfort’s preacher-like sermonizing is the perfect cheerleading for this behavior. All that being said, all of this is ugly even when it’s flashy and enticing. The greed is so poisonous it infects the minds of everyone involved. This is capitalism’s faultiness laid out: an easily manipulated system that can equal insane levels of excess due to greed and oneupmanship.

This is probably the most ‘Merica movie arguably ever. It’s Goodfellas for yuppie White guys and it’s a perfect portrait of who these Wall Street brokers are and the country that they live in. It’s all fascinating and uncomfortable and sickening. You’ll want to look away but you won’t be able to. There is a lesson in all of this but it’s not given to you by the movie but instead by your own knowledge of Wall Street and your own knowledge of how these people destroy lives to live the way they do and how they get away. It’s a mirror to a society that is real and a tamer, more indicting movie wouldn’t do much but try and make ourselves feel better about it. But with a movie that has such a black hole of a heart it’s tempting that people would rather have that instead.

 

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I wrote a review for Spike Jonze latest Her already so I won’t reiterate too much. One thing I do wanna say is that no movie brought out so many emotions in me than this film. I’ve always looked at Spike Jonze as a hipster eccentric–it’s what I love about him–so I wasn’t prepared for film that was so adult. Its approach to love, life and relationships felt personal, thought-out and erased of fluff. Even the tweeness in the film didn’t feel forced or nauseating. Her is a movie based in a world that we live in now (at the least, one we’re very close to) and rather than take a cynical approach, it took a caring one. I honestly believe that 12 Years A Slave was the best film released this year: it was the most important, brutal and honest portrayal of a dark history that I’ve seen this year. But Her was my favorite because it got to my own insecurities and made me feel ok. No movie that I’ve seen in a long time has made love and heartache seem so worth it more than Her.

Other great movies:

12 Years A Slave

Before Midnight

Francis Ha

Gimmie The Loot

Upstream Color

Fruitvale Station

Inside Llewyn Davis

The World’s End

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It dawns on me that I haven’t really spent much time talking about Fruitvale Station, the tragic story of Oscar Grant‘s last day before getting killed by the BART officers in Oakland, CA. It’s a hard movie to watch; it’s eerie, grim and will bring anyone with a conscience close to tears. It’s not exactly perfect: there are scenes that feel shoveled in that may not be accurate and a lot of the emotions it elicits have more to the with the actual story (and its relation to the similar death of Trayvon Martin) but it is important, and sometimes an important movie is enough to overcome any shortcomings. Fruitvale Station opened on the weekend George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon. It’s a eerily familiar reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problem isn’t with the verdict really–based on the mess that is Florida law, there wasn’t really enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime–the problem was the case itself. Rather than address the killing of Trayvon Martin, the case became the story of the scary black teenager who threatened the nice neighborhood watchmen and how, despite being an unarmed kid who weighed less than the MMA-trained watchmen, you would be just as scared too.

What makes Fruitvale important are all the things that shouldn’t make it important. It’s a story that happens too often and will continue to happen. It’s the story of kids who are born suspects and aren’t allowed to make mistakes or grow up to be better men because of the world they live in. A world where a jury declares a man innocent not because of evidence but because they understand his fear.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is interpreted as the story of delving into sin and suffering the repercussions of it. Fair enough; to me though, it’s the story of knowledge. The story of sinking your teeth into what’s really happening in the world around you and finally seeing it for what it is: a complicated, hypocritical mess steeped in violence and power. In Florida right now, you have the Dream Defenders making their voices heard at the governor’s office. You have a post-internet world that deals with racism in the most confrontational, ugly way and you have opinion writers and news personalities engaging and attacking each other in order to prove that their worldview is right. People often say we need to have a discussion on race, but we’ve always been having a discussion on race–and it’s getting louder and louder. It’s rough and hard to swallow at times, yes; but it’s the convo we need. There are people who will justify what’s wrong as there always tends to be but the good will always outweigh them. We are no longer pretending the apple isn’t there hanging from the tree, we’re grabbing it and finally deciding whether to eat it or not (and this is with everything, not just race). There is no place anymore for people like Don Lemon to pretend that being “good negroes” will save us from death. There is no more tolerance for people like Richard Cohen to talk about the justified fear of young black men. Your Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys are nothing more  than passe’ racists yelling at clouds. It’s no longer ok for successful black men like Jay Z to embrace their privilege with arrogance and call their time “charity”. We see the world around us and we can no longer pretend that we don’t.

That’s the world we live in at the time of Fruitvale Station. While this film, by the young, first-time director Ryan Coogler, is a lot of things–warm, lovely, disturbing and actually pretty funny–it’s first and foremost important. It’s the film we need right now to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Who’s bad enough to take a bite.

 

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