Thursday, January 28, 2021
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
MOVIE REVIEWS #178: "DA 5 BLOODS", "CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION", "CORPUS CHRISTI", "JUST MERCY", "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT", "DIANE (Jones)", "OFFICIAL SECRETS", "GENESE (aka GENESIS)", "EXTRA ORDINARY" and "CRAWL"!
DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Director: Spike Lee
Friday, January 15, 2021
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant based on the novel by John Ball
Flipping through Roku channels a few weeks back, I stumbled across some obscure old movie channel that maybe had a dozen or so films available on it, and surprised by the quality of some of the titles, as a check to see if the channel was still working, I clicked on "In the Heat of the NIght" to check to see if the channel was worth keeping or deleting. I ended just sitting there watching the whole movie again for like the tenth or twelfth or however many times I take a regular pilgrimage back to Sparta, Mississippi. It's constantly amazing to me just how easily I can get sucked into "In the Heat of the Night". Perhaps it was kizmet this time, that I chose to reimmurse myself with it in this, the Era of Insurrection in the Dying Days of our most racist and incompetent President. I have genuinely worried lately that these last few years of my movie reviews, especially the movies that are more political just have greater resonance now then they will in the future, or that because of the times we live in that many of my perspectives on cinema might be off sometimes, or perhaps tainted by this era; the film analysts of the future are gonna be fascinated with our reaction to films during these last few years.
That said, I don't think anybody's ever thought of this film as dated; arguably it feels more revelatory now then ever, even some of the goofier parts, like when Virgil (the great Sidney Poitier) fights off a gang of White Supremacists with a giant steel pole in an empty garage. Hell, I watched the film "Just Mercy" last week, and that movie which took place mostly in the '80s and '90s seemed like it wouldn't have been that out of place if you told me that it was in the same universe as "In the Heat of the Night". Perhaps it's just eye-opening for white people like me to think that this movie still feels like it's plausible today. Somewhere in some small southern town, some black man is getting racially profiled unjustly right now, (or some large city or, frankly anywhere in this country) and they're not lucky enough to be Virgil Tibbs. Perhaps the most fortunate aspect of the film is that unfortunately, the film seems to be timeless.
The Best Picture Oscar winner of 1967, one of cornerstone years of American cinema, “In the Heat of the Night,” is as intense a movie to watch as it has ever been. In a small Mississippi town, a man has been murdered, but not just any man, a rich man from up north who was going to build a factory and give about 1,000 residents jobs, including African-Americans. With limited police capabilities, the cops start looking for suspicious characters, and at a train station, they find a man in a suit and tie who obviously isn’t from there. Not only did they racially profile a black man, but Virgil Tibbs , is a fellow police officer, and apparently the best homicide detectives in Philadelphia. Gillespie (Rod Steiger in an Oscar-winning role) decides that since they have him already, he might as well see how good a detective he is. This isn’t exactly what much of the townfolk would’ve wanted, but the threat of no factory being built is perceived as possibly a bigger problem than a black man looking into the murder, and besides, he’s leaving in a few days anyway, if he can get out alive.
What may make this film feel so strong today is that that director Norman Jewison decides to follow the investigation of the case, and not dwell on the racism, at least not in the narrative of the film. Something that nobody recalls when thinking about the film is that, it's a fairly straight-forward mystery procedural. When the ugly face of racism does pop its head out, either between the characters naturally or from outside sources, it gets even more suspenseful because it's interrupting a legitimate investigation. The most notable example of this is when a lead suspect named Endicott (Larry Gates) is interrogated. He owns a cotton field where most of workers are Blacks who pick cotton in the fields, and has a ceramic statue of a blackface clown on his walkway. During one line of questions, Endicott slaps Tibbs, and Tibbs surprises him and everybody else in the audience by hitting him back. This is a landmark moment in film, the first time a white man hit a black man, and was hit back. Maybe a lesser actor, but you can’t do that to Sidney Poitier. At this point, he was already the first Best Actor Oscar winner for his roles in "Lilies of the Field", and had, in general become the stoic figure of the first true African-American movie star. I try to seek out at least one of his movies to watch a year; he's one of my favorite actors and seems the standard-bearer of indelible poise and quiet personal strength. Arguably, no one has ever had a more powerful onscreen presence.
But he hadn't hit someone back though; in fact, before the film, he was often criticized by the Black community for often seemingly portraying the "good negro" in most of his films. It's true, he rarely played villains and most of his characters were ovely-idealized portrayals of African-Americans, often un-sexual, sometimes seeming too ideal to truly be believable. He wanted to make sure that no matter what, his characters would make a good positive examples of what African-American can be, since there often wasn't other positive portrayals of Black people in film. Just earlier in the year, he starred in "To Sir, with Love" where he played a beloved Bahamian teacher in the lower class end of London and in "Guess Who's Coming for Dinner" as a young Black man trying to earn the respect of his girlfriend's liberal parents before marrying her. Both of those are good films; I've even written on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"? before in this Canon, but they don't exactly evolve Poitier beyond this perception, until "In the Heat of the Night", until this scene in particular
I can probably poke holes into the investigation and how the
murderer was eventually found out, but like most great mysteries, it’s about
the investigation process, not how its results or the improbabilities of the
investigation. Still though, there's such a haunting, claustrophobia to the movie that's seriously underrated. I love the matching shot Jewison has with a twig of a twig of a cotton branch being spun in Poitier's hand with this amazing POV shot of a tree being fed into a shredder. I'm not sure why Norman Jewison's name does get mentioned much among the great directors; I guess its because it's hard to fit him in a genre box, since he wasn't necessarily an auteur director and was often more a go-to filmmaker who could do a little bit of anything, but god damn, his directing career stretched five decades before he retired after his last film "The Statement" in '03, and he made a lot of good and sometimes great films. "In the Heat of the Night" is probably his best, but I wouldn't begrudge anybody who'd put "Fiddler on the Roof" or "Moonstruck" up there instead, and that's saying nothing of "The Cincinnati Kid" "The Russians are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" the original "The Thomas Crown Affair", "Agnes of God", "A Soldier's Story", "...And Justice for All" and probably his last really great film "The Hurricane", just to name a few.
His filmmaking is quiet and intense here, but if there's something that really elevates the movie from groundbreaking to all-time great, that isn't credited enough, and I mean that literally, it's Quincy Jones's score to the film. It's not technically an original score that's arranged, I guess...; he's credited with the "Music by" label specifically, but that lush orchestral jazz and R&B sound just enraptures the mood of the movie. I'm fairly convinced that the main reason that the movie, two decades after the film, got a TV drama series adaptation was because that title track is just too soaring and stirring to only use for one piece of media. (There also were two Virgil Tibbs sequel films that, honestly I find pretty unwatchable; I usually forget they exist until someone brings them up.) That's what's put this movie over-the-top, a more traditional classical score would've just not felt right, but this more modern take on the delta blues, especially with that Ray Charles howl, it makes this story feel more real. Like there's nothing else to do in this town but to try to sweat out that balming, fly-sticking humidity, without going on a crime spree, and its been that way for years.
"In the Heat of the Night" is that weird crime story, where the movie is intensely about the solving of the case and yet it's the last thing anybody thinks about with the film. It's that perverse intensity too, where racism boils through a town that nothing else seems to matter. I know people who've seen the movie several times, and couldn't off-the-top-of-their-head tell you, "Who did it?" Or for that matter, "why did they it?" I didn't even discuss it once here, and considering the answers to those questions, that's actually quite shocking. You'd think that'd be a weakness, but that's actually a big strength of the film. The best mysteries are never about the who, but about the how of the investigation and this movie is like a journey into a horrible and disturbingly still realistic world than an analysis of the world itself. It’s no coincidence the town is called “Sparta,” and Poitier’s character is named Virgil, although most people call him something else..., but not here.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
SO, I LEARNED ABOUT "SHIPPING".... I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS..., MOSTLY, "YIKES!" BUT OTHER THOUGHTS AS WELL..
Not all of this is entertainment; for instance I'm learning a lot more about MLMs and how other companies and such are absolute shit from Illuminaughtii's Youtube page, (I know MLMs were pyramid schemes already but now I'm diving into the "business" of it; I guess) but usually I do dive more into entertainment and that includes, believe it or not Fandom stuff. And as far as I can tell, the big Youtuber for that is that I've found, that I can somewhat tolearate is this woman, Sarah Z. (The Z is pronounced Zed; I think she's French-Canadian? I might be wrong about that.)
Okay, I had to calm myself down there for a second. I won't go into all her stuff; 'cause frankly I can barely understand or follow most of it; the only things she's done that I found that I really had an opinion on were her recent piece on "Supernatural"'s finale, which-, look I- I know its popular and I know friends who love the show, but I have no idea why anybody would watch this garbage! Seriously, I don't get it; it's just a dumb down-for-idiots redoing of "The X-Files" and mostly the worst parts and ideas from that show; I legitimately have no idea how this show lasted like, (IMDB search) OMG 15 YEARS!!!!!!!!! WHY!?! HOW!?!?. I- I don't get it, but apparently people liked it, and boy did they have issues with its finale, and much of the show in general.
There was also this earlier video she did on "Sherlock" which is the other show I know about and have opinions on..., I mostly liked the show, but, oh boy, apparently there was a lot about the show and showrunner that I didn't know about, 'cause apparently not only were there fans obsessed with shipping characters, and "Supernatural" is guilty of that as well, btw, but-eh, yeah, there's an issue when "creators" or "producers" are like, purposefully trying to stir up, encourage or mock them, frankly any/all of this shit, and people behind those shows were doing it to varying degrees. It certainly explains some of the stupid shit on "Sherlock" especially the last two seasons that went completely off the fucking rails..., but yeah, needless to say, I'm starting to think that anything after "Coupling" that Steven Moffat did is probably a lot worst then we think it is. (And even "Coupling" kinda lost it in its last season, but I'm gonna give him a pass on that 'cause there were extenuating circumstances, and it was still pretty good.)
More importantly then that though, WHAT THE HELL is "SHIPPING"?! I-eh, I-, WHAT?!?!?!?!
No, seriously; I never heard of this, and I kinda wish I didn't, but like,...- well, okay, that's not technically true, I have, um, well, sorta heard of this; I never knew it by this word, but I also never heard of it becoming this obsessive and troubling before so....
Basically, the idea of "Shipping", in this context, is that, there's a piece of media that someone likes. Then they take two, or more, character from that piece of media, (or sometimes medias [sigh]) and then in fanfiction, or just in one's own minds, pair these characters into a relationship. Like, on the surface, there's nothing wrong with this, but-eh, the things is, most of the versions of this that I'm kinda familiar with this idea, are stuff where, it's clear that some of those "shippings" are a possibility, if not a probability. You know, the reasons, for instance I care about eh, Ross & Rachel from "Friends"-, actually that's not the greatest example, um, let's use instead, ummmmmm, what's a pair that took forever to get together, ehhhhhh, Tony and Angels from "Who's the Boss?"...- so, for instances, the reason I care about, Tony & Angela possibly getting together is that the show and the subtextual and textual storylines between the character is specifically about the sexual tension and chemistry between them; its clear that we care, because they're making us care. That's the story they're telling, which, from what I can tell, isn't always the case in a lot of these situations on some of these shows, or kinda is, or they're trying to make it seem like it is to stir up the fans when it clearly isn't....- it's confusing.
They actually list a couple example of this on Wikipedia, from shows that-I, um...- um..., hmmm.... and they have a couple others that I looked up...- ummm.... Tsk...
Okay, I'm just gonna admit here, that in my notes, I wrote down to write about "My Own History on Ships? If Any?"..., 'cause I kinda figured at some point during this I would come to a realization that I did indeed think about shipping characters together like this with favorite shows of mine that do kinda correlate with this concept; sorta as a way of proving myself wrong. Show that I'm improperly overly concerned with this form of fan behavior and exaggerating the downfalls of this behavior as something that's a much more normal media interpretational behavior as oppose to something much more fringe and lascivious, which, even despite having heard and been introduced to some of the more extreme examples of this behavior recently, is probably true.
I feel like I'm actually the weird one in this case, 'cause as much as I am kinda irked by a lot of this, especially if you really go deep into it, but I really can understand the idea of wanting one person to get with another and certainly I do want characters to inevitiably get together..., mostly, kinda.... Like, I don't- I don't think any ideas I would have about who should get together with whom, that I should be the one that leads the show towards that direction however. (Unless I'm actually in the Writer's Room of course.) Just because I would want two characters two characters to be together, that doesn't mean that they should, or that it's even a good idea. Like I said, when the "Will they or won't they" aspect of their characters is clearly written into the series, or even like, subtextually part of the series, then I kinda get it. However, um, honestly, I can't imagine it elsewise, and certainly not to an extent where I'm calling the BBC pissed off that some TV show wasn't a special secret episode of "Sherlock" that would explain everything!!!!! Seriously, that apparently happened 'cause they were reading (fingerquotes) "secret clues" into a series that genuinely didn't have much of them! ([Sigh] Fans are such the worst, I swear to God; I genuinely can't understand how I'm the only one that's so anti-fans....)
Sorry. That said though, maybe the reason I seem to not be particularly good at reading material like this, is that I never had to look for relationships this way in media.
From what I can tell, this trend, whether it gets out of control within the fanbases or not, originally started with gay and lesbian viewers and fans of media who, essentially had to create fictional ships, because, well, there just weren't gay and lesbian relationships actually portrayed in film/television media for them.
Now this, I get. Cause this idea of trying to seek out alternative interpretations of the text through symbolistic meanings of subtextual clues, that was often how you seeked out those relationships, and frankly, that's how homosexual characters and relationship were often written into media. The first time, I actually remember hearing about this, was with Xena and Gabrielle on "Xena: Warrior Princess". That's not a show I ever watched much of, but I did have some friends when I was young who watched the series specifically because they wanted to read the material as symbolically depicting a lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and from what little I have seen of the show, yeah, I thought that was a pretty reasonable interpretation of the show.
Now I've since been told some of this in "Xena...", again, the writers apparently intentionally played up for the "Fans", which, I cannot stress this enough; I have absolutely zero respect for anybody who does this. The absolute last thing writers should ever do is listen to the fans, and possibly an even worst extention of listening to the fans, they should absolutely never be trying to queerbait them like this. If you want to create a subliminal homosexual subtext then just create it; more then that, fans are awful and you should never be trying to please them. (And certainly not trying to trick them like this! Seriously, that is fucked up!). It doesn't even make sense, they're already fans because you know, created something they already like, why would you then look to them; they didn't know they'd like it before it was created, why would you want them now to have influence on it now. You didn't need it before you didn't have any...!?
Sorry, believe or it not, I am trying to limit my raging against fans in this piece, but trust me, it's hard.
Nowadays, well, it's clearly better on that front; there's whole networks devoted to LGBT programming and outside of them there's now plenty depictions of LGBT relationships over much of television, so it's a lot less necessary to strive to read media through this "Shipping" lens. Clearly though, that doesn't mean it's still not happening, and again, on the surface level, you wanna see people get together; I get that. Other then that though, ugh, I don't know... I'm certainly not big on the fanfiction idea, but I'm generally questionable of fanfiction, so my thoughts could be too bias. I guess theorizing about a series future isn't awful either in theory or wanting some things to happen on a series between characters..., but yikes, at its worst and most ridiculous, when it leads to...- like I didn't like how everybody had to break into teams for "Twilight", but you know, at least "Twilight" was about the sexual tension between those three characters.
As to shipping characters itself, I can understand it, if not appreciate it, and I think it does have value in certain situations, like as a way for repressed or mitigated groups and individuals to find representatives of themselves in media where they otherwise can't find them; if I was in that kind of position growing up, then absolutely, I can see why I would do that with my favorite shows and characters.