Monthly Archives: August 2020

The Key to Pretending

“It’s not a lie, if you believe it,” George Costanza proclaimed on an episode of Seinfeld.

If you’re Tom Ripley from Patricia Highsmith‘s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, you gotta believe every lie you tell if you don’t want to be found out.  Before Matt Damon got his deception going in Anthony Minghella‘s 1999 adaptation of it, Alain Delon did it in Rene Clement‘s Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) from 1960.

PurpleNoon Ripley

Alain and Matt’s Tom Ripleys match the demeanor of their respective Phillipe/Dickie Greenleaf.  I liked both of them, but Matt Damon’s class-jumper comes across as slightly more psychopathic than Alain Delon’s charismatic schemer.

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What say you?

Pic creds: imdb

Regulators, Mount Up

Was it a clear, black night or a clear, white moon whereupon Warren G was on the streets trying to consume?

Maybe.  Probably.

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The song “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg was released in 1994 as part of the soundtrack for the film Above the Rim (Jeff Pollack).  I haven’t seen the film but I remember the first time I heard the song.  A friend played it for me and I was mesmerized from the first beat through the first chorus.  The song samples Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” and includes the following lines before the first verse:

Regulators
We regulate any stealin’ of his property
And we’re damn good too
But you can’t be any geek off the street
Gotta be handy with the steel,
if you know what I mean, earn ya keep.

Regulators, mount up.

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I would never have guessed that those lines were from a film, much less Young Guns (Christopher Cain, 1988), the ensemble cast western revenge picture featuring a very young Dermot Mulroney.

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How did I know those pre-verse lyrics in “Regulate” were from this film?  Reddit.

The full set of lines from the scene and spoken by Charley (Casey Siemaszko):
We work for Mr. Tunstall as regulators. We regulate any stealin’ of his property and we’re damn good too. Mr. Tunstall’s got a soft spot for runaways, derelicts, vagrant-types, but you can’t be any geek off the street. You gotta be handy with that steel, if you know what I mean, earn ya keep.

Pic creds: IMDB, YouTube screengrab

Everybody’s in The Cotton Club

Or so it may seem.

I wanted to watch more of Gregory Hines, so I got the Encore edition of Francis Ford Coppola‘s jazz age-gangster number The Cotton Club (1984).

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This collage does not encapsulate everyone, but it features the primary male faces:
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You’re not mistaken; Nicolas Cage is in the bottom left, followed by Laurence Fishburne.  Yes, Tom Waits is on the bottom right.  Are you having it’s-that-guy thoughts regarding the bloodied face on the top row?  That guy is James Remar.

Diane Lane gave me serious Drew Barrymore and Melanie Griffith impressions in certain scenes.

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I never saw the original cut of The Cotton Club and have no plans to do so; I’m not even sure what to make of the “director’s cut” of the film.  The dance sequences were a great reprieve from the disorder that is 2020, but honestly, I find Odie Henderson’s review of the Encore edition much more compelling than the film itself.  In fact, this assertion he makes captures my exact reaction: ‘Even in its butchered state, “The Cotton Club” played like an intriguing, gorgeously shot and designed musical that kept getting rudely interrupted by a crappy mobster movie.’

Pic creds: IMDB, MGM

Poetry and a Moment of Zen in Premature

If Premature (Rashaad Ernesto Green, 2019) had come to a theatre in my city, I most certainly would have seen it and gotten it later on DVD.  Alas, poor Yorrick, it did not come, but eventually I bought the DVD.  I do not remember how I came across the trailer for this film.  Making an educated guess, I surmise it appeared in a related video on YouTube when I was watching interviews of the cast and crew of The Photograph.  However it was that I became aware of Rashaad Ernesto Green’s striking film, I am supremely happy that I did.

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The film depicts how a young woman falls in love and then has to deal with the highs and lows that inevitably befall her and the object of her affection.  Ayanna (Zora Howard), or “Yanni,” as her friends call her, meets Isaiah (Joshua Boone), an aspiring music producer, at the start of the rest of her life.  High school is in the past and college is right around the corner, but when love and the very real consequences of consensual intersection manifest itself, Ayanna has to choose between which two hypothetical futures to pursue.*  Premature took my breath away after watching it once.  Candice Frederick’s quote on the DVD cover (from the review she wrote for The Wrap) captures my exact thoughts of it: “a rapturous, heart-wrenching love story.”

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It’s based on the director’s 2008 short film of the same name, which also starred Zora Howard as the main character.  Rather than organize my observations into neat paragraphs, I’m going to lay them out as they came to me from the first and second viewings:

~ Its running time is ninety-minutes but feels fifteen minutes too short.
~ The music is fantastic and functions like part of the art direction.
~ Many of the scenes are composed like they could be photographs, candid portrait shots.

~ The dialogue in one scene directly addresses being black in America and the tugging back-and-forth between identity and daily life, especially in the way Isaiah is antagonized by one of Ayanna’s friends in a debate about if it’s harder to be a black man or black woman as well as how using “male/female” instead of “man/woman” can be problematic.  Suggestion: it’s not just semantics because a suspect in a crime is a “black male/female,” whereas, a law-abiding citizen is a “black man/woman” (and the “man” must be earned at that).

~ The tone of the film reminds me of The Exploding Girl (Bradley Rust Gray, 2009) where the first viewing is for plot and subsequent viewings are for closer analysis of characterization, mise-en-scene, and ultimately, it’s like reminiscing with an old friend.
~ One believes that real people talk like the characters do.
~ Beginnings are easy.  Infatuation, collaboration, conversations can be hard, particularly when what’s at stake cannot be simply persuaded into compliance.  Premature provides a rubric for how people can deal with unexpected situations where the available options leave much to be desired.
~ Ayanna’s mother Sarita (Michelle Wilson) does not have too much screentime, but the rapport she has with her daughter balances adroitly the stern with the nurturing.

~ Zora Howard is a wondrous actress and poet.  Her expressions, body language, and line delivery converge into a conduit for vicarious living, love-making, struggling, growing, and forgiving.  Watching her is like slipping into another consciousness, such is what cinema purports to accomplish and she does it exceptionally well.  Her acting training comes from theatre, according to this Elle.com interview — that explains it.

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Poetry serves a significant narrative and thematic role.  The film opens with a voice-over of a poem spoken by the main character:

When I close my eyes,
you are there.
When they open,
I cannot tell
which parts of me
are still mine
where you begin,
I end.

The rest of the poems are distributed throughout the film to punctuate turning points.

Second poem voice-over:
What is this moving
inside me?
It blooms.
Aches.
The absence of you
is heavy as the weight.
I won’t submit.
You say my name,
the borders shift.
You make a map of me
in the nooks and cracks
of me make space.
What did I know of my heart
before you gave it shape?

Third poem voice-over:
Whenever it comes
the flood of you
rushing toward me
I’ll be ready
I’ll be unafraid.

Fourth poem voice-over:
I am to the brim
All the in-betweens of me
joint, socket, cleft, leap.
Heave the flood.
When it breaks,
I fear there’ll be no sound.
I cannot move.
I’ll watch it come.

Before the fall,
everything is still.
This is how
I will remember it all.
The living flee to high ground.
Time’s less-full hands
close in.
I will make shelter
where we stand.
They will call my wait in vain.
Let them.

Fifth poem recitation/voice-over (Isaiah asks Ayanna to read a poem after he flips through her poetry journal):
Summer was our holy city.
You, me,
and the sun marking our strut
like it had money on us.
Seventeen, and ready to bury
my body in this country.
Be his high
yellow honeysuckle.
His black-footed daisy.
Peel back my petals,
cover my skin like a womb.
My mama calls grown
and a fool.
I mean, I sort of liked him in May
like-liked him by June.
So come September
I was smoking Slims
and singing Smokey.
I was in love
which we couldn’t
stay out of, huh?”

Sixth poem becomes a song that Dymond sings in a club:
I was just leavin’ town
Didn’t think
you’d come around
Long-legged coast will call
Tickets to the show
And the open road

So John Forbid
I say somethin’
that I don’t mean?
What did I know
of my heart at seventeen
Crooked sermons
And three words
that don’t mean nothin’
Wish I’d known
We were too young
to live this old
We were too young
to live this old.
x3

~!~

I had to transcribe the dialogue from one of my favorite scenes of a discussion that Isaiah, Dymond (Myha’la Herrold) and her guitarist have about making art:

Darius (W. Tre Davis), Isaiah’s co-producer:  I don’t want to make art that plays to your expectation. Is shit fucked up here? Absolutely, no question about it, but if every artist feels compelled to shovel the same shit, where is the room for unique vision?
Dymond: Spoken like a true artist.
Darius: No, no, no. I’m serious, though. Everthing’s going to sound like everything else if folks keep rappin’ about the same shit.

K-Starr (Ade Otukoya): Well, if that’s the case, there wouldn’t be no James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, [Bob] Dylan, Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets–
Darius: See? Now here we go. You trying to compare the late 60s and it’s not the same!
K-Starr: Ain’t it?
Darius: Man…them motherfuckers were ready to fight and die for their beliefs. When protests was more than a hashtag!
Dymond: And a selfie.
K-Starr: But as black artists, it’s our responsibility to say something.
Darius: I ain’t a black artist. I’m a white artist. (chuckles)
Dymond: You are so stupid!
Darius (continues chuckling): Oh, y’all didn’t know? Shit, I want us to get paid out here. I ain’t fucking’ with y’all.

Dymond: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, but all art is inherently political. Ain’t it?
Darius: But here’s the thing, right? Most of these motherfuckers raisin’ they fists ain’t about shit. They ain’t got no stake in the struggle. All they know is the shit’s gonna sell…And most of these fools, you ain’t gonna see ’em in a rally unless it’s a Twitter or Instagram…these cat’s is frontin’.
Dymond: Frontin’ on Front Street.
Darius: Straight up. What, what you think, black? (looks at offscreen Isaiah).

Isaiah: I don’t know…I think music is sacred. Each artist will respond in their own way and in their own time.
K-Starr: The whole world is watching right now, waiting to see what we gonna do.
Isaiah: Right, but his resistance may not be your resistance, or my resistance may not be her resistance, but it’s resistance nonetheless.
Darius: That’s what I’m saying.
Dymond: I heard that.
Isaiah: The eternal search for truth and the divine, that’s what I’m after.
K-Starr: This is our truth! Right now, we gotta fight back for what we believe in. Y’all want somethin’ else.

Isaiah: No, I hear you, but look, look. When Coltrane went upstairs and locked himself in that room and then, for what, two weeks? And out poured the “Love Supreme.” It ain’t like shit wasn’t bad or even worse then. But I don’t think he was fightin’. Nah, he was makin’ love to the divine….What’s beyond the noise? Beyond what everybody’s telling you to do? Sure, this might be hot right now but you gotta move beyond this moment…to the eternal, beyond the prosaic to touch the profound and encounter the divine. To make magic that engages us beyond time and place. That’s what I’m after.

K-Starr: Well, it’s this time and place that concerns me.
Isaiah: All right, but then what? What’s next? Huh? Because what is this moment really? This moment is fleeting. (snaps fingers) See? It ain’t even here no more.

~!~

Watch the trailer.
Watch the scene about being black in America.

Check out this interview with the director and the two main co-stars:

* Technically it’s four futures (spoilers ahead, highlight relevant words at your own discretion): 1. Keep the baby and go to college.  2. Keep the baby and convince Isaiah to be a responsible father, potentially derailing both of them from following their adulthood dreams.  3. Get an abortion and go to college like nothing happened.  4.  Get an abortion (and tell or don’t tell Isaiah) and go on like nothing happened.

Pic creds: IMDB and IFC Films

Kalki Koechlin and Sobhita Dhulipala Made in Heaven

Seventy-two hours ago I had no idea that Kalki Koechlin and Sobhita Dhulipala existed.  And yet, when I saw their faces in the trailer for Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti‘s TV series Made in Heaven (2019), my jaw dropped because of how familiar both actresses seemed to me.  Despite having a dozen+ films and shows on my Amazon Prime watchlist, I’ve not done a proper job of watching even half of that content.  Once I saw Kalki and Sobhita’s countenances, though, I dove promptly into the series and nearly binge-watched all nine episodes of the first season in one sitting.

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Before the first episode was half over, I knew why they both looked so familiar to me — they remind me of other Asian artists.

Kalki made me think of Hong Kong actress Karen Mok.
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Sobhita made me think of Lisa from Kpop girl-group BlackPink.
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There are also hints of Rosario Dawson and Deepika Padukone.

Watch Kalki Koechlin talk:

Watch Karen Mok talk:

Watch Sobhita Dhulipala talk:

Fancam focus on Lisa:

Out of all the foreign film and TV content that I watch somewhat or very consistently, visual media from South Asia is not as prevalent as that of East Asia, France, Italy, and Spanish-speaking nations.  Thus, I don’t know if what I liked about Made in Heaven would be considered lame, problematic, cloying, or overly formulaic — and I did find it highly entertaining and poignant.  I must add that Vijay Raaz was a scene-stealer.  You may remember him from Mira Nair‘s Monsoon Wedding (2001).

Pic creds: IMDB, BlackPink Official Tumblr, Ladies of Cpop Tumblr, YT screenshots