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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Thoughts on No Más Bebés

I highly recommend the documentary No Más Bebés, directed by Renee Tajima-Peña. It is streaming on PBS' website, and is about Mexican immigrant mothers in L.A. who were sterilized without their consent or knowledge after their childbirths in the 1960s and 1970s (due to eugenics about controlling the population of poor people) and a young Chicana feminist lawyer in the 1970s, who empowered the women to sue the hospitals & government and gain reproductive rights for all women.

The women, many of whom were Mexican immigrants who understood little English, were manipulated and coerced into signing documents in English (which they couldn't read or write), often times being told they were signing for a C-section or that it was for a critical surgical procedure post-birth that they would die from if they didn't sign the release. The women didn't know about the sterilizations until years later, and it had devastating effects on them and their marriages and families. The feminists who fought for their rights, as well as the women who made their stories public, were really brave and courageous to do this.

It is a really fascinating documentary, and I learned more about Chicana life, reproductive rights, feminism, and human rights.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Thoughts on A Time for Laughter

I enjoyed attending a discussion at the Museum of the Moving Image on Saturday called The Color of Comedy, about black and brown voices in comedy.

The discussion started with a screening of a 1967 TV special called A Time for Laughter, which was produced by Harry Belafonte and hosted by Sidney Poitier. It was an hour of sketches that was a showcase of black humor, satire, and self-parody, and was amazing to watch. The show features a great cast of legendary comedians like Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor, and Dick Gregory, and other names I didn't know like George Kirby, Pigmeat Markham, and Godfrey Cambridge.

The sketches were really ballsy and risky for their day, featuring a sketch with blackface (a white guy learns song & dance from a black man and performs in blackface); a suburban black couple pretend to be white and piss off their black maid (Mabley), a civil rights marcher (Gregory) cracks jokes about the police and racism while in jail with a lot of his fellow marchers; a nervous undertaker (Pryor) has to deliver the eulogy at a funeral when the priest doesn't show up; and a pool hustler (Foxx) talking about poverty and civil rights. I was amazed at how the show got away with showing blackface in a social commentary way, the n-word being said a lot, and a lot of risk-taking in being very blunt about racism and civil rights, while still presenting black humor not neutered for white folks.

I especially enjoyed Pryor's hilarious performance and his impeccable comic timing and nervous energy in the character; Redd Foxx for playing to the camera like it was someone's POV, being totally at ease as the camera moves with him around the pool table, and being an excellent storyteller; Dick Gregory bringing this down-to-earth realism as he was talking about Black Power; and Moms Mabley's comedic body language as she mocks her wannabe "white" black employers.

The panel discussion was fascinating, with a variety of mostly Black comedians (and one Indian man and one Dominican man) speaking about their history in comedy, facing racial setback, being inspired by their heroes and peers, and using comedy to both bring awareness to social issues as well as celebrating a variety of Black experiences.

I did ask a question, more because one of the sketches in the show seemed like an inspiration to Eddie Murphy (the barbershop scene in Coming to America with Murphy and Arsenio Hall as multiple characters), and they said Murphy was likely more inspired by Pryor from Any Which Way But Loose (Pryor played multiple characters in a scene), but that Pryor likely got his inspiration from George Kirby's barbershop scene, as well as his own storytelling style of talking about people he knew growing up in a brothel.

It was really great to see, and I liked just listening and learning a lot from hearing about their experiences and seeing the TV special of legendary comedians (which also included vintage commercials for Pepto-Bismol, cigarettes, aspirin, and Welch's grape juice).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - A Film Review

I really enjoyed watching the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It is about The Cannon Group, a film company that made low-budget movies, which genres mostly comprised of action, exploitation, crime thrillers, sci-fi, and a children's division.

The company was run by two Israeli guys who were passionate about filmmaking, and totally outside the Hollywood system, more into pumping out low-quality movies with crazy amounts of sex and violence, that they saw as Oscar material. And throughout the documentary, the actors and directors just trash them constantly, for damaging their careers or ripping them off or being difficult to work with. One actress even burns a VHS copy of the movie she was in, to show how disgusted she was by it. The film producers had also often went over budget and didn't make their money back, ripped off investors, went into debt, and had burned many bridges due to their careless attitudes.

I still enjoy these movies, because I love that the filmmakers were ballsy and wild, made these ridiculous movies because of a genuine love of cinema, and just going for it. Some of the movies they made were films that I enjoyed in my childhood: Invaders from Mars and Missing in Action. And I enjoyed Runaway Train, Bloodsport, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Kickboxer, and Over the Top. I did not like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace because it had a terrible villain and I didn't like the preachy, self-righteous attitude of the story, and the special effects were dreadful.

And I was glad that this movie pointed out the same reasons I had for not liking the Death Wish series. As a kid, I had seen a TV promo for the Death Wish movies being shown on WPIX all week, and seeing an old man gun down people at night in rundown neighborhoods was disturbing to me. I tried watching Death Wish II and III, but couldn't stand them. I hated seeing rape being depicted in an exploitative, titillating matter (with nudity and showing the rape in full view( or seeing an old white middle-class man go into rundown ghetto neighborhoods and gun down any minority who looked like a thug. It wasn't something to root for, the movies were just gross. So I was glad others felt the same.

Thoughts on The Last Five Years

I watched The Last Five Years yesterday. The story itself isn't too interesting (a romantic relationship falls apart, and the story is told out of chronological order with the leads singing solos about their relationship), but it was an adventurous step for a movie adapted from a stage musical.

Anna Kendrick is cute and charming, and has a high, melodic mezzo-soprano voice that is lovely to hear. I also liked seeing her performance in playing someone going through heartbreak, career disappointments, and trying to stay supportive as her man succeeds in life. Jeremy Jordan was affable, but I hated it whenever he sang loudly, it just hit my ears hard, like he was yelling. His acting performance was decent, his singing just got irritating to me because it sounded turned up to 11 frequently.

I initially had turned it off because the movie is pretty much all singing, and I am not into musicals. I gave it another chance, and the charm grew on me, but it can still feel like a lot to hear a lot singing with little speaking time in between.

Thoughts on Pride & Prejudice and Zombies

I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, though it could have been better. I enjoyed the scenes of the Bennett sisters fighting zombies, training with each other in hand-to-hand combat while exchanging dialogue about proper decorum, joking around, and being supportive of one another. The film had an awesome animated opening sequence, and I really liked a duel scene between Lizzie and Darcy. That scene had wit and charm and a spunky life to it. And I really liked the performances of Lily James as Lizzie (headstrong and intelligent), Matt Smith as an awkward suitor, and Lena Headey as a badass eyepatch-wearing zombie hunter. The story idea was fun and clever, and it seemed like the actresses playing the sisters were having fun with this twist on a typical English period drama.

The negatives were the casting of Sam Riley as Darcy. His acting was dull and boring, and he was miscast for the role. The first two thirds of the film were fun to watch, but the last third was a drag. It was dreary-looking, and lost the momentum of the film's pairing of horror with comedy. I already guessed the villain's surprise reveal long before it happened, and I just stopped caring. I also wanted to see more teamwork with the sisters throughout the film, not just focusing on Lizzie and Jane and forgetting the others.

And since I ragged on Natalie Portman last week, I will give her good credit for co-producing this movie, as it was a smart choice to be a part of this film. Two points for her.