Unbearable Whiteness of Being

So, the Brits are making a weird post 9/11 road trip movie following the apparently true tale of Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor going on a road trip after…well, 9/11.  I suppose it is ripe for a comedic take.

But the main reason anyone is talking about the film is they cast Joseph Fiennes as…wait for it… Michael Jackson.

The most iconic black celebrity in the past 50 years of pop entertainment…is set to be played by a white guy.  The defense, of course, is that the film takes place at a point where Jackson looks really white.  And so, if they cast a black actor, they would have to do a lot of make-up to lighten the actors skin.

The thing is, Jackson never expressed a disdain for his blackness, he saw himself as a black man.  Many claim he bleached his skin.  This is certainly a distinct possibility, as he had vitiligo.  This often occurs in patches, and bleaching is actually a way to try and even out skin tone in patients.  People stick to the belief that Michael Jackson was trying to look white, due to his extensive surgeries.  There is no actual evidence of this, other than people want to believe it.  But the fact is, there is no basis for this.  What seems more likely, is Jackson fell into the same trap as many other celebrities who get plastic surgery.  He became obsessed with getting operation after operation, likely to sometimes “fix” previous surgeries.

Casting white actors in black roles has an effect that is quite different than doing the reverse.  There are many roles for white actors out there.  But in television and film, your cast is often comprised of white people.  And frankly, Fiennes does not look like Michael Jackson simply because he is white.  I mean, if Joe was a dead ringer for Jackson, there might be a defense here…but literally the only thing they have in common is paleness.

Fiennes will, in fact, have to go under extensive makeup and prosthetic effects to look like Jackson.  So, this is different from doing the same for a black actor how?

Vengeance Is a Dish Best Served Cold (The Revenant, 2015)

the-revenant-movie-posterRevenant: Definition one, a person who returns.  Definition two, a person who returns as a spirit or ghost.  The film works on both those levels.  Going in, based on early word and promotions, this may have struck you as a revenge movie with Leonardo DiCaprio fighting a bear.

And those things are there.  The bear attack is intense and brutal.  It also leads to DiCaprio’s High Glass’ quest for revenge on Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald.  After their fur trapping group is attacked by a group of Native Americans.  They are seeking the Chief’s kidnapped daughter and believe Glass’s crew has her.  The survivors escape due to Glass’s knowledge of the wilderness.  His main goal is protecting his son.

While scouting ahead, Glass is attacked and has a fight with a large mother bear.  His group tries to patch him up, but ultimately, they agree to go ahead while Fitzgerald, Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) stay with the incapacitated Glass.

Things go south as Fitzgerald becomes impatient, wishing Glass would just die.  As I said, the film is a revenge film.  But it is not a revenge film like we might get starring Liam Neeson or Mel Gibson.  Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014’s Birdman) takes his time.  Much of the film simply follows Glass struggling to survive a harsh winter, mostly alone, when he can barely walk.  The actual seeking of revenge does not occur until near the end of the movie.

It is beautifully shot, capturing much of the beauty that can be found even in harsh winters.  Iñárritu skillfully will focus on a sunrise as seen through frozen bare tree branches.  And the performances are what one would expect from talent like DiCaprio and Hardy.  There are long quiet stretches, that get broken up by harsh and brutal violence.

I don’t know that the Revenant is truly a film that invites repeat watches, it is not a film where you need to mine it for themes buried deep.  Instead, it is laid bare on the table.  It is a film that sticks with you well after leaving the theater.

Odd Pairings

On a recent episode of the Nightly Show, host Larry Wilmore discussed the #OscarsSoWhite issue with his panel.  It was a brief discussion, but Wilmore made an observation that did not fully work for me.  He asked if black performers are getting offered the opportunities that white performers have.

The-Martian-kevin-hartThis was not actually the part that “troubled” me.  I think this is true for non-white performers in general.  But Wilmore cracked a joke about the Martian starring Kevin Hart not carrying the same weight.  And yeah, the Martian starring Kevin Hart suggests a different type of film than the Martian Starring Matt Damon.  But then, so does the Martian Starring Will Farrell.  Like Hart, Farrell tells me such a film would most likely be some brand of comedy, rather than an Oscar Nominated drama.

Put Idris Elba, David Oyelowo or Chiwetel Ejiofor (admittedly, already in the Martian) in the role of Mark Watney and I suspect you still have an Oscar Nominated performance.  I get the joke Wilmore was making, but feel it is kind of unfair to compare a dramatic actor with a comedic actor.  It might be more workable if Hart had pulled off the switch from largely comedic based actor to a more multi-layered performer, but he is not there yet.

Being the Alien (The Martian, 2015)

The_Martian_posterFor being a comedy, (thanks People’s Choice Awards) The Martian feels pretty serious.

That does not mean it is devoid of humor.  Really, most any solid drama with have humor to break tension.  And considering the situation Mark Watley (Matt Damon) finds himself in?  Tension needs to break.  After an accident leaved Watley left behind on Mars, (believed dead) he finds himself struggling to find a way to last until the next mission to Mars can pick him up…in about four years.

The Martian is a thrilling account of survival that manages to be filled with concern and joy.  Ridley Scott likes his epics, but this is very low key in that regard.  Instead, it is a focus on character and endurance.  We get a window into Watley’s thoughts by way of his video recording everything he is doing as a journal.  On the one hand, this could have felt like weighty exposition, and some might wonder why the filmmakers did not opt for the near silence of the first half of Castaway.

Damon’s delivery is light and accessible, rather than clunky, and it is easy to connect with the character.  One of the film’s strengths is how it manages to give us insight to our characters very quickly, especially the crew.  We meet them mere moments before the storm that separates Watley.  And yet, you get a feel for the relationship of this crew and the dedication they have to each other in those few minutes.

The cast is very strong, everybody turning in enjoyable performances.  The visuals are solid, considering it is a lot of reddish sand and rock.  Scott really seems to like films set on barren planets.

The Martian is an engaging sci-fi drama well worth viewing.

Green Flashes

Greenlantern+New+Film+PosterI had not paid attention to this before…but I realized this week, some of the same people that gave us the Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern brought us Arrow, Flash, Supergirl.  This includes Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim.  And I have to say, in some ways it is very obvious.

The film draws heavily on characters from the comics, though sometimes to poor effect.  Amanda Waller, for example.  She is simply a scientist named Amanda Waller.  That is supposed to a cool Easter Egg for fans.  But aside from getting her race correct, the film gives us an uninteresting scientist…not the Wall.

Based on the Flash?  This would seem mystifying.  The Flash does Easter Eggs extremely well.  Except, there is also Arrow.  Arrow is problematic most of the time.  Relying all too much on Flashbacks and a darker tone than appropriate for the Green Arrow…it has gotten by on a likable cast.  But from the first season, it was incredibly obvious that the creators of Arrow did not want to make a Green Arrow show, but a Batman show.  They just could not get the greenlight for it.  The same thing happened on Smallville.


And we see the same problems in 2011’s Green Lantern.  There are some great things in the film.  Marc Strong’s performance as Sinestro stands out.  However, the film was designed to kick off a franchise.  And yet, it makes Hal Jordan’s first fight against a universe sized threat.  Where do you go from that?  Instead of keeping it small, allowing Hal to save the planet, rather save the entire universe right away.

There are no other future Lanterns introduced.  I mean, seriously, you want an Easter Egg?  Introduce John Stewart in the film(He was cut from the script).

In addition, when this film came out, Marvel was only a year away from the hotly anticipated Avengers.  DC and the WB had a very prime opportunity to start building that shared universe they desperately wanted.  The script even considered showing Clark Kent in a brief cameo as a candidate for the ring and the film has a sign for Central City.  It was cut on the idea of not relying on other heroes.  So, we ended up with a closed universe.  This could have opened the door and with a better setup than we got from Man of Steel.

I was disappointed, in the end, with Green Lantern because it falls short all to easily.  Seeing what Berlanti and Guggenheim have pulled off on the Flash makes me wonder how much involvement they had in the final product.

Suicidal Glee

Folks are talking about the new Suicide Squad Posters…and drawing comparisons to the Superman V Batman posters.

Here is the new trailer:

Uh…and here is the most recent Batman v Superman:

Notice anything?  Like the posters?  The trailer for the Suicide Squad suggest an energetic and fun film.  I was not sure how well the Suicide Squad would translate, after all, it is comprised of established bad guys from the DC Universe.  There is a sense of goofiness amid the grit and violence.  The attitude coming across is not grim.

Batman V Superman?  It seems like a dour and angry affair.  Nobody cracks a smile (aside from Lex Luthor).  It is trying so hard to scream “Epic”, it misses that there should be cheer.  It should be inspiring.

Suicide Squad (like Deadpool) is showing a gritty violent side paired with a wink and a smirk.  A bit of joy, almost.  Batman v Superman?  It pairs gritty and dark violence with a joyless intensity.  And I wonder how that can be.  How is it that the band of bad guys forced to be heroic looks way more fun than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman???

Early Reports of Death


The early reports from folks who have seen Deadpool are coming in, and they are quite positive.  Deadpool is a film that exists predominantly due to the fact that fans (and that includes Ryan Reynolds) want it really bad, like really bad.

And yet, part of me suspects it may be an overall flop, even if it is loved by critics.  Right now?  It is the fan community getting to see it.  Of course, Fox wants that positive word of mouth.  And it is encouraging to hear that the filmmakers really get what makes the comics and character so entertaining.

The ad campaign is very tongue in cheek and funny.

And yet, I wonder…will that all translate to success with a wider audience?  Is the Deadpool fanbase enough to make this film a hit?  Will the dark and violent humor translate outside that target market?  It make, but I suspect that right now, this film may not be the success some are anticipating, precisely because it appears to be very reverent to it’s source material.

Favorite Films of 2015

There are a lot of movies I have not seen.  So bear that in mind.  If you are wondering why the Room is not on this list?  It is cause I have not seen it.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
    Biggest surprise of this year for me.  When first announced, I thought there was no way this could work.  It would be a lesser sequel to a franchise that puttered out over 20 years ago.  And yet, George Miller came back to his franchise and blew the audience away.  The film is insane with it’s visuals.  It’s characters are minimal yet compelling.  it has a positive message.  and it is amazingly re-watchable.
  2.  Selma
    Ava DuVernay has given us a powerful gut punch of history.  The performances are excellent and the film pierces the heart.
  3. Creed
    Like Fury Road, this one totally surprised me.  It was the smartest way to continue the franchise with great performances from Jordan and Stallone.  The story is compelling and inspiring.
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    Introducing lovable new characters, bringing back beloved heroes and putting the prequels to the best use possible…I greatly enjoyed this.
  5. What We Do In Shadows
    Thanks, New Zealand.  This mock documentary follows four Vampire Flat mates and manages to mine laughs from even the most awful parts of vampire lore.  Very funny film.
  6. Maggie
    A small and personal zombie film with one of Schwarzenegger’s strongest performances.
  7. Jupiter Ascending
    A much maligned film, it is like watching a live action Anime.  it gets goofy at times, but like most Wachowski Sibling films visually stunning.
  8. Mr. Holmes
    A typically thoughtful performance from Ian McKellan and a movie that is comfortable moving at a slower pace.  Having a compelling story allows them to take there time without becoming boring.
  9. Ant-Man
    This was such a fun change of pace after the more grim Age of Ultron.  It had a strong and likable cast.
  10. Krampus
    This one was just a light fun holiday scare movie that I enjoyed immensely.

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