Why, Hollywood, Why?

December 20, 2009

Last night I went to the movies and, as is now par for the course, was bombarded by commercials for twenty-five minutes prior to the screening. By the time the previews started, I would’ve gladly watched almost anything that didn’t scream at me to shop at Wal-Mart or switch my “3G network”—whatever that is—and I largely held back judgment on the films being advertised. But then I saw this.

A lot of folks on the internets are mad at Chris Rock for remaking what they consider a “great British comedy,” but with all due respect, those people are idiots. 2007’s Death At a Funeral was less a true British comedy than a labored American facsimile, directed by Frank Oz with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head. Largely ignored in the States and trashed in the UK, the film faded away soon after its release, and with good reason. Alas, someone must’ve decided the original was too sophisticated for American audiences (particularly African Americans) and has remade the film a mere three years after its release. With a star-studded black cast, yes, but also with what appears to be an otherwise identical script and story, down to the title and the casting of Peter Dinklage as a blackmailing gay midget (what, was Tony Cox not available?)

My question is, why? The first Death At a Funeral may not have done well with black audiences, but then it didn’t do too well with the rest of us either, and besides, anyone who didn’t see it the first time is undoubtedly better off. Why punish black audiences for being wise enough to steer clear of a shitty film in the first place? And why remake a movie, black or otherwise, that recieved poor reviews, did poor box office numbers, and is still relatively fresh in the minds of moviegoers?

I wish I’d asked Danny Glover these questions when I ran into him at Fort Funston last year. Not wanting to disturb the veteran thespian, I merely nodded and let him pass. After Death At A Funeral hits theatres, he may want to stay inside for a while.

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Et tu, Jim?

August 16, 2009

Isaach de Bankolé as The Lone Man.

Jim Jarmusch is an undoubtedly talented director, and he’s also responsible for one of the best hip-hop-related movies of all time. That said, his films  have a tendency to be overlong and somewhat self-indulgent. Even films like Dead Man and Down By Law, widely considered some of his best work, are—let’s face it—really fucking hard to watch in one sitting. But while they could benefit from some heavy editing, at least those films boast characters, dialogue, and plots that make the experience worthwhile, even if you do have to keep your eyes pried open Clockwork Orange-style.

The same can not be said for Jarmush’s latest, The Limits of Control, an exercise in arthouse pretension that creates a new cinematic standard for boring. You know a film is tedious when the most interesting thing that happens in its two-hour runtime is that the protagonist changes clothes. Once. Aside from the location and camerawork (the film is beautifully shot in various parts of Spain) there is nothing remotely interesting about this movie, which consists of a “mysterious” man (played by Ghost Dog’s Isaach De Bankolé) sleeping and ordering coffee at cafés, as well as engaging (read: looking forward stoically) in the odd conversation with the likes of Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Gael García Bernal, none of whom ever make any sense. It’s as if Jarmusch is torturing the audience on purpose; when a horny nude woman appears in his hotel room—promising to provide at least some respite from the monotony, however brief—De Bankolé explains that he doesn’t have sex while he’s working. Instead he goes to sleep next to her, on top of the covers, in that same fucking blue suit. And so it goes. We watch De Bankolé walk around, ride trains, do tai-chi (no, really) and occasionally look at a painting in Madrid’s Reina Sofía museum. The film’s payoff, if you can call it that, makes as little sense as the muck preceding it, and as the credits roll you find yourself wondering how a project like this ever got greenlighted. Jarmusch must be the fucking Lebron James of pitchmen.

As I left the theater (San Francisco’s Red Vic), I expected to hear other audience members bashing the film, but to my surprise they were completely silent. It was as if they were afraid to admit they hadn’t liked it, for fear of appearing stupid or “too mainstream.” Well I’m going to come right out and say it: The Limits of Control is total bullshit. And it hurts me to say that, given that Ghost Dog is one of my all-time favorite films. But fuck it—it’s the truth.