Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Turning up the color on my TV

Ramblings Post #322
I am of the opinion that what I am doing now is preparing for the next stage in life. In that stage a lot of the trivial things that cause us needless anxiety will be be banished to the far edges of my periphery, and my concerns, although esoteric, will be much more palatable. This is a fancy way of saying in the not too distant future I want my major problem to be deciding what to have for lunch. By the way, this has absolutely nothing to do with the piece that follows. Thank you. 

So I tried to do my part and watch some television focused on people who look like me, and didn't quite make it. 

I started with Queen Sugar, a new slow drama on Oprah's network. I'm not quite sure what the deal is there, because I was only able to get through the first thirty minutes before I just couldn't sit there anymore. In that first thirty minutes we meet three of the main characters, the rich daughter in LA, the earthy daughter who sells a little weed, the son who is just desperate and the impetus of the story, the father who works as a janitor at night and still has some beautiful acreage that used to be produce a nice sugar crop.   

And in this half hour where had this Empire - someone would have gotten shot, three people would tried a hostile company takeover, the company would have been in financial peril, two albums would have dropped, an evil twin would show up and someone would have gone to prison and got out. But on the slightly more sedate Queen Sugar, I think you got a day and a half where ONE scandal broke and one store got robbed. The characters and scenes just linger, with lots of long pauses and wide shots of Bayou that make you wonder if the show is sponsored by the tourist board.

I stopped watching however, because of the little boy. The desperate son has a child named Blue, and just looking at him made me wonder if parenting isn't such a bad thing. He's that cute. And because he was such an effective little emotional tool, looking at one point just so sad because the other kids won't come to his birthday party, I couldn't watch anymore. Because this isn't a comedy where he'll have three or four smart lines an episode, this is a drama which means that child character is going to experience nothing but heartache. And since I understand the first of his many tragedies happened in the first episode, because the whole thing is based on a book about the adults teaming up to keep the farm after the father passes, I'm not really up for watching children, even just actors, go through those kind of emotions regularly on a Tuesday night. So this isn't for me.
Atlanta. via Donald Glover.
So I flipped over to FX and caught the rebroadcast of the premiere of Atlanta, Donald Glover's show about the ...um, well, it's about something.

There is something weird about Donald Glover, and I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm just old, but the show seems to move between goof ball comedy (the WET lemon pepper wings glowing inside the box) to goof ball weird (the guy on the bus demanding Glover eat a sandwich) to family drama to racial statement to police and sexuality issues (the episode Earn spends in processing) to an exploration of blackness and celebrity from the inside. Donald's character is broke, a father, a ivy league school college drop-out, his parents are tired of giving him money and just seems lost. All of which would be cool if this were an indie film, but as a weekly show leaves something to be desired. And for a show that on it's face appears to be about the nuances of a certain type of blackness*, Glover's character seems... other. Not white middle class, but some odd hybrid that certainly exists somewhere in real life, but is hard to relate to or identify with.     

I like the other characters, his cousin, the Paper Boi, who is rough, rugged and raw but also thoughtful is very interesting. Far too often a thug character is just bad, instead here is more realistically depicted as someone who becomes aware of how is actions are affecting those around him. Paper Boi's sidekick character may just be pure comedy relief, as he always feels like you're only getting half the conversation - but since the other half is strictly in his head, you're not missing what you think you are. That he sounds like Dave Chappelle and looks like he could be Chapelle's younger hungrier brother only makes it funnier. I want to comment on the woman supporting Glover's character, but we barely see enough of the baby's mother in the first two episodes to get a good feel for her, other than she is doing okay while he struggles. 

A lot of the story is quiet, but deceptive in what it shows and what we take from it. Take the scene where up with the mother of his child, who he still intimate with, only to find out she has a date that night so he'll need to watch their child. Had the positions been reversed, the guy would have been viewed with disdain. I've read other reviews, and it's taken as just a woman exploring her options because the main character is supposed to be so downtrodden. Interesting. Or the white character casually using the N-word with Donald Glover's character, but realizing that wouldn't be wise with other black people around. Little things. That aside, I think this show will live or die on just how interesting the audience finds the city of Atlanta, which is being pushed as a character in the story, much as a story about NY would emphasize how much the borough shapes it's inhabitants. There is a scene in the second episode where the guy just starts telling Glover's character his story because he just needs to tell someone, has actually happened to me. And that guy sounded just like the guy on the show  - a distinctive Southern urban patios that is as identifiable as face tattoo. But that vibe is an acquired taste. Still, a story where the hero rides the bus should always be given a chance. 

So Queen Sugar looks like it might be something, so far well written and expansive for sure, but I'm not gonna sit there and watch it every week because reasons. But I think people should see for themselves what's up with that. As far as the FX offering, as soon as I can figure out exactly what Atlanta is supposed be, I'm certain I'll enjoy it more. A quirky rap political statement comedy?  

Barkeep. I need a some wings, fries and beer. You got buffalo wing sauce? No, not medium, buffalo wing. Fine, lemon pepper then. 

*Contrary to popular belief, black people are not socially homogeneous. A black man can listen rap and appreciate Jordans, or prefer jazz and want to rope cattle on weekends. The Autobiography of Malcom X or Beowulf. We are all different, yet all black.  

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Movie Trailers. Seriously.

Ramblings #321
I am a creative. I write the stories that run through my head, with that neat program on my Ipad I pretend to make music riffs, and I have some canvas and as soon as I remember to buy that paint...and those brushes...and maybe a smock, I'm gonna paint something. Oh, and the movie. But I'm also fairly well versed in business, so I realize it's not JUST the talent, but also packaging and marketing. Which brings me to this....

Seriously, who is responsible for trailers in Hollywood? Which editor? Because I watched the whole of the new Eddie Murphy movie in 2 minutes, and while it looks very good, a little over saturated with emotional  treacle and using what looks like the old Magical Black Person trope, but still good. The trailer however under cut the entire reason for seeing it, because you can practically see the whole thing. A lot of the dramatic tension just gone.
You don't believe me? Here is what I gathered from the TWO minute trailer - A mother is dying, and her ex (or possibly just the daughter's father) arranges for Mr. Church (Murphy) to come and cook for the family. The little girl initially hates him but comes to love him. Mother slowly deteriorates. Daughter gets accepted to college and daughter hates mother for dying too soon. Mother dies. Daughter thinks her life is over as well, but Church gives her the money to go to college. She goes to college, at some point she gets pregnant and comes back to Mr. Church. Something happens, perhaps a complication or an accident, but an older Church comes to the hospital and gets her, giving her a place to stay. She defends her relationship with the older black man, one that is entirely paternalistic, by explaining to some unknown potential antagonist figure that she now knows that after the money her mother had ran out Church for some reason (possibly love) somehow supported them. Mr. Church then helps the daughter raise her own child, for which he is grateful. Mr. Church has some secret he wants no one to know about.

This is two minutes of trailer. Two minutes. See for yourself.

Explain to me why I now still have to go see this movie? I like Eddie Murphy. I've thought of him as a grand untapped dramatic talent after his terrific Oscar nominated turn in Dreamgirls, so I'm happy to see him in something that gives him a chance to stretch. But after the trailer, my entire impetus for maybe seeing this film is over. I know most of the story now, with the only mystery is what the character Church is hiding. I know the mother dies, the girl gets to go to college, she gets pregnant and has a baby, and Church doesn't die .... unless the whole thing is a flashback at Church's funeral. 

Can we please stop this? This give us all the high points deal? Unless the trailers are going have SPOILER ALERT pop up after the first thirty seconds, the idea of giving away the entire film in the trailer just seems silly. Sure, I can watch the same movie over and over, but a film that I'm seeing the first time should still have a little leeway to surprise me, some dramatic tension. I don't know this one will still be able to do that.

I will reiterate an idea I proposed some time ago: A person creating a trailer should only be allowed to use footage from the first thirty minutes of a film, with the exception of a film involving a huge battle finale needed to show scale and scope - BUT the battle footage used cannot contain any named character. If the first half of the film isn't engaging, or can't be cut so that the trailer is engaging, then perhaps the film ought not have been shot in the first place. But that's just my opinion, and I'm not really anybody.

Barkeep. Wine. I feel erudite and critical of minute details and other silly crap like that. Something Scandinavian. Yes, a Scandinavian wine. Or Boone's farm.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gene Wilder was....

"It's pronounced, Fronk-en-steen."

And it was then I realized that Gene Wilder was just that good. 

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein
I don't remember the first time I saw Young Frankenstein, but I remember it was funny. Very funny. For a while even among us black college students if someone said "Blucher" someone else was expected to whinny.  Or maybe it was just the group I hung out with. As a child from the seventies and teenager of the eighties, I just missed what might of been the last golden age of comedy. |And now, as cable access and later the rise of the  internet has opened up our world, our response our comedy seems to have shrunk itself, catering more and more to a specific audience. Comedy usually comes from shared experience, and what's funny to say, someone from New York, or country fans, or "urban professionals" doesn't resonate with the rest of us like it used to. We've become niche funny in a niche world. 

But in the seventies and eighties, you had to be universally funny. Everyone had to get the joke. And Gene Wilder was genuinely funny. And the funny part of him being funny, the really funny part, is that he wasn't telling jokes. His talent was the reaction to a brilliant setup that left him with that prose taken out of context is just ordinary, but with him made funny. He was the straight man as funny. Wilder was the whole package: the writing, the timing, the looks he would give. We don't see that very much anymore. 

He will forever be remembered as Willy Wonka, that magical man and his factory that still thrills children, and former children, to this day. He was brilliant in Blazing Saddles as the Waco Kid, his turn as the aforementioned Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Fronk-en-steen) or his turn as the accountant with a dream in The Producers with Zero Mostel. And then there is the stuff of film legend, his classic parings with Richard Pryor in Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Pure Hollywood magic. Man but they were funny together. I hope they meet up in heaven. Well, I think Richard might be able to get day passes or something. (Richard was the greatest, but let's be real here.)
 
Mr. Wilder. We couldn't ask for more, and can't thank you enough. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Five Minutes watching: The Night of...

I used to not watch a lot of movies because I didn't have a lot of time. Now I have time, and a lot of television is horrible, and Turner Classic Movies isn't always on point. So, I watch a movie or two, or five, when I'm not writing, or reading, or playing video games, or sleep. You know, I guess I really don't watch a lot of movies. Go figure. 

This is really more of a critique/recap of the the last few episodes than anything else. Spoilers ahead by the ton, so if you haven't watched the series or the finale, ready the first paragraph comeback later after you're done. If you went into this thinking there would be a definitive ending, that we would find out what happened that night, that you're going to be sorely disappointed. I both like and don't like the ending, in that while there was no "earth shattering kaboom," the story doesn't as much end, as peter out into nothing and much like life, just keeps moving.

John Stone. Attorney. photo from HBO

First, to be honest, I didn't realize it was a ninety minute finale until the first half hour was over, which eased my fear that the show was going to end with the setup of the jury returning and the the setup being a fade to black there or an abrupt cut right after the phrase "We the jury find the accused Nasir Orenthal Khan..." Don't laugh, that's a critical darling dramatic ending, and I really didn't want to see it. What I really hoped to see that was that Naz would have been found not guilty in the first twenty minutes or so, and the rest of the episode focus on the aftermath for all the characters; from the mundane wheels of justice rolling on to Freddy figuring out his next move to Naz trying to figure out what happens from here, his relationship with his family or perhaps an examination of the current culture we live in, where verdicts don't matter just public opinion. But what we got was okay. 

I enjoyed a number of things about the series, and seeing the machinations that happen behind the scenes. What particularly rung true for me in this finale was the Prosecutor's decision to keep the case going even after Det. Box turned up new evidence. This was a perfect example of what happens sometimes, in that the prosecutor isn't interested in guilt or innocence, but only who can be reasonably prosecuted. It's an imperfect system, but it's what we have, and I think seeing it onscreen might give a few people pause after living with the nobility that was Law and Order for so long. I'd like to think that most of the time that once you get the guy with the bloody knife leaving the scene, well, then you've got your guy. But you've still got to do your due diligence, which this episode and Chandra's court room tactics showed the police clearly had not done. Which brings us to Chandra.
 
Poor Chandra. It was fascinating watching Chandra mature, then fall apart as the episodes went on. Pulled from legal obscurity into the courtroom, it looked like she was rising to the task and would end the series a slightly less jaded version of John Stone. So it was shock when she made out with Naz in holding, me screaming loudly at the television "what are you doing!?" And it just went down hill from there. I still can't for the life of me figure out why she decided to put Naz on the stand. That you do not do this is a basic concept of criminal law class, right up there with never ask a question for which you don't already know the answer. And that after she'd made that boneheaded decision, then saw her client was unstable, she KEPT GOING WITH IT, even bringing him the drugs he needed for his fix. This was the part that was beyond belief for me. Maybe she got a little overconfident with the him testifying thing, but for such a relatively naive lawyer to take such risks with her own career is just ....I'm still lost, why exactly I don't know.  

And then, after the disaster that was Naz's testimony, and it was a disaster, Box flipped the apple cart over by using the equivalent of  what is referred to in legal terms as a "noisy exit." By getting up and walking out during Helen's closing statement, loudly and looking disgusted, he may have been communicating with the jury that even he, the detective whom they knew had helmed the case wasn't okay with all this anymore. And it wasn't an accident, because having been on the force as long as he had, Box had to know what he was doing. Subtle beast indeed.  

And then we very neatly find out why John Stone, possessor of such a capable legal mind and wise to ways of the legal jungle relegates himself to the kind of law he practices. Despite his knowledge of what needs to be done, John almost can't do it. Forced to give the closing argument, his previously vanquished eczema returns with a vengeance, brought on by the stress of being responsible for man's life with his words. It was sad to watch in a way, and it explains why he pleads out clients he knows are guilty. It lets him sleep at night. But shrewd mind that he is, he's able to work his circumstance into his closing, sounding like a exhausted warrior at the end of a long battle giving that last rousing speech before he leads those who follow into hell. Which produces the definition of an  ambiguous hung jury. I was pleasantly surprised by Helen's decision not to re-try the case. But then I remembered Helen's uncharacteristically weak close, this after her almost gleeful gutting of the defendant. It was as though both she and Box had lost the heart to finish what they'd started.  

As stark as the case looked, and as disassociated as the characters were, it was nice to see bits of humanity seep through.as these cogs of the system going out on a limb for Naz. I'm sure that's what Chandra thought she was doing (after getting used by her boss for her race), but the real care came from John Stone and oddly, Freddy the prison bully. While John first seemed just interested in Naz as a client, a big payday and perhaps as the case that might change his career trajectory, he later became a shaman of sorts. Freddy I think, actually liked Naz as a person. It was Freddy who gave Naz the shoes for the shower, tried to get him the proper color shirt for trial, the private cell, and forgave him for not snitching. You could tell that even as the big bad, Freddy needed a friend, which is what he was finding in Naz. And then realizing his friend was innocent, made the move that should have gotten  his friend a mistrial save for a persnickety judge. This actual caring made it particularly sad that Freddy couldn't say goodbye to Naz when it was all over. 

Now....

Reading the overnights, I was expecting and found the howls of anguish at how Chandra's character was underdeveloped and wasted, which I read in large part to mean that it's a sexist racist misogynistic travesty that the woman of color didn't emerge the triumphant victor. As much as the parts which baffled me - the kiss, the drugs, the putting him on the stand - seem to come out of nowhere, the idea that she was under written, a plot device or part of the background after all the screen time she had is a hell of a stretch. Yes, she was introduced as a PR prop by a grandstanding attorney, but she turned into an able lawyer learning from an veteran lawyer, felt ashamed for her client's parents whom she tried to console, put together a pretty good case and maybe over identified with the client. Then a little heady from her success in exposing the narrow mindedness of the police investigation, got a little too cocky and went a little too far. It may have been ego which did it, we'll never know, because here is the part I didn't like: that we have no idea what comes next for her like we get for all the other principals. That part I'm angry about.  
 
Was it a good show? Yes, I found it worth the hours invested, and the hours I spent re-watching parts of it. It was well acted, well thought out as to be purposefully muddled, and excellently done from an acting standpoint. I liked it. 

Little Things....
 
■ There were a lot of little moments that became things later on.  I want to go back to the first episode and see if that new suspects photo was in the frame by the bed like I think it was.

■ I don't think they showed the passage of time right. There should have been about a year between the arrest and the court date, but it looks like he got arrested in October, and the trial was in February the following year - as evidenced by the date stamp on the camera that caught Chandra getting Naz his "stuff."- Seemed a little quick, but this is dramatized for your protection.

■ In trying to figure out why Chandra kissed Nas, and I think that the writers tried to setup a rationale but failed. During the lovable scene where Stone reveals the holy grail of jurors - Young urban females - Chandra admits she's depressed because she broke up with boyfriend, and now feels alone. Stone offers some weak sympathy, but we leave it there. Now, the prep for murder trial leaves little room for socializing, so it's possible that Naz and Chandra's shared loneliness caused a lapse in judgment. I realize I'm grasping at straws here, it's not like Chandra had a complete lack of sense. And if you could think of another way to get Stone into the first chair, let me know. 

■ It may have seemed like a tossed off moment, but I think two things spurred Box to try, even at the eleventh hour to go back to see what he missed. First, it was Chandra putting him on the stand to talk about his history, the procedure he'd disregarded and all the suspects he overlooked, and second, it was the overheard conversation in the bar, about the cop who doesn't care. Box realized he was that cop, that he'd become a bored professional, and it irked him.
 
■ John, lose the cat. I'm a dog guy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's a little Traffic between friends?

Ramblings Post #320
While the city of Atlanta contains one of the worst stretches of highway in the world that doesn't contain land mines, the rest of the city's traffic isn't really all that bad. Sure you've got your problem people on the road, but all in all if you know the proper side streets and connections you can get around pretty good. With rare exception. Or soon to be not so rare exception, if somebody doesn't do something soon. 

The Westside of Atlanta is hot right now. And by Westside I mean that tiny little bit of real estate parcels between Northside Drive and Marietta Blvd, right around the reservoir. Not to be confused with like, the actual west side of the city where all the black people live. The new restaurants, shopping, wine places, apartments are all fusing together to create that "place" feel that has been successful in Atlanta over the last decade (see Atlantic Station, Shoppes of Buckhead, Avalon.) A quick peruse of Curbed Atlanta shows that even more development is planned for this busy little corridor. So in the Westside, not on the West Side, it seems that everybody with a few million to rub together is trying to get in while the getting is good. 

Now I drive through this area pretty much everyday, as it's on the way to and from work. Note I said drive. Primarily because Atlanta has a slack public transportation system due to too many reasons to go into here, and partly because I no longer completely trust the parking lot at the Marta station on the West Side. But I digress, because right now, during the morning and afternoon rushes, the area's former livestock trails that they've paved over and pretend to be streets are filled to bursting. I get through the morass by knowing when to get in the right, left or bus lane at which particular intersection or stretch of road, having the timing down, and blind luck. A single bus, slow driver, rain or a person trying to do something silly and the whole thing goes to hell very, very quickly. 
From Google Maps, with some drawing on it...
Was a traffic study required before all this was allowed to be built up practically right on top of each other? Is one going to be required in the future for all the other things they're still trying to cram in there? Because all these sweet amenities mean nothing if the streets that connect them are designed for a quarter of the traffic. As much as this city wants to be a New York South, that namesake major city has fairly good public transportation that people actually use. Because it goes places. Atlanta is distinctly a car city.

Under current conditions, there are blind driveways leading to and from shopping, spots where a single car making a left turn means backing up traffic for a block, where I think the light timing is probably set on randomizer, and places where the parking rules for a gin joint from 1935 are the current fashion. And that's on a Tuesday afternoon. Imagine a Friday night, when the nightclubs and bars are open. And since they've just finished knocking something else down to make room to build something else - right across the street from the apartment building I think they finished this spring that already has parking issues - it's only going to get worse. I realize that developers run Atlanta and that zoning laws are merely suggestions to them, but damn. 

I hope that with the coming of the Westside Reservoir Park, no relation, on the actual west side of Atlanta, some of that development will move maybe, to the west. Westerly if you will. To where the black people live. I find it odd that in the black mecca of America that all the development is taking place in the areas without the black people. Funny, huh? This process of economic inclusion could probably be sped along by basically zoning out the rest of the Westside so that you can get close, but not right in there, or starting the next little "place" on the actual west side. Like, say, up the street from my house? Which if anyone is reading this besides those two guys in Russia and the nice lady in Singapore (love you guys! mean it), that means that property values and TAX revenues increase in a broader area. Which might be a good thing, I don't know, not a politician. 

I am wondering exactly how they're going to pull the gentrification that has to happen around the new Georgia Dome in preparation for the Super Bowl. That's a very 'urban' area. I dunno, maybe some of that development will rub off.  I kid. 

Barkeep, A cold beer. No, it doesn't have to be from the brewery by the reservoir, jeez. As long as it's cold.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gawker ye shall be missed.

Ramblings Post #319
You never really miss something until it's gone. Because usually, and quite mistakenly, we all have a tendency to believe that those things we care about, or at least like, or have gotten familiar with will be around until we come back to it. It's that sinking feeling when you get a taste for something, then ride over to get it only to find that the place that served that certain something is now a Starbucks. Unless you wanted Starbucks, in which case I'm ashamed for you. 

Gawker. Good Media. Gone too soon.
I used to read Gawker a lot. It was kind of what I like to call Buddy Media, and by that I mean that it's selection seemed more like things a guy you actually know would chose than an actual media outlet. A smart guy, but a guy you know, like from school or the bar. Sometimes it was insightful and meaningful stories that made you think. Other times it was dumb or silly reporting that made you wonder if people actually got paid for that crap. But, it was always interesting. And now, out of spite, it's gone.

Online media has always been an odd play for real news. Professional organizations like CBS and NBC seemingly just edited their regular news stories down and stuck them on the web. Other professional groups, like Slate, takes serious questions and cuts them down into a mix of short articles, bite sized chunks and blurbs. So how to differentiate yourself? That would have been Gawker, whose slightly opinionated occasionally off kilter and sometimes oddly refreshing and informative news articles kept you coming back. Important journalism, with things you didn't even know you needed to know, mixed with stories you knew you didn't need to know, but read anyway. Then they branched out, covering sports, video games, women's issues and more. It was good journalism, but a few times  a week you knew they'd just posted something and left the office early, maybe for margaritas.

Now, I understand most of it survived. Jezebel, Kokatu, Deadspin and the others will live on. But the linchpin, the hub, Gawker itself, is too toxic a brand to be viable. And so the digital fourth estate loses its class clown, leaving behind a void of much needed slightly reckless reporting that keeps the news fresh and from appearing to be what most of it is now....PR work. Tough shoes to fill.

Hey, I'll give'em five dollars for the address. Let those who will be offended sue me.

Barkeep, first article, how to get free drinks at the bar. What? What did I say? I have cash!