Film reviews: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and ’13th’

James Baldwin was perhaps the most prominent African-American intellectual of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most unusual. Openly gay when few people were, he spent most of his life living abroad, particularly France. He wrote passionately in a variety of idioms — plays, essays (The Fire Next Time is necessary reading), novels (the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It On The Mountain) and poems. It was a social critic of race and sexuality, though, that he was distinguished for, in part because — unlike Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or Medgar Evers — he was not outwardly and actively political, but more an observer and commentator. He also didn’t feel that all white people were bad, as many black activists of his day professed.

After the assassinations of Malcolm, Martin and Medgar, though, Baldwin proposed to his editor a book-length analysis of how those very different men represented key elements of black experience. Baldwin got as far as a 30 page outline before he abandoned it; he died in 1987, the project never completely.

But now, it sort of has been completed. Filmmaker Raoul Peck has assembled archive footage of Baldwin and the men he knew, accumulated letters and the outline and cast Samuel L. Jackson to read them as Baldwin, and structured a masterful and shatteringly important film out of all of it — one that is as much about Baldwin himself as Malcolm, Martin and Medgar. I Am Not Your Negro, which has opened at the Magnolia Theatre (just as Black History Month begins), is a fascinating and thought-provoking film, and a testament to a time and person who valued thinking more than partisan name-calling.

The profundity of the film is Peck’s wisdom in allowing Baldwin’s words to do most of the heavy lifting. In an age of fake news, alternative facts, infantile presidential tweets and the cacophony of contemporary punditry, Baldwin’s writing was reasoned, measured, informed … and powerful. He dissects with a surgeon’s skill the influences in micronic parsing of these heroes of the civil rights era. And he leads us along unexpected paths. When, in 1968, Robert Kennedy predicted that the U.S. might have a black president in 40 years (significantly, Barack Obama was elected in 2008), Baldwin doesn’t stand by as a cheerleader rah-rahing the hopefulness, but expresses skepticism — as if the achievement wasn’t one earned, but a payment by whites to assuage their own guilt. (The fact Obama was often vilified with thinly-veiled racism and was succeeded by a race-baiting buffoon lends credence to his analysis.)

But rather than coming off as heady and dispassionate, I Am Not Your Negro is a bold and emotionally wrenching film, a plea for — if not civility — then at least rigor in our thought. It’s as powerful in its revelations about race as Cititizenfour was about U.S. intelligence. Don’t miss it. (Now playing at the Magnolia.)

You might also want to catch 13th, a Netflix original that, like Negro, is one of this year’s nominees for the Academy Award for best documentary feature. Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) takes a very different approach that Peck, compiling comments from nearly 40 politicians, activists and pundits (among them conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, as well as more liberal voices), who weigh in on race politics in the past 50 years and beyond.

DuVernay’s premise is that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which effectively outlawed legal slavery, left a loophole that allowed the government to use the legal system to imprison and subjugate black Americans and achieve virtually the same results. (Black makes make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population, and account for about 40 percent of the more than 2 million incarcerated today.) It’s a staggering statistic and a compelling theory, for which there is substantial support … including from Gingrich himself, who says the war on drugs (punishing crack possession 10 times worse than powder cocaine) was a disaster for the the African-American community. It’s more of a hot-button style of filmmaking (crowded with data, employing rap music and personal histories to emphasize its impact) than the more contemplative I Am Not Your Negro, but there’s no denying its power. (Available for streaming on Netflix.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Corky St. Clair returns! Guest & Co. still delight with ‘Mascots’

mascots1Christopher Guest has long been acknowledged as the master of the improv-inspired mockumentary — first as a cast member/writer of This Is Spinal Tap (which practically invented the genre), then as director in several short for Saturday Night Live and later in the classic features Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, in which he delved into, respectively, small-town aspirations for fame, dog shows, folk music and Oscar campaigning. At the heart of all of them is the how foolishly grand people can be about the silliest dreams. They are hilarious but occasionally heartbreaking explorations of the fragility of ego.

Guest has returned again, this time with the Netflix exclusive film Mascots which, as its title suggests, is about the world of competitive mascotting: People who dress up in oversized heads and as creatures and even inanimate objects in order to excite and delight crowds in a pantomine of exaggerated enthusiasm.

I doubt mascotting contests like these exist, or exist in this way, but I don’t put it past Guest to have culled his ideas from real life. Certainly we have seen similar kinds of competitions (baby beauty shows like Toddlers and Tiaras or Little Miss Sunshine, and even at ComicCon events). But Guest is too savvy to go for the overly familiar; he can have so much more fun poking the bear when that bear is actually a furry.

Once again, Guest has assembled his stock of master actors, among them Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Parker Posey. But best of all? Guest himself returns as Corky St. Clair, the closeted high school theater director craving his big shot in Guffman. It’s too bad that, in the comparative intimacy of your living room, you don’t get the chance to experience his return with the kind of amazement a theater audience would convey, but who cares!? Anyone who would complain about that are … bastard people!

The climax, of course, is the face-offs between the varying mascots, which calls to mind Justin Timberlake’s brilliant variation as a hip-hop dancing mascot on some SNL skits. You root for some, you pity others, but like the best of experiences, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really resonates.

Mascots, now streaming on Netflix.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

EBJ played by Cicely Tyson on ‘House of Cards’

EBJ Tweet 1

Cicely Tyson plays Doris Jones, a new character on the popular Netflix series House of Cards that is loosely based on U.S. Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson.

In the show, the character of Claire Underwood, played by Dallas native Robin Wright, plans to run for the 30th District seat — represented in Congress by Johnson in the real world — and thinks she can persuade Jones to support her candidacy when Jones retires.

In the real world, Johnson has held the District 30 seat since 1993, when it was created through redistricting. Johnson, now 80, won her 2016 primary in a landslide.

No spoilers here, but the fictional Claire Underwood might learn a lesson from Barbara Caraway, Johnson’s primary opponent in real life. Claire, you’re not getting the endorsement.

And some advice to Miss Tyson: EBJ may be 80, but try keeping up with her. She’s non-stop energy who never shows her frustration over serving on the science and technology committee with people who don’t believe in science. OK, she shows a little frustration. OK, draw it out of her and she has hysterically funny stories about them.

EBJ Tweet 2

—  David Taffet

REVIEW: ‘House of Cards’

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Kevin Spacey and Kate Mara in ‘House of Cards’


Like any normal person, I spend much of my weekend on a binge. Not alcohol or food, but just as addictive.

On Friday, Netflix released Season 2 of its hit series House of Cards, with all 13 hour-long episodes going live at once. And if you could watch just one hour and not crave the rest, you are a stronger person than I.

Season 1 came out of nowhere 54 weeks ago, leap-frogging the streaming service’s much-anticipated Arrested Development reboot by four months, and went on to win several Emmys. It deserved them; it deserved more. The series — an adaptation of a 1980s-era British show, which itself was taken from several books — is about Democrat House majority whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his Machiavellian efforts to seek revenge on the those who snubbed him for the secretary of state slot in a new administration. And, scene by scene, he takes them down until he’s finally tapped to be the new vice president.

But he doesn’t stop there.

Season 2 picks up the moment Season 1 left off. Frank and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) are adjusting to increased scrutiny, but before he’s confirmed as veep, there are a few personal matters he has to take care of. And one of those — a “holy shit!” moment that occurs late in Episode 1 — is among the most shocking developments I’ve ever seen on a TV show. It’s a game changer, and it hooks you, even more than all Season 1 did.

There are several more stunning developments throughout the ensuing chapter, involving hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality, as well as Wikileaks-ish journalism, national security and political expediency, which Frank wields like Richard III. Indeed, its biggest flaw may be that Frank’s underhandedness is so calculated, and yet so risky, it skirts the edge of nighttime soap opera in the unlikelihood he could get away with as much as he does. And he does get away with a lot.

Spacey, with his drawling, reptilian ease, is a thoroughly detestable yet charismatic anti-hero, a villain who still manages to be better than all the other villains around him. Wright’s coolness matches Spacey’s, though she seems more human, while the rest of the cast — all excellent except for the still-weak Kate Mara, whose part is diminished this season — provide able support. If you don’t have Netflix, you need it. Well, it, and a 13-hour stretch of uninterrupted “you” time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Orange Is the New Black’

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman

For decades, HBO has touted itself with this motto: “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” Well, I think Netflix might wanna copy that with something like: “It’s not HBO. It’s Netflix.”

For a decade, Netflix was the DVD-by-email company that helped destroy Blockbuster Video. But it knew it had to grow with technology, and its streaming service has become even more popular: Movies on demand. And old TV shows.

And now, exclusive content.

It started this winter with House of Cards, the $100-million 13-part drama with Kevin Spacey, and they followed it this summer with Season 4 of Arrested Development — all with a lot of gay appeal.

But neither of those comes close to the queer delights of Orange Is the New Black. What makes Netflix different than premium cable like HBO (and let’s face it, that network does incredible work, including last night’s season debut The Newsroom) because rather than tease out episodes one-per-week, Netflix dumps an entire season (13 eps) on one day.

That’s what it did with Orange, and watching every episode is how I spent much of my weekend.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Comcast Clamps Down On Netflix

Comcast has just about closed on its deal to acquire NBC-Universal, meaning that they’ll soon have a much greater stake in directing their customers to their own streaming entertainment properties. So it’s not too surprising that they are already charging the competition more to deliver Netflix movies to Comcast customers.

Level 3 Communications Inc., an Internet backbone company that supports Netflix Inc.’s increasingly popular movie streaming service, complained Monday that cable giant Comcast Corp. is charging it an unfair fee for the right to send data to its subscribers. Comcast replied it is being swamped by a flood of data and needs to be paid. Level 3 said it agreed to pay under protest, but that the fee violates the principles of an “open Internet.” It also goes against the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules preventing broadband Internet providers from favoring certain types of traffic, it said. “Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content,” said Level 3’s chief legal officer, Thomas Stortz, in a statement.

Comcast has a history of “throttling” (slowing down) the signals of heavy download customers such as those accessing BitTorrent or Netflix. The FCC continues to back the Net Neutrality bill which would prevent internet providers from charging more for signals from their competitors. Netflix now accounts for about 20% of all internet downstreaming in North America.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Netflix Is Eating The Interweb

The commenters here do a pretty good job of explaining both sides of the chart.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

MN Catholics’ new effort: Like Netflix, but with gays’ love in the horror category

On numerous occasions we’ve asked you to pay some focus to Minnesota, where Maggie Gallagher and the rest of the National Organization for Marriage have so obviously been laying the exact same kind of framework for a potential ballot initiative that they did prior to launching efforts in California, Maine, and elsewhere. Speaking engagements have been booked. Salvatore Cordileone, the so-called “father of Prop 8,” has been tapped. Local bishops have placed Op-Eds in local papers. NOM’s been running ads telling citizens that they have the right to vote on marriage. NOM’s also currently sticking their organizational nose into the state senate and gubernatorial elections, knowing that since there’s no direct I/R procedure in Minnesota, they need to change the legislative and executive makeup as much as they can before they move forward. All of this in hopes of getting out ahead of the pro-equality side, should basic human rights every be put to a majority vote in the North Star State.

Now, via The Courier newsletter of the Diocese of Winona (no relation to Judd), we learn that the state’s Catholic coalition is getting even more aggressive in gearing up their troops for a potential fight. In fact, they are actually sending anti-equality DVDs to every parishioner, turning many family movie nights into a cinematic call to arms:

Within the next week or so, you will receive a letter from me and a DVD. The bishops of Minnesota are alarmed by the continuing attacks on the institution of marriage, and we are taking action. First, we want every Catholic to know the church’s teaching about marriage. From the beginning, the John-Quinnchurch has taught that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman. It is a sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ to provide the special graces that are needed to live according to God’s law and to give birth to the next generation.

There are several current attacks on marriage. The most threatening now are efforts to legalize “same sex” or “gay” marriage, that is, marriage between two men or between two women.

The DVD provides more detail about the Church’s teaching on marriage and about the possible effects that a same sex marriage policy would have in our state. When they arrive, I hope that you will read the letter and watch the DVD. Then, I hope that you will become one of the thousands of Catholics who have contacted legislators and told them that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman. Any other kind of relationship simply is not a marriage. This is our time to stand up and defend marriage as a unique institution that, from the beginning of human history and in every culture, is the union of one man and one woman for the propagation of the human family and the upbringing of children.

Same sex marriage [Diocese of Winona, MN]

In a way we gays and lesbians should be flattered. Our lives are just so important that a major religious group is seriously making movies about our benign existences. Andy Warhol predicted everyone’s 15 minutes of fame — The Catholic church of Minnesota is delivering as much to all gays.

But mostly, it’s just creepy. If they asked to see our wedding videos, most of us gay folk would probably show them. But this feels like they snuck in our house and seized the footage, then re-edited it in a dramatic way that’d impress even the “Real Housewives” producers. It feels not only offensive, but also invasive. Like an underground game of telephone (or television, as it were), where propagandistic whispers have replaced actual discussion, religious condemnation has replaced religious freedom, and where “The Blind Side” in DVD players is anything but “Precious.”

Good As You

—  John Wright

Mapping gay Dallas based on Netflix numbers

The darker shades of orange indicate areas where more Netflix customers requested the film "Milk."

With no accurate U.S. Census data on LGBT people, the above map may be one of the best indicators to date of where the gays live in Dallas, and I’m only half joking. The map, a screen grab from The New York Times’ recent analysis of Netflix queues in 12 cities, shows how popular the movie “Milk” was in each of the city’s zip codes. “Milk” was the 13th-most-popular Netflix movie nationally in 2009, but it was the second-most-popular film in Oak Lawn’s 75219 zip code, as indicated by the darker shade of orange. Perhaps more surprising, though, are the North Dallas zip codes — such as 75229, 75230 and 75244 — where “Milk” finished in the top five. (Are you saying not everyone who watches “Milk” is gay?) Anyhow, if you’ve got some time to waste on this Monday afternoon, look up your zip code and create similar maps for any of the most popular Netflix films from 2009 by going here.наполнение сайта контентом этопродвижение сайтов москва

—  John Wright