Hustle and Flow (2005) – Movie Review

Hustle and Flow? Sounds like my last bowel movement.

But seriously, why all the bad movies? It’s not like I haven’t seen any good ones recently. The last movie I saw in theaters was the recent X-Men film, but the thing is I don’t have much to say about it other than, despite being flawed, contained more depth than the majority of comic book films. So I don’t actively seek out bad films to review, in fact there are some bad films I’ve seen recently and have nothing to say about them. But with Hustle and Flow, I feel,  I have enough things to say to waste people’s time with.

Actually, let me clarify something first: It’s not a bad film, just a rather mediocre one. It was also controversial when it came out. Now nobody could give a shit. The only remnants it has in public consciousness is as the “It’s hard out here for a pimp” movie. You know, because it featured a song by the Three 6 Mafia about the hardships of pimping that ended-up picking up the Oscar for “Best Original Song”. This stroked a lot of people’s fury-boners because it “glorified” pimps or whatever–who cares? It’s not a good song and it won most likely because the Academy are usually made of PC liberals obsessed with anything ghetto, and also wanted to have, like, a historical moment by giving the Oscar to a rap song. I mention all this because this movie, despite being released less than a decade ago, is hardly remember aside from a generic rap song.

So the movie is about DJay, a pimp and hustler living in Memphis played by Terrence Howard. But he’s not one of those “bad-guy” pimps, but rather a somewhat sensitive guy who wants something more from life. We know this at the very beginning when the opening shot is on his profile as he’s asking someone off-screen (we quickly find out it’s one of his biatches) what they want to do with their life, or something like that. Later on, he buys a tiny Casio keyboard from an old bum. There’s a pretty bad scene that soon follows where he’s trying to calm one of his girl’s baby by playing random notes on the keyboard. This is supposed to be symbolic not just of his realization, but of the way kids can finally escape oppression, by doing something with their lives, like becoming a musician. A nice thought, but the way it’s framed is what I have issue with because it’s all presented in this trite manner that it’s hard to take seriously or not be bored by.

Things happen. We discover early on that a successful rapper called Skinny Black, played by Ludacris, is coming to town on July 4th. DJay, after realizing what he wants to do to escape, wants to make a mixtape for him to listen to in the hopes that he’ll rocket out of his lifestyle. A large problem with this movie is its predictability, especially toward the end when he tries to hustle Skinny Black. It seems like he succeeded but, to no one in the audience’s surprise, it doesn’t exactly work out. There is then some awful commentary made by Djay’s friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), at the end of the movie as well as some awful commentary made by the film about the music industry involving blowjobs.

So this movie is pretty ham-fisted and rather uninteresting. It makes one wonder how such a largely forgotten movie managed to cull so much adoration and controversy back when it came out. There are actually a couple of good scenes here and there, like when DJay is recording some of his music with Kay in a makeshift studio in DJay’s house, but even some of those scenes seem to drag and revel in cliche. So for the most part, this movie is just, meh, okay. It doesn’t fucking offend me like Lincoln for some reason nor is it as awful as Basquiat, another movie about a disenfranchised black guy who finds success, albeit that movie is about him dealing with that success. Also that movie sucked my balls (how many reviews have I mentioned that particular turd already?)

The acting is also, for the most part, just okay. Terrence Howard isn’t the greatest actor ever, or the most subtle, but he isn’t hammy here. He’s convincing for the most part, but the script doesn’t give his character a whole lot of nuance to work with. Anthony Anderson is pretty decent despite some of the lines he has to say. Perhaps the most memorable performance comes from Taryn Manning (of Crossroads fame) as Nola, one of DJay’s girls. But her character is wasted on a subplot that mirrors DJay’s conflict, where she wants to finally “take charge” of her life. It’s not a bad idea, but like the rest of the movie, is painted in the broadest strokes, with very little fine detail.

Would I recommend this? There are a few scenes that might interest fans of rap music, but for everyone else this movie is boring. So, so boring. I guess you can say that they should have Hustled for a better script because the ending is somewhat Ludacris and, ah-fuck it.

The Harbor

The sun doesn’t startle away
the heft of last night’s image.
There was the street light and the twitching
eyelid, three teeth coated in yellow.
A bellowing that smothered
and the feeling that the old man did not know
of himself.

The contortion of skin: his face,
gapped. A voice lashes at the air.
There are no words. Arms stretch.
There are the hands. A mistake.
He shambles and swipes, finally
he pushes a fist into you, creating
the fall. Now his nails claw
at your chest. Your hand thrusts
up into his gray face, then you push
him off and stand. You throw
the old man down and pummel
his chest with your boots, marking
the ground with flesh, and then
you are gone.

And even though you left him strapped
to the street light’s glow, memory
tightens as you walk down
the harbor, letting its breeze
know your neck.

Lincoln (2012) – Movie Review

Steven Spielberg might be the most overrated director of all time.

Yes, he has a handful of good films like Jaws, Duel and the Indiana Jones movies, but those movies were good because they lacked pretension and were mostly decent B-films; this works in Spielberg’s favor because Spielberg, in his essence, is a child with a camera–while his action films work, his dramatic films do not for they present only a child’s idea of how a “serious” or “dramatic” film should work. His B-movies (or the movies he made that have little pretense toward being taken too seriously) mostly work because, in their core, are the things that excite kids the most; Spielberg was able to tap into his inner-child easily and bring its ideas of what good entertainment represents and create it with his good technical skills as a director and filmmaker. This combination make his blockbusters work because they are made well and genuinely appeal to the child within us all.

His dramatic films, while held in high-esteem, also represent what a child thinks of as “film” but the problem with this is that a child usually understands what elements are supposed to theoretically be in a film in order to be “serious” but don’t understand the subtle or complex foundations that make such elements function properly and give them meaning. In Lincoln, there’s the outburst Abraham Lincoln has in front of his cabinet. This is supposed to be a big “moment” in the film, but the reason why it doesn’t work is because there’s little depth to give such a “moment” meaning. A child knows that dramatic movies are filled with such “moments” but don’t truly understand the deeper reasoning behind them. Spielberg’s B-movies work because such films thrive on just “moments” alone with only shallow and functional character developments and arcs to make the audience care; there is little depth necessary, but in a good drama there needs to be something more than spectacle.

Despite all this critics and movie-goers are more than willing to give praise to mediocrities like Lincoln, a movie about the final months of the president’s life as he tries to help the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Let me address some common myths about the film, perpetuated by both critics (who should really know better) and movie-goers:

1.) “See, Lincoln actually humanizes the guy which makes the movie more interesting! Because it has depth!”

Yes, Lincoln attempts to make Lincoln less of a symbol and more of a human by granting him flaws and allowing us to watch him make hard decisions, but note that I say attempts. Lincoln fails to capture the humanity of its subject due to both the script and Daniel-Day Lewis’s overrated performance. Despite the accolades, Lewis’s acting never rises above mimicry, the kind one can witness from most annoying Abraham Lincoln-impersonators. There are two modes he adheres to: either he is too hammy, or he offers little depth to his character; even in the more quiet scenes we’re not given much of an “in” to Lincoln other than basic motivations. What could have been a complex and compelling portrayal is whittled down to onscreen banality–but Lewis ain’t the only one that should be taking the blame; there’s both the script and Spielberg. For one thing, as mentioned before, Spielberg is a child and Lincoln is a child’s idea of what a historical drama should be materialized. The script is completely surface-level, lacking in both subtlety and insight. So, no, Lincoln, in Lincoln, never truly becomes human, but merely a shadow on the wall who has adopted the mannerisms of a human. Here’s another common claim by the apologists:

2.) “Lincoln shows Lincoln doing less-than-ethical things. This totally makes the movie more intriguing to watch and shows that Spielberg isn’t just interested in hagiography. It doesn’t play it safe.”

Okay, yes, the movie takes on a “riskier” approach to Lincoln, I guess, by depicting a different side to him, but that doesn’t automatically make the movie good. Here’s an excerpt from a review by “Dan the Man” taken from his blog:

“I think what really intrigued me the most about this flick was how it shows just how hard it was, and probably still is, to get a bill passed and all of the twists and turns that come along with that mission. Abe had to talk to a lot of people, had to plan out a lot of ideas in his head, had to win over a crap-load of people, and most of all, had to still keep it in his mind to do the right thing. It’s a very hard, especially in today’s day and age of politics, to not only do the right thing but also keep with that idea in your head and never mess-up on that. Abe never gets dirty with where he gets with his mission to abolish slavery, and it’s really fresh to see considering this is a guy that America still reveres to this day.”

Yes, the movie is about Lincoln’s attempts to get the amendment passed–that’s the plot; what makes a movie good or bad, however, is how it presents the plot, not merely what the plot is. Dan summarizes his opinion with thus:

“Consensus: Lincoln may take some people by surprise to how it plays-out, but if you can handle a bunch of talking, then it will definitely keep you watching from beginning-to-end with a spectacular lead performance from Daniel Day, and a message about doing the right thing, no matter who gets in the way that is still relevant today, especially in the world of politics.”

First off, Lewis’s performance is anything but “spectacular”; any Lincoln-impersonator could have given the same performance. Secondly, just because the message is nice doesn’t mean the movie is good.

Plus, does Lincoln actually do anything that would be considered “dirty”? Sure, he prolongs the war, but it was all to get the thirteenth amendment passed. If Spielberg really wanted to compel the audience by showing them a side of Lincoln not often depicted, then maybe he should have placed the movie just before the war, or in its early stages, when Lincoln allowed the suspension of habeas corpus for those who spoke-out against the Union. Now that would have made for an interesting drama as we get to witness Lincoln’s reasoning and dilemma, but no. See, Spielberg couldn’t have done that cause he likes to have his cake and eat it too. What I mean is, Spielberg gets credit for showing a “darker, more human side” to Lincoln without exerting the actual effort. See, Spielberg is a mediocre filmmaker, at best, who lacks any vision; he only knows how to deal within convention–that’s why the approach that he used is actually safe and ends up offering little insight to the titular subject.

3.) “The ending worked because it’s not about how Lincoln died, but his final days and what he accomplished within them.

Fuck no. That ending blew a big one. Let me show you: so the last scenes take place in a theater during a performance, setting up the expectation that we’re about to see Abraham Lincoln getting fucking shot in the head, but instead we see his young son then a man comes on stage and informs everyone that his father was assassinated in a different theater. Why? Why show this? Was the trite subversion necessary? If the movie is, as one claims, about Lincoln’s life, not his death, then why show this at all. One might argue that it was to show the son’s reaction (Lincoln was a father after all, not just a symbol!) This would be fine except it doesn’t work because we don’t see much of Lincoln’s relationship with his younger son with the exception of some bland scenes; as a result the audience neither understands or cares about the son’s reaction. After we see the dumb kid’s reaction we are then treated to some truly sublime imagery: a flame juxtaposed in the foreground with Lincoln’s corpse in the background, then after a few seconds a dissolve to Lincoln giving a speech. What an utterly hacky, schmaltzy way to end. Just, ugh!

Then there are some other scenes throughout that are especially irksome, like whenever Lincoln tells a story, usually to someone in a panic, or the hideous “comedy” scenes with the hackiest music that tells the audience that ha-ha this is funneh!

Here’s another attempt from “Dan the Man” in defending this film:

“This whole movie is filled with a supporting cast that will probably shock you by how many names it really does have and to be honest, there’s a bit of a problem with that. See, there are so many damn people in this movie that even though they are all so good with each and every one of their own, respective roles, it becomes a bit of a waste to see such good talent in roles that sometimes don’t show-up on-screen for any longer than 5 minutes. Having a huge, supporting cast is great if you want to make sure every character is well-done, and every performance is good but after awhile, it sort of starts to tick you off once you realize that half of these people can do some quality work in their own flicks, they just aren’t given the chance all that much. Still, it’s great to see such big names show up in a production together and show how much people still want to work with Spielberg.”

I kind of feel bad for picking on Dan (still) for he seems like a cool guy, but I feel his review in particular represents, what I think, is the problem with many reviewers, is that even when it seems like they’re going to start criticizing the thing they’re reviewing, they seem how twist back and offer another compliment; look at the first two sentences. I also take issue with  that last sentence as well. Of course they want to work with Spielberg and it’s not because he’s an “artistic genius”– it’s cause they like getting Oscars! Everyone knows that Spielberg movies are a fucking Oscar-factory because the Academy are usually made-up of either dumb apes or victims of blackmail. And no, the supporting cast isn’t all that memorable. Sally Fields? Meh, she’s okay and Tommy Lee Jones has some good scenes as Thaddeus Stevens (maybe the movie should have been about him?) as well as some ham-fisted ones. But also note the tone of Dan’s writing. This isn’t a guy that appears to be interested in giving an objective analysis of a film, but someone who’s a total fanboy. But the sad thing is a lot of the professional critics’ reviews aren’t a whole lot different, just a bit less blatant in their fanboyism. Seriously, is Spielberg’s dick that irresistible? Maybe I’m missing something…

Actually, let’s dwell on this a bit, no, not the fellatio, but online reviewers and bloggers in general. See, the only reason to read them is to get a perspective outside the mainstream, a perspective unfettered by a bias for oscar-bait and the conventional just because a certain names are attached. However, I’ve found out that most bloggers offer little different from most professional critics which is problematic considering that most “professionals” know very little of the field that they claim to have expertise of. This reminds me how members of certain online poetry communities despise “the System” yet turn around and endorse poems that are of similar ilk to those that are published in the lit-mags they claim to disdain.

This all leads me to why Spielberg is ever-so beloved: the average person says he that mainstream music is shit and pines for the music of the past for it had more “meaning,” yet they listen to garbage like The Eagles and Nickleback. At the same time, music critics unanimously crown The Beatles as the greatest rock band ever when they are, in fact, they were a decent pop group adopting trendy musical ideas and attitudes rather than innovating or doing anything of more depth than mere pop-ditties, unlike truly great bands like Pere Ubu or The Pop Group. People claim they want something “new” and “challenging” yet gorge themselves on mediocrity instead. This is both because they have no idea what great art is nor do they really want to be challenged, and the critics who are supposed to be educating the masses chose instead to engage in groupthink, in fear of being ousted as “wrong”. This is why culture is going downhill, and online bloggers have the opportunity to resuscitate the whole damn thing because most are not being paid-off, however, most don’t take the opportunity because many, unfortunately, are average people themselves and don’t know any better. This also means that good and great films aren’t given the attention they deserve because they’re either called “bad” for not fitting into the mold of what people consider “good”. Whoops.

And this is why mediocre films like Lincoln, as well as Spielberg’s other movies like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan (hey! Did you know that the Nazis were bad guys?!) are so highly praised. Cause people are stupid and don’t like different things even though difference, they claim, is why they like Lincoln. It’s fucking frustrating that bloggers aren’t doing anything to change people’s perceptions as to what constitutes good and bad–shame many are too heavily embedded in a culture that prizes the middling.

Anyway, would I recommend this movie (in case you’re still wondering)? Eh, no. Not really. It’s not a “shit-film” for it’s nowhere near as pretentious and offensive as such monstrosities as Basquiat and American Beauty, but suffers because of its trite script. The acting (overall) is passable and the cinematography is decent craftmanship; these factors allow the movie to rise above awfulness, but not by much.

The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) – Movie Review

I just watched another bad movie that nobody cares about; it’s called The Astronaut’s Wife. It stars Johnny Depp as the Astronaut, and Charlize Theron as the Astronaut’s Wife. There are some good things about it, but it mostly sucks. And this movie is called The Astronaut’s Wife.

Let me address the positives first: The acting isn’t that bad. The best thing about the movie, aside from maybe the cinematography and editing, is Johnny Depp’s acting, however even his performance isn’t enough to elevate the material. Charlize Theron has it worse; not only is her performance not very good but her character is paper-thin. The other notable performances are from Joe Norton and Clea Duvall. Norton plays a guy working at NASA who is fired after suspecting that Depp’s character is possessed by aliens, and Duvall is Theron’s sister. They’re okay too.

And because I don’t feel like describing the plot yet I’ll elaborate on one of the film’s other redeeming qualities. The cinematography, even though some of the shots are rather trite, provides some interesting images like when Charlize Theron is watching footage of the space shuttle Johnny Depp is on is landing she’s silhouetted against the footage, and when her husband launches off she moves her hand near a window which vibrates as the result of the shuttle. The way the movie is shot at least makes it a bit more engaging to watch, but it doesn’t make-up for the bland script.

The movie starts off with Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp (and in case you haven’t noticed I don’t remember their characters’ names and I don’t have the motivation to refer to Imbd) just before Depp is going to be sent up Earth’s atmosphere to repair a satellite. And five minutes in the movie already starts to suck. One of the main problems with the movie is that the two central characters like any depth. Maybe Johnny Depp is forgiven for he’s an alien, but Charlize Theron just sucks. In the first few minutes of the film we should have gotten a greater “in” to what their relationship was like before Depp met aliens, as to give the characters a bit more depth as well as help the audience greater understand Theron’s dismay later on. But instead of showing us a few minutes of what their relationship is like we’re merely told through some trite dialogue between Charlize Theron and Clea Duvall about how great Johnny Depp is. We are also get a scene where Charlize Theron is staring at the sky through the window when Johnny Depp is in space. These things don’t exactly help the audience get invested in the characters. They just stink. I was going to tap out but I kept watching. Why? What’s wrong with me?

So NASA panics because something happens with Johnny Depp and his partner in space, but they return to Earth, changed. Theron notices that Depp has changed somehow and refuses to discuss what happened on their mission. Depp then reveals that he wants to quit and move to New York after accepting an offer to work on weapons for the military or something. Weeks pass and the guy he was in space with dies at a party. Later on, his wife reveals to Theron that her husband was “off” ever since his return and has been communicating with the radio. She then kills herself in a way that’s probably not supposed to be comical but is anyway by electrocuting herself with the radio.

Another issue is the script’s predictability which really hampers the audience’s ability to feel any sort of tension. A few more weeks pass and the couple are living in New York City and Theron is about three weeks pregnant with twins. (Another thing: The scene where the twins are conceived start out at some museum with Theron against the wall with Depp all over her, then the camera moves and suddenly they’re in their bedroom–it’s an interesting way to present this and one of the better uses of cinematic technique the film has.) While Theron is shopping for baby crap, Joe Norton arrives (I somehow remember his name from the credits but not the character’s) clearly disheveled since he’s lost his job at NASA. He tries to show Theron evidence he’s gathered to show that Depp isn’t Depp but some alien-dude but Theron won’t have any of that for it might confirm her suspicions about her husband. While reluctant at first, she decides to have a meeting with him, after a phone conversation where he reveals that Depp’s partner’s wife was also three-weeks pregnant with twins when she died. The audience already knows, at this point, that Joe Norton is going to get fucking killed or disappear and probably leave some other proof for Theron’s character just in case. What makes it slightly creepy, however, is that Joe Norton’s death happens off-screen, as well as Theron’s sister’s death (or we presume she’s dead anyway.) But there’s a lot of scenes that follow an overused formula that most people who watch movies can easily detect. It’s okay to use a formula, but what matters is that it’s done smartly so that the audience forgets and focuses on the characters instead of plot convention.

Anyway, Norton’s dead and leaves a tape for Theron to find. He tells her important things or whatever. Then Theron realizes that the twins are evil alien children so she attempts aborting them via pills. Depp finds out and she tumbles down some steps. She wakes up in the hospital then later-on dreams about her sister getting killed by Depp. She then flees with Depp following her. She finally makes it back home with Depp right on her. She blocks the door, but when Depp finally breaks in he finds her in the kitchen with the radio in the sink with the faucet running, and her holding the plug-in. It seems like she’s about to kill herself and the alien-babies, so Depp tries to get her to stop (one thing I forgot to mention is that Depp is clearly and evil alien person and not Theron’s husband anymore, despite the possible ambiguity my retelling might suggest.) Then the whole place starts to flood as Theron, whilst Depp was trying to break-in, had started running the bath tub and every faucet in the house. Depp is underneath water raining from the ceiling then Theron sits up on the stool, making sure her feet don’t touch the water and plugs the radio in, electrocuting Depp which forces the bad CGI ethereal goop that’s supposed to be the alien out of his body. The alien, in desperation, enters Theron and possesses her. Jump to a few years later and the twins and kids going to school with a new father. Theron then says something about how they’re going to be pilots or whatever. Aliens.

Now, even though it goes against convention with the bad guys winning, this ending blows. There’s the silliness with turning on all of the faucets and bath tub. But what if Depp gave-up and left? Theron would have looked pretty silly with all that water running. And plus it just seems like a weird fucking plan to just electrocute Johnny Depp. Another issue is how did Theron (now controlled by the alien) manage to get out of that situation? The home is flooded and there’s a dead guy on the floor. Did she make it look like a suicide? Does that mean she cleaned-up all the water as well because if her husband was going to off himself why would he turn on every faucet? Why did I watch this movie?

It’s not like the movie had a bad premise. It’s basically about a woman who, at first, is reveling in her perfect life with the perfect husband, but then she has to deal with her husband as she realizes something within him has changed. The movie could have also used some more ambiguity. Like maybe it isn’t all that clear what the deal is with Depp. Maybe he could have just been traumatized by something in space and can’t talk about his wife with it, like he’s trying to cope with shell-shock and remain stoic. Subtlety could have also been to the script’s benefit as well as a less reliance on formula. All the elements were there to make the movie pretty good, but it’s the script that failed to coalesce everything. So I would not be recommending The Astronaut Farmer’s Wife. It’s too predictable and boring and Charlize Theron isn’t very sexy in it, unless you’re into dancing preggos. Yeah, there’s a scene where she’s pregnant and dancing to some music on the radio. I’m not sure why, but I think it was to include a cheap “scare” when Johnny Depp suddenly appears, startled Charlize Theron. This movie sucks–thanks for reading!