Cinema in Color Review #6: Our Friend, Martin

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Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.

*****

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SAMURAI, IT SEEMS MEMBERS OF YOUR SPECIES IN A PLACE CALLED BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI HAVE CREATED QUITE A CONTROVERSY RECENTLY. EXPLAIN?

What controversy?

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Oh. Um… Yeaaaaaaaah…

Alright, so you’re familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr., right?

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DO I NEED TO GIVE YOUR TESTICLES A PAINFUL SQUEEZE TO REMIND YOU WHY I’VE ABDUCTED YOU?

Fair point.

So, long story short, after slavery was abolished, as I pointed out in my review for Life, America managed to preserve forms of slavery decades afterward. Because after 600,000 dead soldiers, we somehow still couldn’t quite shake our addiction to forcing people to work for free. At the same time, black people’s rights were severely restricted under new laws upheld by an 1896 Supreme Court case that decided these laws were constitutional. Segregating public bathrooms, railcars, water fountains, movie theatres, restaurants, public swimming pools, schools, and even entire neighborhoods and towns by race was found to be legal under one simple premise of legal logic: Separate but equal.

The logic went that so long as facilities provided to each race were equal in quality and function, then those facilities could be legally segregated by race. It’s like separating the laundry by color so long as both got equal amounts of detergent and then not quite following through on that last part. At least, that’s how Randall Wallace would explain segregation.

God, I hate that movie.

Anyway, this period of legal racial segregation came to be known as Jim Crow.

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Because nothing screams “constitutional” like a singing, dancing caricature of your entire race.

A series of movements to end racial segregation occurred in the 20th century, the most famous of which happened in the 1950s and 1960s. It would be more accurate to say this movement was lead by many great activists: Medgar Evers, Bayard Rustin, Malcolm X, Diane Nash, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael, Thurgood Marshall, etc. Hell, Marshall’s mentor Charles Hamilton Houston, arguably the one man most responsible for defeating de jure racial segregation, died in 1950 before the end of Jim Crow would become reality. He isn’t called “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow” for nothing.

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If you can’t beat Jim Crow, you can still make the son of a bitch eat crow.

Buuuut… sigh.

If we’re being completely honest, history books and commemorations are like that brat in your kindergarten class that never wanted to share. It’s why over thirty Roman senators could knife Caesar in the back, but the only one everyone remembers is Brutus.

So, as a result, the Big Name of the civil rights movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This guy was the top dog, the head honcho, the big cheese. If the civil rights movement was a train, King was the conductor. If the civil rights movement was a fancy restaurant, King was the head chef in the big, poofy hat. If the civil rights movement was the Starship Enterprise, King was the bald guy in the captain’s seat shouting, “Make it so!”

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Justice… The final frontier…

So, in 1983, in honor of his contributions to civil and human rights, a federal holiday set on the third Monday of every January was created in his honor.

The holiday wasn’t without controversy. When the U.S. Senate debated the bill making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a holiday, Republican senators Jessie Helms and John Porter East of North Carolina submitted a 300-page document as part of a filibuster against the bill. The contents of that document alleged King was a filthy pinko Commie cocksucker. Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, promptly called the document “a packet of filth,” threw it on the Senate floor, and stomped on it.

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Awwww… Moynihan, we worked really hard on that packet of filth.

Actually, speaking of Dr. King, since his birthday is coming up, we should watch something to educate you more about the man!

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EXCELLENT IDEA! I MUST ADMIT THIS MONARCH OF YOURS SOUNDS INTRIGUING.

He’s… not a monarch. King is just his last name.

Anyway, let’s take a look at Our Friend, Martin… the time-traveling animated children’s special. Continue reading

Cinema in Color Review #5: Life

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Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.

*****

Konichiwa, pardner. I am the Wild West Samurai’s raging bile duct.

Today, I will be reviewing a 1999 film called Life.

What’s the story? It’s about the lives of two black men who were framed for a murder they didn’t commit in 1932 by a racist white sheriff and sentenced to life in prison at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, more infamously referred to as Parchman Farm.

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For a brief warm-up, after the Civil War ended in 1865, slavery was… technically abolished, but it didn’t really go away. The American South was dependent on slavery like a circus clown is dependent on alcohol. You can take away the bottle and the bar along with it, but you know he’s just gonna make hooch in the bathtub.

At first, the South tried placing freed black slaves under “apprenticeships.” You see, it wasn’t slavery, it was just forcing people to perform hard manual labor against their will without pay. They weren’t property, they were just people whose rights were greatly limited under the benevolent supervision of plantation owners. Orwell himself would have marveled at the audacity of the doublespeak involved.

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He’s not dead, per se. He just… got cold feet at a Westerosi wedding.

So, like a toddler put in timeout for misbehaving, the South was put under military occupation until she learned to behave herself and treat black people like actual human beings. The South stubbornly refused, eventually wearing the North down until the military was withdrawn in the 1870s.

During this time, this new system called convict leasing came about due to a loophole in the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery:

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Once the South realized she could simply throw black people back into slavery by saying they had committed crimes, freed slaves and their descendants were being charged by the thousands with crimes as minor as vagrancy or loitering, with the foreknowledge almost all wouldn’t be able to pay their fines, and then leased to plantation owners and mine owners who paid those fines in exchange for years of free labor. In some ways, this system was worse than antebellum slavery. For one thing, slaves in the pre-Civil War South were usually expensive investments their owners would beat but still wanted to keep alive as long as possible to make their investments worth the expense. Convicts, on the other hand, were leased so cheaply, they could be worked to death in a short amount of time and easily replaced just as cheaply. For another thing, this form of slavery met with less resistance due to the stigma of criminality attached. Whereas abolitionist propaganda made a fairly effective case that slaves were victims being exploited, arguing that criminals who, in society’s eyes, deserve brutal punishment are being exploited and victimized is a much harder case to make.

Don’t believe me? Just ask a random person on the street, “What do you feel should be done with rapists?” Take a wild guess at the general consensus. And for all that talk about what criminals deserve if only pesky things like due process and human rights wouldn’t get in the way, Americans are practically amnesiac about what that would actually be like, considering its dark past where nothing sold out a ropemaker’s stock faster than an allegation a white woman had been raped by-

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Right, right. So, what does all this have to do with Parchman Farm?

Well, in 1894, the state of Mississippi made convict leasing technically illegal, although it still remained in common practice until at least the 1940s. As a result, Mississippi couldn’t just lease convicts to private parties anymore. So, in 1901, the state bought a cotton plantation – because, of fucking course – and converted it into what would become the Mississippi State Penitentiary. It was little better than the convict leasing system it was supposed to replace, since forcing men to work twelve-hour days for free for a private enterprise somehow doesn’t strike me as that much different from forcing men to work twelve-hour days for free for the state.

This is where our two main characters are sent to in 1932. Our main characters are… played by Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence?

… And the film is a comedy?

……… Ummmm…

… odd choice of genre, but it coooouuuuld work? Maybe? Let’s find out. Continue reading

Cinema in Color Review #4: Smoke Signals

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Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.

*****

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SAMURAI! YOU HAVE A REVIEW TO DO! GET TO IT! WHY THE LONG FACE?!

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ALSO, SINCE WHEN DID YOU BECOME AN EQUUS FERUS CABALLUS?!

Oh, the horse head? That’s just something that happens when I become depressed. Look, I, uh… I’m not really feeling into reviewing anything today.

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I CAN STILL INCINERATE YOUR TESTICLES, YOU KNOW! SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH YOU TODAY?!

I don’t know. I’m just… Have you ever felt homesick? Have you ever gone on a long trip or moved to another place and found yourself missing your home? Your family? Your community?

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MY BIOLOGICAL FOREBEARERS ATE ALL MY 1,403 SIBLINGS UNTIL ONLY I REMAINED. I PROVED MY WORTHINESS AS THEIR STRONGEST OFFSPRING BY EATING THEM IN TURN. 

Well… that’s not how human relations work – for the most part. Reviewing A Cool Like That Christmas and being alone for the holidays recently has gotten me a little down. It’s largely because, well… I grew up in the Inland Northwest. You know where that is?

It’s this gorgeous area between the Rocky Mountains in eastern Montana and the Cascade Mountains down the middle of Washington, with the northern part of Idaho in between. You could pass through hundreds of miles of valleys and mountains with these flowing rivers and evergreen trees in north Idaho and suddenly find yourself driving through rolling steppes and dry farmland in eastern Washington. I just… I really, really miss it. I mean, hell. Look at this!

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Admittedly, the area does have a number of problems. Northern Idaho in particular has the largest concentration of white supremacists in the Inland Northwest and arguably the entire Pacific Northwest, largely due to the Aryan Nations making the region their home in the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of attempted bombings by white supremacists in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene lead to public backlash against their respective groups, although they still haven’t vacated the region entirely. As recently as 2011, a Neo-Nazi tried bombing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade in Spokane.

Still, in spite of all that, I just really miss it.

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WELL… SENTIMENT IS LOST ON ME, HUMAN. GET TO WORK! YOU HAVE TO REVIEW SOMETHING!

I don’t feel like it.

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ALLOW ME TO DEMONSTRATE WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR PRECIOUS GRAPES IF YOU DON’T.

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Ugh! Fine!

In that case, I’m picking something to get me out of my rut of homesickness.

Today, I’m reviewing a 1998 film called Smoke Signals. It’s the first feature film to be directed, written, and co-produced by American Indians, with an all-American Indian cast. Considering how popular Westerns have been in American cinema, going back to The Great Train Robbery in 1903, it’s astonishing how the first all-American Indian film production took another 95 years to become a reality. Even African-Americans managed to direct, write, produce, and star in The Homesteader back in 1919.

Coincidentally enough, Smoke Signals was also set and filmed in my home region, the Inland Northwest. Perhaps seeing the landscape of my home will satisfy my homesickness, but is it a good film? Continue reading

Cinema in Color Review #2: Friday

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Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.

*****

Konichiwa, pardner. I am the Wild West Samurai.

Before I start this review, my captor has some questions for me. So, just give me a moment.

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SO, HUMAN, I’VE LEARNED OF SOMETHING ON YOUR PLANET CALLED… MARRIAGE IGUANA?

Yes, marijuana? What of it?

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AND THIS GROWS FROM THE SOIL OF YOUR PLANET?

Yes, Einstein. It comes from the ground.

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WHAT IS AN “EINSTEIN?”

………

………

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Anyway, what was your question?

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WHY WOULD SUCH A DANGEROUS PLANT BE ALLOWED TO GROW ON YOUR PLANET?

Wait, what? Marijuana isn’t dangerous…

… Might dull a few brain cells, but hardly dangerous.

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THEN WHY ARE SO MANY HUMANS IN PRISON BECAUSE OF THIS PLANT?

Oh, Lord…

The War on Drugs is why. Basically, marijuana had already been illegal in America since the 1930s as a result of anti-Mexican sentiment. White American workers hated competing with Mexicans for jobs, so the Federal Bureau of Narcotics started a propaganda campaign exploiting white workers’ fears of Mexicans, associating marijuana with Mexicans, and getting the drug banned as a result. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon started a “War on Drugs” by the government to allegedly save America from an epidemic of addicts and crime. In 1994, Nixon’s aide revealed the real reason behind the War on Drugs: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. […] We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

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You know those assholes whose farts linger long after the asshole itself has vacated the room? Nixon was that asshole.

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Hehehe! Pull my finger…

It’s funny you should ask me about marijuana, though. The movie I was going to review coincidentally has a lot to do with the subject.

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WHAT MOVIE IS THAT?

Oh, just a mid-’90s cult classic I’ve never seen called Friday.

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WHAT?! You’ve never seen Friday?! String him up by his balls!

My balls are in a precarious enough situation without your guys’ help, spank you very much. Yes, I know this is a popular movie. I’m on social media. I’ve seen all the goddamn memes. “Daaaaaamn!” “Bye, Felicia.” “You got knocked the fuck out!” Those memes are like the Hotel California. You can’t fucking escape them.

So, is the movie’s reputation warranted?

Continue reading

Cinema in Color Review #1: Boyz N The Hood

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Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.

Konichiwa, pardner. I am the Wild West Samurai.

Let’s kick this off by going way back to the year 1991.

It was a pretty fucked up year, by several standards. The United States invaded Iraq, won, left, and didn’t go back for 12 years. Soooo… it qualifies as a victory like how a premature ejaculation qualifies as getting laid, only to find your one-night stand at your doorstep years later. With a teenager in tow. It was also a year of profound pop-culture fuck-ups. Axl Rose showed how much of an ass he was by attacking a fan at one of his concerts. Three goats were sacrificed so that Ed Sheeran could be born.

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I wish your voice wouldn’t work like it used to before.

Sorry. Was I thinking out loud? Anyway, 1991 was also the year Bryan Adams’ song “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” made it to number one on the Billboard charts – for seven godforsaken weeks in a row. Like Kevin Costner’s acting in the film the song was written for, it was phoned in, soulless, and as riveting as listening to paint dry on a white picket fence. Outside a bland white house. With a bland white family eating bland whitebread sandwiches inside – with mayonnaise on top. And it won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.

Dark times, people. Dark times.

Had it not been for the brass pipes on Angela Lansbury and her vocal work on the song “Beauty and the Beast,” done in one take – yes, this was done in one take – Adams might have won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Original Song. But he didn’t. The Fire Lord was stopped. Zelda was rescued. Middle-earth was saved. And that’s all that matters.

1991 wasn’t all bad, though. The Soviet Union dissolved, the Berlin Wall came all the way down, and the Scorpions released a bitchin’ single about it.

Nirvana released their magnum opus Nevermind and their single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” not only topped the Billboard charts the next year, it ushered in a wave of grunge music that defined the ’90s. A Tribe Called Quest released their album The Low End Theory the same day as Nevermind, and proceeded to do for alternative hip-hop what Nevermind did for alternative rock. Prince released Diamonds and Pearls, with “Cream” as his last number-one single. A little-known rapper named Tupac Shakur kicked off his solo career with the release of 2Pacalypse Now, with the promise of more spit to come. Michael Jackson released Dangerous, his last good album (fight me). Ice Cube went from a rap career to starting his film career. Whitney Houston sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl, proceeding to blow the minds of 80 million people and holy fucking shit, I feel old. At least one person from all these acts is now dead: Phife Dawg, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Whitney, Michael, Prince…

Well… except Ice Cube. He’s still around and actually done pretty well for himself: Four kids, been married the equivalent of 4,380 Britney Spears-length marriages, and has never had a rap sheet in his life. Props, man, props. And that film career of his? That started with a role in Boyz N The Hood, written and directed by a young and unknown John Singleton. After mentioning The Homesteader as the first known film ever made with an all-black cast and crew, it only made sense to start with another first. At the 1992 Oscars, John Singleton was the first African-American to be nominated for Best Director. What caught my attention when I’d first read about the film was that in 2002, it was selected for preservation as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. I remember quirking an eyebrow at that.

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Really? This… weirdly-titled motion picture with a Z in place of an S?

So, is it that good?

With an alien breathing down my neck to review this, do I have a choic-?

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GET ON WITH IT, HUMAN!!!

Right, right! Yes! This is Boyz N The Hood.

Continue reading

Prologue: Introduction of the Film Critic

Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor.

Konichiwa, pardner.

I am the Wild West Samurai, a film critic.

This is my blog featuring my reviews of films with majority casts of color (i.e. not white people), stretching from today to the days of silent cinema 100 years ago.

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‘Ey, this is America! How dare you talk about race! Talk about it anonymously in comments sections, like a normal person!

Continue reading