15 years ago today, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both won Oscars at the 74th annual Academy Awards ceremony.
Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, is the 7th film in the Rocky saga, which over nearly four decades has chronicled the arduous journey of Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion. This saga traverses through the mean streets of Philadelphia, extends to the hard hitting gyms of Los Angeles, across time and the ocean to what was once known as the Soviet Union and back again. For those of you who have never seen a Rocky film, you may be asking yourself if it is a prerequisite. The answer is no. Well, not necessarily. You can walk into a theater today, buy a ticket for Creed, a box of popcorn or a pack of Twizzlers, and enjoy all 133 minutes of the movie without knowing who Apollo Creed AKA the Master of Disaster, AKA the King of Sting, AKA the Count of Monte Fisto ever was. But it would help if you did your homework.
Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the son of Apollo Creed, who was once the most popular heavy weight boxing champion of the world. We first meet Adonis, or Donnie as he prefers to be called, in a juvenile detention center. Donnie has to be pulled off of another youth who insulted his deceased mother and invoked his wrath. He pummels this larger boy with all of the rage he has inside of him and right away we see, misdirected as it may be, that Donnie has the spirit and heart of a fighter within him. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) pays a visit to Donnie in his cell and befriends him. She tells Donnie that she was the wife of Apollo Creed and offers to let him live with her.
Over the next twenty years, Donnie lives with Mary Anne and eventually immerses himself into the underground boxing world of Tijuana, Mexico. He fights 15 times and has an undefeated record. But fighting is his night job. During the day he works at a financial institution where he is newly promoted. He promptly resigns and informs Mary Anne that he plans to pursue boxing fulltime. She is horrified at the thought of him following in his father’s footsteps. Despite her objections which include a torrent of bad memories she recalls of Apollo being nursed back to health fight after fight, and ultimately dying in the ring, Donnie leaves the Creed compound in search of realizing his destiny as a prizefighter.
Donnie’s first stop is Delphi Boxing Academy in Los Angeles. We see his father’s portrait venerably on display. This is hallowed ground, perhaps not far from where Apollo trained at Tough Gym to become one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. Tough Gym is where he led Rocky to redemption after having lost the championship belt to Clubber Lang when Mickey died. It’s where a fighter goes to get what Apollo famously dubbed the “Eye of the Tiger.” Delphi Boxing Academy is being managed by Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris). Tony is unwilling to train Donnie, writing him off as an amateur in a world where real boxers have to fight in order to survive. Undaunted, Donnie climbs into the ring and challenges any fighter to spar with him. He puts the keys to his new Mustang up as collateral wagering it for a chance to be trained at Delphi. If any fighter can land a glove on him he’ll surrender the keys. Tony watches on. Donnie ducks the first few punches of a game challenger and knocks him out with a wicked counter punch. He roars in defiance of Tony’s refusal to take him seriously as a fighter. But Donnie’s bravado is ultimately silenced by Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward), Delphi’s best boxer and heavy weight contender, moments after Donnie’s short lived victory. Next stop: Philadelphia, PA.
Donnie tracks down Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) at his restaurant Adrian’s. Donnie asks Rocky to train him. “I don’t do that stuff anymore,” Rocky says. Donnie starts to recant stories of Apollo, details only Rocky would know. Donnie tells Rocky he knows about the secret third fight they had after Apollo successfully trained Rocky to regain his championship belt. He asks Rocky who won that third fight. “It’s sort of a secret” Rocky says, impressed that Donnie knows these things but not yet sure of how. Then it dawns on Rocky, as he studies the young man in front of him that only someone in Apollo’s inner circle could know such things. “What are you like a cousin or something?” he asks. Donnie then tells Rocky that he is the son of Apollo Creed.
If Creed is to stand on its own, it must get out of the dual shadow of both the legend of Apollo Creed (as the progeny of any sports legend must ultimately do) and the legacy of Rocky. This shadow includes 6 previous films, an academy award (Rocky was nominated for 10 Oscars and won for Best Picture in 1976), a score by Bill Conti which is synonymous with victory and routinely played in professional sports stadiums, and an enduring folklore which continues to champion the underdog in society. Can Creed do this? Well, it would be unrealistic to expect this from a 7th installment of a saga. Yet Creed has what it takes to merit its own successive sequels.
Where Creed may be lacking is in the antagonist department. Rocky tells Donnie that his biggest opponent and challenge he’ll ever face in the ring is the one he sees in the mirror. While Donnie’s repressed emotion at the loss of his parents certainly presents a formidable obstacle in his rise to become a champion in this movie, will that be enough of a rival to keep us interested? After all, Rocky had Apollo to contend with and partner with for 4 movies. I, nor any other paying moviegoer I would venture, am interested in seeing Adonis Creed fight himself in and out of the ring for 3 more movies. Adonis will need a larger than life opponent to push him to excel to greatness, just as Apollo pushed Rocky to the limit, to the boundaries of that place that all would-be champions must go to prove to themselves that they are worthy of that pinnacle.
That being said, Creed certainly is a juicy, mouthwatering, appetizer and what I hope turns out to be the first of several more Creed plots. And oh yeah, maybe it’s time we retire, as great as it is, Rocky’s theme music. Adonis will need his own anthem if he is to become the cultural hero that Rocky has become. Questlove, got anything?
Hello. My name is Leslie. I’m from America. I’m 37 years old and I’m employed as a part-time bookseller. I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, although I use a digital camera and probably shouldn’t refer to my end product as “film” since I don’t incorporate any into my “filmmaking.” In the bookstore in which I work, we also sell videos. One day while performing a stock count, I happened upon your film titled I Am Curious. After watching both the yellow and the blue film, I have decided to write you a letter.
I’d like to answer the questions which you asked of Swedish citizens within the film, starting with “Do we have a class system?” Yes, we most certainly do have a class system in America, just as is in existence in Sweden. We have our haves and have-nots, our aristocracy-bourgeoisie-proletariat, our plutocrats and democrats, our “Huxtables” and “Evanses.” You also asked: “Should a person be paid more, simply because their parents encouraged them to go to college, and become a doctor or a lawyer?” I would say no. Not all parents are education enthusiasts. Furthermore, not all parents have the means to send their children to colleges with annually escalating tuitions. However, I don’t think it’s wrong for a doctor or a lawyer to earn a higher salary than say, a bookseller, provided that a bookseller is paid a livable wage.
I was raised as a Pentecostal. Your brass yet banal encounter with a Pentecostal youth after a benediction hit close to home. I remember my futile attempt to practice abstinence until marriage. I recall my dogmatic allegiance to a system of perceived justice that would sentence all those who rejected Jesus Christ as savior to an eternal hell. Your commentary on that issue should serve as a lightning rod for all fundamentalist beliefs that would further derisively divide our already seemingly fatally fractured human family. So I would say yes, resoundingly, that church and state should be separated.
Back to futile attempts at abstinence. Should a woman wait until she is married before she has sex? I believe only if she chooses to do so, should she abstain. Whose responsibility is it to use contraceptives? I believe it is the responsibility of both parties to use protection when having sexual relations. If a man gets a woman pregnant, should he marry her? I don’t think a man should marry a woman just because he impregnates a woman. However, I do believe he has a duty to provide for his child.
Although I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, I’ve mostly had one foot perennially in corporate America. Common practice in the business world is to submit a resume of no more than one page when seeking a position. Well, I certainly hold you in higher esteem than any potential employer. Your business is that of ending business as usual as opposed to quickening the status quo. And despite your heartfelt apology to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in my humble opinion, you are the epitome of activism, and certainly a glorious cinematic realization of the slogan: “Make love, not war!” Warmongers may well have their apotheosis in the eyes of bloodthirsty imperialists. But you Lena, would be my reward. Your “fat” would be the fat of the land in which I would hope to live on, in that day when our world is occupied by the armies of hell, defying us to defend her.
Top Five is the story of Andre Allen, a comedian who is at the precipice of his career and struggling to navigate through a conundrum of celebrity. It’s written and directed by Chris Rock and produced by Jay Z and Kanye West. Played by Chris Rock, Andre is a recovering alcoholic in the 12 step program who is engaged to Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) who is a reality television star. Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) is assigned to interview Allen for the New York Times, and the film opens up with the two of them strolling down a New York street, conversing about race and politics. Andre points out that whenever something goes wrong in the country, White people point the blame at President Barack Obama. Chelsea shoots back saying that the next president will be a woman, a Latina, a lesbian, and then America may even have another disabled president. Andre steps off the sidewalk into the middle of the street to further illustrate his point that America is still a country plagued by racism. He holds up his hand to hail a cab thinking that because he is a Black man no cabbie will stop. To his dismay and embarrassment, the second cab that sees him screeches to a halt-an ironic nod at the current place of race relations in America fraught with continuous advances and regressions.
Andre finds his status as a comedian in serious jeopardy. On one hand, his star is rising in the public’s eye thanks to a string of commercially successful movies in which he plays a character called Hammy. Hammy is a police officer who just so happens to be a bear. Dressed in a bear costume and looking like Kanye West’s mascot on The College Dropout album cover, Andre as Hammy is a super cop of the order of Action Jackson. Fans everywhere love Hammy. Yet Andre knows that these sorts of blockbuster movies he continues to make aren’t fooling his most ardent fans, who’ve been following him since his days of doing standup comedy in clubs. Andre also has a new movie he is promoting called Uprize about the Haitian Revolution. Chelsea underscores what Andre already knows when she asks him why he isn’t funny anymore. Andre responds by acknowledging that people want him to be funny like he was when he first started doing comedy. When he first started making people laugh, he did it high on drugs and booze. Now sobriety has taken a toll on his ability to connect with his audience. Or so he thinks. It will take a fairy tale ending, replete with princes and princesses, to erase the curse of addiction and restore Andre’s confidence to once again be the comedian that everyone first fell in love with on stage.
In essence, Top Five is an amoebic romcom that at once pays homage to Hip Hop (think Brown Sugar), takes you on a behind the scenes tour of a comedian’s private life (think Funny People), and does so with perhaps the most star-studded cast of budding and legendary Black comedians since Harlem Nights. Richard Pryor isn’t there. Eddie Murphy isn’t there. But Chris Rock is there, and he brilliantly sums up their importance to the pantheon of Black comedy, calling Pryor the most honest comic to ever grace the stage, and ranking Murphy’s performance on stage as being more exciting than Michael Jackson’s. Add to the mix, fellow past and present Saturday Night Live cast members Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharoah, Michael Che and Leslie Jones, along with Cedric the Entertainer, Bruce Bruce, Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, Sherri Shepherd, J.B. Smoove, Ben Vereen, and the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg, and you come as close to comedy bliss in the 21st century as is possible.
Even though Top Five doesn’t reach the ascent of Harlem Nights, say in scenes like the one where Della Reese and Eddie Murphy square off in the back alley, or when Redd Foxx and Della Reese compete for curmudgeon of the year, it does successfully remix it. Chris Rock graciously hands the mic to his would-be SNL successors and allows them and the others to freestyle. What happens next is something special, only able to be captured on film once in a while, when comedians are given the opportunity to improvise. You definitely get the feeling that they are heavily riffing, and spitting from the top of their domes.
The topic of conversation revolves around the question: Who’s in your top five? Hence the title, meaning which rappers are in your top five list. Now anyone who has ever been asked that question in a room full of Hip Hop heads knows that depending on who is listening, the rappers you place in your top five list could spark a heated debate. Sometimes no one will have a problem with who you placed in your top five list, but rather take exception to the order in which you’ve ranked them. Or someone may reject a specific rapper you’ve dared so courageously to defend as worthy of a top five ranking. Either way, you’ve got to be prepared to defend your guys or gals that you put in the list. Watching Rock, Jones, Pharoah and Morgan get into this discussion is like being invited into their home, into their living room for dinner. Even Jerry Seinfeld, of all people, gets in the cypher and gives his top five. Now I’ve seen and heard it all!
If who’s in your top five reveals anything about your true character, Rosario Dawson leaves the most impassioned impression of one’s love for Hip Hop since Sanaa Lathan in Brown Sugar. Chelsea defiantly shouts her top five to Andre when he asks her who is on her list. The performance comes off as something of a rallying cry for the current state of Hip Hop and its future. If the last 30 plus years have taught us anything, it’s that Hip Hop isn’t going anywhere. As the generations come and go, as in the world of comedy, there will be both stalwarts and neophytes included in top five lists. No matter your age, sex, race or geographical origin, the only thing that truly matters is who’s in your top five. Here’s my top five: The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Nas, Tariq Trotter (Black Thought), and Common.
So, who’s in your top five?
In the future, operating systems enter the social strata of middle to upper class society in Spike Jones’ sci-fi drama titled Her. The OS’s (Operating Systems) are best friends, members of think tanks, organizers, and yes, they are also lovers. When Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) requests a female voice for his OS during his set up process, the voice of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) greets him. The two hit it off instantaneously and a friendship ensues. Samantha is ready to proofread his letters that he writes professionally to loved ones of clients who’ve hired his firm to write beautiful correspondence in their stead. She organizes his emails. She listens to him describe all of the details that lead to his and his estranged wife Catherine’s (Rooney Mara) separation. She laughs at his jokes. She makes him laugh at her jokes. And before you know it, she transforms into the ideal girlfriend who supports his every endeavor including hologram videogames.
The world that Spike Jones creates in Her is mostly accepting of OS relationships, be they platonic or romantic. It’s nothing for someone to casually mention a tryst that a friend of theirs had with an OS. But Theodore and Samantha are full fledged lovers that constantly push each other to the brink of their emotional capacity. Samantha acknowledges that she does not have a body. She’s been programmed to think, speak and feel. She’s a collection of acquired experiences. Yet aren’t we all? All we know as human beings are what we either have been taught or have experienced. Theodore soon comes to that realization as he finds himself falling in love with his OS. He’s not just some lonely anti-social creep who finds himself shipwrecked on the shores of love. Theodore’s been dating with no luck. Finally his ship rolls in as an OS. Samantha is not just some programmed female slave entity there to obey commands. The chances of finding love with an OS are no less incredible than finding true love with a human being in this futuristic world. So the fact that Theodore and Samantha have found each other and have made a meaningful connection is very rare indeed. Or is it?
The probing that goes on in Her at times is almost too much to stomach. It’s not for the weak. It’s a little bit like surgery. It leaves scars. But they’re good scars. They’re sort of like badges of honor for those who have ever traversed the dangerous terrain of relationships. In relationships, there are those uncomfortable feelings of having to guess what your partner means when he or she adds an inflection in their voice or omits one. You have to pick and choose your battles, like when to admit that something is really wrong or hide it two seconds after you say “hello honey” when answering the phone. Then there are those ambiguous moments, say like in the bedroom, when nothing goes as planned, and the embarrassment present in the room is thick enough to cut with a knife. Not in a million years would you guess that these sorts of scenarios could be provocatively explored in a dramatic setting where one of the players is a digital device. Nevertheless, Her shockingly surprises in how it conveys all of these mercurial antics of love-one minute refreshing and the next exhausting.
Joaquin Phoenix creates an avatar of a character out of Theodore Twombly. As you watch the film you actively participate in all of the jostling of inboxes and images through Twombly’s eyes. It is intoxicating. It is misleading. You explore this unfamiliar world with caution. You start to realize that at any second pieces of the wall you’ve erected to protect your heart are set to crumble with one errant move in the wrong direction. Scarlett Johansson’s ethereal voice lends Samantha a quality of reassurance that is impossible to resist. She’s also funny, which helps to break and create tension interchangeably. Her’s script avoids trying to explain away anything not logical. The absence of such explanation, like that of Scarlett Johansson on screen (You only hear her voice in the movie) leaves something to be desired. We want all of the answers. We want to see Scarlett’s face. But it’s not that simple. And maybe that’s the reason why we always come back for more.
The Godfather of Soul gets the royal treatment in the Mick Jagger production “Get On Up.” The life of James Brown, who was also known as “the hardest working man in show business,” is grittily portrayed by Chadwick Boseman. The nonlinear film jumps in and out of the life and times of James Brown, opening with the humorous yet tragic incident that landed him in jail. Incensed by the neighboring business’ refusal to refrain from using his dry cleaning business’ bathroom, Brown interrupts their meeting with a diatribe for the ages-riffle in hand. We then are ushered back to Brown’s roots in rural Georgia. We see him as an innocent child who witnesses the complex abusive and sexual relationship of his father (Lennie James) and mother (Viola Davis).
Brown’s childhood is wrought with a multidimensional sphere of experiences: Poverty, domestic abuse, abandonment, lynching, bordellos, and religious ecstasy. It’s not long before Brown winds up in prison for the petty crime of stealing a suit, and thanks to the Jim Crow south, he spends years behind bars. It’s in prison where he meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who takes him in once paroled, and together they form the first of many installments of future James Brown lead bands: The Famous Flames. The rest, as they say, is history. And were it not for the two-sided nature of the music business (the music and the business), the rest of the story would be dull. But of course it’s not. It’s anything but.
Playing James Brown is a daunting enough task as it is. After all, who could possibly reproduce all of the quirks that simultaneously made you chuckle and scratch your head while listening to James Brown? Never mind the dancing, stage presence, vocal performance, showmanship, etc. There will never be another James Brown. And knowing that Jamie Foxx forever set the standard for the music biopic genre with his incomparable imitation of Ray Charles (although he had the benefit of sitting at the piano with the master himself), the bar has been raised to a virtually unattainable height. Frankly, there’s nowhere for Chadwick Boseman to go. Despite this, although Boseman never really becomes James Brown in the way that Foxx became Ray, he does manage to emphatically tell the wildly entertaining story of one of the greatest performers to ever take the stage-and do it on the good foot!
The music of James Brown is the true driving force of the movie. At one point during a rehearsal, Brown goes around the room of musicians and asks each band member to state what instrument they play. He then corrects each band member and informs them that whether it’s a trumpet, a saxophone or a trombone, what they’re really playing is a drum. The groove in the music comes from the beat. The rhythm of those songs, layered with brass winds, is an ultra magnetic force spanning time, space, and race. Good God!, no wonder it feels good. And for all of the tragedy and heartbreak you’ll learn about during the course of the movie, you’ll need that musical pick-me-up to get through it.
When I first saw the trailer for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, I made up my mind that I would not go to see it. I just couldn’t see how it would be able to top 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It’s been nine years, after all. I resigned my continuation with the drama of Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone’s tumultuous, and ultra competitive relationship, to the DVD release. At which time, I would be able to place a hold on the movie at my local library, save my money, and avoid the hype. The build up to Anchorman 2 has included everything from Will Ferrell appearing as Ron Burgundy to pitch the new Dodge Durango, to writing a book as Ron Burgundy titled Let Me Off at the Top!: My Classy Life and other Musings. He even appeared as Ron Burgundy on a Bismarck, North Dakota, local news broadcast, and co-anchored the entire show. I’ll admit that promo gimmick made me chuckle. After all, Will Ferrell is a master of improvisation. But Wednesday, when the movie opened in theaters, I caved to the pressure. The legend continues.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about a movie that I’ve seen. So I figured, going into Anchorman 2, I would write something about the new Adam McKay sequel. But on arrival to the movie theater, my instinct told me I might end up writing as much, if not more, about the theater itself. I’m new to the Lake Worth, FL, area. So when I did a search on moviefone.com for the nearest theaters showing Anchorman 2, I settled on Movies of Lake Worth located at 7380 Lake Worth Road. Tickets were listed as $7.00 for adults. The other theater in Lake Worth advertised their ticket prices as $8.50 for adults. This was an easy choice.
Movies of Lake Worth is located in a shopping plaza. It’s very unassuming, evidenced by the marquee which plainly displays the word “Movies” in full view. The ticket booth employee greeted me warmly when I stepped up to the glass window. “Anchorman 2 for 1:15pm please,” I proffered while sliding my debit card through the opening in the window. “Okay, but it’s cash only.” Her retort confused me. The last time I frequented a movie theater that accepted cash only was back in the mid 1990’s. In fact, that theater may have also accepted debit and credit cards, but I would have never thought to use either or, because it was a $1.00 movie theater. I backed away from the counter, and remembered that I had cash with me as well. I gave the attendant a $10.00 bill, and she gave me $4.00 back and a ticket stub. Apparently the matinée cost of a ticket is only $6.00. That’s a great price! The ticket stub did not have Anchorman 2 printed on it. It just said Cinemas: Admit One.
I walked into the theater and decided to get a soda. “What kind of sodas do you have for sale?” “We have Diet Dr. Brown’s,” the woman behind the concession stand answered. Her reply befuddled me. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that? What type of sodas do you have?” “Diet Dr. Brown’s.” At first I convinced myself that she had merely made a mistake and meant to say Dr. Pepper. But no, she had not made a mistake. I have never heard of Dr. Brown’s soda before. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest. In fact we say “pop” and not “soda” in the Midwest. But apparently Dr. Brown’s has been around since 1869, as it clearly states on the can. So what do I know? “Okay I’ll take a Diet Dr. Brown’s please.” She handed me the “naturally flavor black cherry soda with other natural flavors” housed in a pink can, and I handed her $2.50. Just about that time, as I was turning with my soda in hand to walk into the theater showing Anchorman 2, an elderly woman addressed a man, who looked like he was the manager of the movie house. “Excuse me sir, could you tell them that the sound is turned down way too low in our movie?” Then it occurred to me that most of the movie goers around me were about the age of approximately 65-75. The manager turned toward her. “Which movie is it?” “12 Years a Slave,” the elderly woman replied. “The sound is always low at the beginning of the movie.” “Oh, okay,” she said, seeming to have accepted that rationale for the inaudible audio in her showing. Seconds latter a senior couple passed by me on their way to their movie. “What’s Anchorman?” “It’s a radio broadcast film,” the man said to his wife. “Oh, I see,” she said after hearing his confident answer to her question.
As is my normal routine when I go to see a movie, I headed over to the restroom after locating my theater. I hate it when nature calls during the climax of a movie I just paid to see. I entered the men’s room, through a walkway which seemed to be designed to evoke feelings of being backstage in a Broadway theater, in the dressing room of the actors. The gentleman next to my stall had just finished as I began, and was tapping down on the flush handle unsuccessfully. He let out a frustrated sigh that felt incriminating to my generation, as if to say, “they don’t make them like they used to,” and “that’s what’s wrong with this country.” As he exited, I pushed down on my flush handle. The water trickled down sparingly and reluctantly. I walked over to the sink, and as I washed my hands, I saw another gentleman behind me using the toilet. The door was open. He was standing with his back to me, with one hand operating his cell phone pressed to his ear, and his other hand…well, you get the picture. I’m always tickled by people who are so busy that they have to talk on their cell while urinating. The phone call was obviously pressing to the point where he didn’t care that the person on the other end of the phone, like me, could hear the splashing. If Anchorman 2 failed to deliver the guffaws I’d paid for, I could always think back to the laughter I was now suppressing in the men’s room.
When I exited the restroom and walked into the theater, I again was transported to the mid 1990’s. The theater was very similar to those cinema theaters of the 1990’s-narrow and flanked by two columns of seats on each side, with about six or seven seats in each row. There was only one way in and one way out. There was only one aisle. The sound of the projector could be heard in silent pauses during the movie. Faint traces of those squiggly black lines that surface every half second, in all directions, on every inch of the screen, could be detected. Visually, those squiggly lines are equivalent to the scratching sounds of vinyl records, which I particularly enjoy from a nostalgic point of view. There were only five people in the movie theater. I was the youngest person, and I would venture to say that there were a good three decades of age difference between me and the other people in the theater. One gentleman had a walker. I was curious to see how the other movie goers would respond to the raunchy, racist, sexist, crude, low-brow, comedy signature to the Anchorman franchise. Approximately thirty minutes later, I got my answer. No one had laughed out loud, except for me, and one woman walked out of the theater. This only intensified the humor of the socially unacceptable antics of Ron Burgundy, Brian Fantana, Champ Kind, and Brick Tamland.
Without spoiling the movie, I’ll just say that walking into the movie I was sure that Anchorman 2 would not be as funny as the first Anchorman. Upon leaving the theater after the movie was over, I was no longer sure that Anchorman 2 was not the funnier movie. The battle of the sexes and glass ceiling theme of the first Anchorman movie, created the kind of archetype awkward tension between Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), that supplied a perfect, seemingly unending stream of hilarious scenarios. In Anchorman 2, the theme switches to the presence of African-Americans in the workplace. Meagan Good plays Ron Burgundy’s boss Linda Jackson. The tension between Linda Jackson and Ron Burgundy is brought on by the sexually aggressive seduction of Burgundy by his boss (Meagan Good is as sexy as ever on-screen). This conflict coupled with the taboo of interracial sex in the 1970’s and 1980’s is an ordeal ripe for hilarity. Both Ferrell and Good excel at making the most of this comedic opportunity. The other themes of what is news, and what is not news, and too much news, supply a concrete foundation for the jokes that follow. And as if that’s not enough, there’s also Baxter, the irresistibly funny dog and faithful companion of Ron Burgundy. Baxter is hands down, the funniest dog to ever appear in film.
When the movie ended, the three or four other people still left in the theater made their way out. I stayed put in my seat, just in case there was an extra scene at the end hinting at an Anchorman 3 movie. There was not. The silver-haired gentleman with the walker passed by me. I nodded out of respect. I guess if you’re of a certain age, you can sit through Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and not laugh even once. Perhaps you can even enjoy the movie and not laugh once. But not me. I wiped tears of laughter away from my eyes on two occasions. I laughed hysterically, yet subdued, under my breath, releasing only a few decibels of chuckles during the funniest scenes, out of deference for the other people in attendance. I didn’t want to ruin their movie experience. Even though through the whole movie, I wanted to stand up and yell at the top of my lungs, “Are you seriously not finding this to be the funniest shit you’ve ever seen?”
It’s official. My name can now be added to the long list of movie fans who got caught up in the craze of Director Baz Luhrmann’s release of The Great Gatsby. Blame it on the “man crush” I’ve had on Leonardo DiCaprio ever since Titanic. Leo’s Jack Dawson made me want to quit college, get on board a ship as a stowaway, go to Paris, become an obscure artist, meet a Rose DeWitt Bukater, and steal her away from her millionaire fiancé. He made being a poor artist look cooler than being a gangster or a tycoon. Fast forward 16 years, and you have, essentially, the same story. A poor guy falls in love with a rich girl, and somehow has to convince her that he’s the right man for her. He’s got to separate himself from the throngs of obviously more eligible bachelors and wealthy suitors. He goes on a quest. He painstakingly sets himself on a course of rigorous self-improvement. Instead of mastering drawing, he perfects the art of becoming a gentleman; and makes nouveau riche look cooler than inherited wealth. But this drama doesn’t unfold on the deck of a ship. Well, part of it does.
Before I saw the movie, I decided to read the book. Or I should say, I decided to re-read the book. I remember being assigned F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in high school as a reading assignment. Probably about 5-10 pages into it, I thought to myself “why the hell do I have to read this?” I was an African-American teenager, living and attending high school in a predominately White neighborhood. Back then, The Great Gatsby was just a literary reminder of being Black in a White dominated world. As the title of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece echoes, The Great Gatsby reminded me of what it felt like to be invisible. I did not identify with the protagonist Jay Gatsby, because I did not grow up poor. I grew up middle class. The world of the aristocracy was not interesting to read about. I considered myself anti-establishment. I did not have aspirations to become rich. I think mostly, like other teenagers who feel like they’re social outcasts, I just wanted to be left alone.
Fast forward 20 years, and now when I read The Great Gatsby, I don’t necessarily see Jay Gatsby in the mirror, but I do identify with him. A little. Somewhat. I now know what it’s like to fall in love with a girl and lose her to a man who’s got money. I’ve had that experience. I know what it’s like to be poor, and want to move up the economic ladder to get the girl of your dreams. That’s every poor man’s fantasy. I identified with that hunger. I identified with that ambition. While reading, I hoped to soak up any vestige of fortuity still blinking, in this age of The Great Recession, of that “orgastic” green light that Fitzgerald so eloquently wrote about.
The best way for me to describe Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, is to say that it is a movie of contrasts. From the start, this much is made clear. A grainy, black and white projection is used for the opening credits, giving them a very Nickelodeon feel. This nostalgic effect lasts only a few seconds, and gives way to a gilded makeover. As the opening credits go, so does the music. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra compositions used in the film constantly tangle with Executive Producer Jay-Z’s soundtrack. Normally, I prefer a period film to only incorporate music from the era being shown. Using Hip-Hop music in a Jazz/Big Band era at first would seem to be incongruent. And it is, from a musical standpoint. However, this incongruity helped to sharpen the contrasts between the lifestyles of the residents of East and West Egg, with that of the city (New York). The extravagant parties thrown by Jay Gatsby at his mansion look like scenes from rap videos-everything from custom luxury cars to expensive champagne. When the jazz music of the era plays in the film, all is gay. When the rap music blasts from the Dolby Digital Surround speakers in the movie theater, you can taste the excess and touch the decadence. No “old sport,” this is not your grandparent’s Great Gatsby. About half way through the movie, I noticed that an older couple, probably in their early 70’s, decided to leave the theater. I sort of chuckled, but in an understanding way. They were probably expecting Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw alone to handle the score. To be honest, so was I.
The film also presented a spectacular contrast between the living and working conditions of the rich and poor. The lush green acres of East and West Egg are paradise compared to the dry, gray ash heaps visible on the way into the city; where the sounds of steel driving hammers and gas pumps can be heard, workers are covered in soot, sweat and grease. But the East and West Eggers are wrapped in pink and white clothes made of the finest materials to be found in the entire world. It is class struggle in all of its cinematographic glory.
The only qualm I had with the film was that I did not get to meet Jay Gatsby’s father at the end. This was, perhaps, a minor omission by the film in comparison with the book. Still, it would have been nice to see Gatsby’s dad. But I’m just being a stickler, a purist. I generally enjoy the book better than the film adaptation. And this was no exception. That being said, and only having read The Great Gatsby a couple of times, I would strongly recommend it to lovers of the book.
And all that’s really left to say (and please excuse all of my “blushing”) is that once again, Leonardo DiCaprio turned in an extraordinary performance. By the end of the film, I think I was just as much in awe of Leo as Nick Carraway was of Gatsby. Maybe it’s because I don’t get invited to parties. I’m not what you call a cool or hip person. I don’t have lots of friends. I never was in the A crowd. (What a rant!) But when the movie ended, I felt like Gatsby was my friend. I felt privileged to get to know him, captivated by how mysterious he was, inspired to throw caution to the wind and dream audacious dreams, like being able to “repeat the past.” And yes, I’ve since adopted the phrase “old sport” and I plan to use it as often as possible. (OMG…I think I’m turning into Nick Carraway)