15 years ago today, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both won Oscars at the 74th annual Academy Awards ceremony.
If you’re like me and grew up watching the Superman movies of the 1970s/1980s, you probably left the theater after watching Man of Steele, the movie that precedes Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, scratching your head and wondering what was up with all of that destruction. Superman defeated General Zod, but in the process, thousands of people perished in that epic battle that took place in the heart of Metropolis. The sight of demolished skyscrapers and scorched earth left a bad taste in the mouths of many of us. Bruce Wayne was not immune to this malaise at seeing his own city’s guts ripped out in plain view. That’s where Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice picks up. Like the rest of us, Wayne (Ben Affleck) is starting to question Superman’s (Henry Cavill) intentions. He’s not sure that one day Superman won’t use his powers to wipe out the entire human race. His instinct propels him to confront Superman in a showdown that pits a god against a man. To do it he’ll need more than just the Batsuit and his usual arsenal of gadgetry.
Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) LexCorp is up to no good, having recently acquired the rights to a large quantity of Kryptonite deposited in the Indian Ocean. This is Kryptonite that is recovered from General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) ship. Luthor needs the approval of United States Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) to have it shipped to his headquarters. Senator Finch is hesitant about Luthor’s request and is more in favor of bringing Superman to justice in the form of a Capitol Hill hearing, as opposed to stocking up on Kryptonite as a means of checks and balances. Luthor’s R&D is not limited to just developing the only substance known to man to kill Superman into a viable weapon. He’s also been keeping tabs on other superhuman inhabitants of the planet: The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Luthor also devises a twisted scheme to force Batman and Superman to fight to the death. And oh yeah, he’s also busying himself in a Kryptonian regeneration vat with the remains of General Zod, in order to create the most vile monstrosity known to man as a backup plan. Damn, talk about covering all of your bases!
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a departure from the innocence of blind hero worship found in previous Superman movies. There is a maturation process that is slowly ongoing. It’s not good enough that Superman defeats the villain. How he defeats the villain is just as important. As human beings we have to be accountable for our actions. We now want our superheroes to similarly be held accountable. Our consent of their use of unrestrained power in a time of existential threat is conditional upon how it is used and the resultant fallout. This is new territory for Superman fans. The Superman of yore (i.e. played by Christopher Reeve) was an American flag-waving hero who would draw villains into remote places, away from Metropolis, in order to cut down on collateral damage. Not today. Civilians be damned. Although in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman is persuaded to at least think about this, as his actions are called into question by the public.
Director Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice reprises the Bruce Wayne narrative, playing out the horrific scenario in which young Wayne loses his parents at the muzzle of a mugger’s gun. While heart wrenching, this opening sequence is a bit redundant in the conscious of most of us who already know how Bruce Wayne became Batman. Instead, the movie may have benefited from spending a few minutes in showing the backstory of Wonder Woman, who shows up mysteriously under the guise of her alias Diana Prince at a Lex Luthor reception. That being said, there’s much in the plot to stir the imagination of what could eventually transpire in forthcoming Justice League movies. We get just a glimpse of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Wonder Woman is given the most screen time, and when she unleashes her sword and lasso, it’s done with electric mal intent. And as for the “elephant in the room,” the supposed miscast of Ben Affleck in the role of Batman, well let’s just say that it doesn’t get in the way of the movie. He’s convincing as the affluent, debonair, and at times acerbic playboy Bruce Wayne because, after all he is Ben Affleck. TBT I would have preferred someone else in the role of Batman. Thank heavens for voice modulators!
Finally! After months of all of the promotion surrounding Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, it is here. A chance for all lovers of the Force and haters of the dark side, or vice versa depending upon where your sympathies lie, to throw themselves right back into the most celebrated galactic conflict in cinema history. The Force Awakens begins with resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow) under siege on planet Jakku. The First Order, which is the name given to a ruthless military organization whose tactics are similar to the Galactic Empire’s under the villainous reign of Darth Vader, has invaded Jakku to locate a map. But not just any map. It is a map that will lead them to the secret dwelling place of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke vanished years ago after helping to defeat the evil Galactic Empire. The map is hidden within a droid named BB-8. With it, the First Order can reach their ultimate goal which is to kill Luke Skywalker, the most famous Jedi that ever lived.
When First Order Commander Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) captures Poe Dameron, an order is given to kill all of the villagers. The stormtroopers open fire on the unarmed crowd. But one stormtrooper refuses to follow the order. His name is Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) or Finn for short. BB-8 escapes the clutches of the First Order stormtroopers. He keeps the map given to him by his master Poe Dameron stored in his memory. Although this information is discovered by Kylo Ren during his interrogation of Poe Dameron, BB-8 successfully finds a new temporary master named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is a poor inhabitant of Jakku.
Finn intercepts Poe Dameron after Kylo Ren learns the location of the map from him, and colludes with Poe to defect from the First Order. Together they commandeer a First Order TIE fighter ship and escape. In flight their fighter ship is shot down and they crash back onto Jakku where Finn eventually finds Rey and BB-8. When Kylo Ren orders his forces to go back to Jakku and retrieve BB-8, the newly formed resistance trio flees in the famed Millennium Falcon. The Millennium Falcon’s rightful owner Han Solo (Harrison Ford) soon locates his ship with Finn, Rey and BB-8 on it. He and his furry co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) retake command of the Falcon. If the resistance has any chance of fending off the First Order’s plan of galactic domination, it will take the efforts of everyone aboard the Falcon. A little help from the Force wouldn’t hurt either.
If you go to see The Force Awakens, do yourself a favor and see it in 3D. It is well worth the extra few dollars to see this ultra vivid world that J.J. Abrams has conceived-lush, verdant forests, arid desserts, snow capped mountainous terrains and cavernous space stations.
The hollowed base of the First Order, which is of a planetary scale, is so much more so than the Galactic Empire’s death star. If such hollowness directly corresponds to the soul of its operators, then the galaxy is in trouble. The Third Reich, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS combined have nothing on the First Order. These are really bad dudes. Really bad! And their leader is the biggest “badest” dude ever. His name is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and whenever he is summoned, or doing the summoning, he is a monstrously imposing figure. In those scenes where Snoke’s hologram is consulted, the cinematography leaps off of the screen with a gorgeous shower of light in a space mostly draped in a black pall.
Everything feels familiar with this seventh episode of Star Wars. The fun is back. The Millennium Falcon’s junky hull is back along with Han Solo and Chewy. R2-D2 is back and still annoying the hell out of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) with his insolent chirping. Princess Leia, I mean, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is back and still giving Han hell over his detached narcissistic patronizing ways. And Luke Skywalker is back. Finally! Sort of.
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?”