"FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" (2008)
ﾠI really only have one complaint with this movie: why couldn't it have been made ten years ago? Jackie Chan and Jet Li are past their peak...but still, arguably, better than anyone in the world. Yes, it's a mash-up of every convention of Chinese martial arts epics, and yes, it is Americanized as hell (what would you expect? It's our money. It has to appeal to our audiences. And at 55 million dollars, the box office for "Crouching Tiger" would barely break even--and trust me, this is no "Crouching Tiger.") Micheal Angorano ("Sky High") plays a kung-fu obsessed teenager who must return a sacred staff to the legendary Monkey King in a mythical, magical Imperial China. Along the way he meets a drunken-style indigent (Jackie Chan, who also plays an elderly shopkeeer) and a mysterious monk (Jet Li, who also plays the Monkey king). Look, this isn't the very best of Chinese cinema. But I promise you it's better than LOTS of Chinese epics I enjoyed the hell out of as a boy. And they put honest effort into it. Angorano is a decent actor, and actually moves with a bit of physical fluidity (he compares quite favorably with Keanu Reeves, trained by the same team for "Matrix").
ﾠAnd as for Jackie and Jet. Look. Life isn't perfect. But the chance to see them together is infinitely more satisfying than watching the few moments of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing together ("That's Enertainment: Part 2" and the "Babbit and the Bromide" sketch in "Zigfield Follies"). And the comparison is apt. Jet is Astaire--he is the superior martial artist. Jackie Chan is Kelly--who wasn't the dancer Astaire was, but actually made the better, more creative movies. Jackie is simply one of God's gifts, and the fact that we finally got these guys together, wire work and CGI and all, is a miracle. I was grinning like a fool. Yes, they're older, but they move PERFECTLY. And any human performance at that level is a joy to behold.
ﾠI understand there was more of a romantic subtext between Angorano and a gorgeous Chinese girl seeking revenge for the death of her family (Liu Yi Fei), which was excised. Good. Frankly, if he'd kissed her it would have irritated me no end, considering how Jet and Jackie have been emasculated in American film. But by removing that element, I was able to relax and watch this cultural event with perhaps a lingering regret that it couldn't have been better...but a realization that were the shoe on the other foot, I doubt the Chinese would have been better at saluting an eccentric American art form.
ﾠWhatever its failings, "Forbidden Kingdom" is obviously a labor of love with two actual geniuses at play. You don't see much of that these days. Actually, you never saw much of that, ever. For someone like me, this fantasy adventure earns an "A". For a typical American audience, probably a "B". For a Chinese audience, probably a "C" and for stickler purists who are offended by anything less than perfection...maybe a "D+"
Nicki and ﾠI had a hell of a time. Jason is gonna LOVE this.
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008)
This latest comedy from uber-producer Judd Apatow (40-Year-Old Virgin, etc.) is written by, and stars Jason Segel as Peter Bretter, a television composer for the seedy cop show that stars his girlfriend, the eponymous Sarah Marshall. When she breaks up with him for being a slacker (hilariously) he pretty much melts down, ultimately seeking solace in a Hawaiian vacation, where he ends up in the room next to...his ex and her rock-star boyfriend. Hilarity ensues. The movie is quite raunchy, but not non-stop laugh-out-loud guffaws only. There is a touch of honesty and clarity about human relationships mixed into the stew, and a sweetness that is occasionally surprising. Very entertaining, sexy stuff, and I'll give it a solid "B".
WARNING: SAMBO ALERT
There are two black characters. One is a girl Bretter screws. The other is a grotesquely fat black man who counsels him on romance. So bizarre. The "Breeding Circle" phenomenon in full bloom: all the white guys are sexual (remarkably, athletically so), all women want to screw white men, and black men are either too fat, too old, too gay, too young, too dead, or too busy for nookie.
Remember that this blog is my attempt to externalize my thought patterns, a sort of internet quasi-spiritual autolysis. I don't present this as "fact", only a genuine insight into my thought processes. This is a PERFECT example of the reasoning process that leads me to reject the notion that Obama has an advantage on the basis of race.
These are my assumptions/positions:
1) Human sexuality is a deep and unconscious river. By the time you have accepted that a member of another group is having sex with a member of your group (say, your daughter or sister) without flinching, for all practical purposes, your "racist" tendencies are a non-issue.
2) Box Office in films is a good, fast-and-dirty measurement of what people are comfortable with, or want to see. It is better than surveys (where people might say what is politically correct) because movie theaters are designed to throw audiences into mild trance. The images we hunger for in this state are revelatory of deep emotional needs and desires.
3) With the single exception of a short period between about 1968-1973 when black film first matured, minorities have always been presented in films as partial human beings-specifically in the arena of sexuality. When sex is present in these films, the box office suffers. Thus, no film featuring sexual behavior in non-white males has ever earned over 100 million dollars, regardless of the fact that about 15% of 100-million plus films feature non-white male stars, and that about 25% of over-100 million movies feature sexuality. One exception to this: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
4) Because the filmmakers in Hollywood come from all over the country, and because Los Angeles is one of the most diverse areas in the country, and due also to personal experience traveling and working around the country, I completely reject the notion that Hollywood is more racist than America as whole. I actually find that notion almost comical. The results of the box office, over the thirty years I've been watching, match my social experience...and have allowed me to actually predict box office performance.
Add these things up. Remember I said that "If Will Smith can't get laid, Obama can't get elected?" The reverse is true: "If Obama can get elected, Will Smith can get laid" (in a movie). This means that I acknowledge that public acceptance might lead the (economically conservative) decisions that drive the movie industry. My guess right now is that Smith COULD get laid in a movie, and still get it across 100 million. But that it would hurt the box office of his NEXT film. Is this cynical? Well, if you'd been right in your predictions about something as painful as this for more than half your life, you might be cynical too.
So then, while I can see that it is POSSIBLE for things to have changed, my whole life I've talked to white people who say "gee, Steve, you're behind the times..." based pretty much on wishful thinking. And not one of them had noticed the sex thing. Which makes me think that there are countless other, subtler clues and cues they miss as well. Point these things out and they get depressed: "gee. I'd hoped things have changed. What can I do?" I've heard variations on these two sentences countless times.
Because of these statistics, and the fact that whites are oblivious to it until their noses are actively rubbed in it (I'm sure men can be this way about women's issues, straights that way about gay issues, etc: if you're winning, you don't ask if the deck is stacked) I listen to someone say "Obama has an advantage because he's black" and it makes about as much sense as saying "he has an advantage because he's Muslim" or "he has an advantage because he's a Junior Senator." Given my other belief systems and observations, it would make sense that my position is: "no, in all probability, he's where he is DESPITE these things. And that without those disadvantages, he would have smashed Clinton out of the race months ago. His advantage is that a large number of people see him as extraordinarily intelligent, charismatic, and uncommonly honest and direct. I think that most of those who disagree disagree not because they are racist, but because individual perceptions make the world look different to different people. I think that the Ann Coulter-ish belief that people who think him extraordinary are lowering their standards because he's black are exactly as reasonable as people who think those who DON'T think him extraordinary hold that opinion on the basis of race.
They are your mirror: look carefully, and tell me if you like what you see.
I'm not saying I'm right. I'm saying that this is honestly what I think, and why I think it. These are the voices that buzz behind my ears. Chances are very good every black person you know has thoughts similar to this, whether they will admit it to you or not.
This stuff also seems to be consistent with my other thought patterns--it's turtles "all the way down" so to speak.
1) People who are in favor of Obama are because they have positive regard for his mind and heart, and because he "makes them feel good" (this isn't a pejorative or a complement on my part. A large stack of money makes me feel better than a small one. Ice cream makes me feel better [in the short term] than liver. Emotions can be connected to logical reasons or not).
2) People who are not for Obama feel that others surpass him in the arena of mind or emotions, making them feel good, or they do not share his vision.
3) While a higher percentage of black people probably support Obama for racial reasons than white people who reject him for racial reasons, numerically the number of whites voting against him for racial reasons would surpass the NUMBER of blacks whose votes he has won on that basis.
4) the percentage of whites who would vote for him based on race and the percentage who would vote against him on the same basis cannot be established to my satisfaction. I therefore cancel these out.
5) Since I used "blacks having sex in films" as a standard to measure when the playing field is level, and this has not happened, it would be illogical, in the absence of outside evidence, for ME to believe that Obama has an advantage based on race. It would be inconsistent with an entire rubrical architecture (is that a word) which has helped me make sense of the world most of my adult life. Not that it is CORRECT, but when you have something that allows you to predict with confidence, only a fool would discard it without solid reasons.
I would LOVE to think that things have changed enough for Obama to have some kind of an advantage based on race. But I see nothing, nothing at all in the culture to support that other than a lot of wishful thinking by very nice people. And a bit of venomous thinking by others who are not nice at all.
When black men have sex in movies, and white audiences come out to see it, I'll admit the playing field is level. Until then, I will extend no benefit of the doubt at all, except to believe that human beings are basically good, and motivated to evil and oppression primarily by fear. I can look at blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, Conservatives and Liberals and love all of them from that position. Any other position seems to lead me into some pretty ugly conclusions...about everyone.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:04 AM