Category: (consuming) 2013
‘Mahogany’ (Gordy, Berry. 1975.)
chris. | 7 October 2013 | 10:43 pm | (consuming) 2013 | Comments closed


“Mahogany” is about Tracy, who’s from Chicago’s South Side.  She works in a department store but dreams of becoming a fashion designer — she takes night classes and has a relative, who works in the garment industry, who makes her designs.  Brian’s also from South Side, used to be a lawyer, and now is running for alderman (pretty unsuccessfully) on a platform of trying to help people hold onto their homes.  Brian doesn’t respect Tracy’s aspirations of working in the fashion industry and Tracy doesn’t seem to much respect Brian’s political career and passion for keeping people in their homes.

Let’s pause right here for a minute.  I sure wish the conversations between Tracy and Brian about the changing face of the South Side and the tensions between the two of them vis-a-vis staying versus moving up/out weren’t some of the most wooden, painful bits of dialogue in this movie.  Because would i have watched a film about these 2 trying to work out their relationship while addressing the obvious class issues around them and the class tensions between them?  Hell yes, whose blog do you think this is?

But the film’s not going to do that for you.  No, “Mahogany” wants you to be content with a shoddily thrown together relationship and to somehow find it in your heart to root for these 2.  Now i’m on record as having enjoyed the cute, flirtatious chemistry between Ross/Williams in their other film together.  But that’s all Tracy and Brian have going for them.  Otherwise, i cannot see any reason why they enjoy each other’s company let alone want to be a romantic item.  Brian really doesn’t have any respect for Tracy’s career — doesn’t even seem to respect that she wants any career let alone a career in the fashion industry.  He just keeps trying to drag her into helping him with his political campaign.  Tracy seems genuinely bored with politics, and it’s understandable when she gets pissed off at Brian always demanding that she come to his events to play the part of the political wife even when she has other things she needs/wants to do.

Well, no wonder she runs off to Rome without saying good-bye to Brian the instant creepy ol’ Sean the fashion photographer summons her.  Now, at first i was intrigued that Anthony Perkins was cast as Sean because he wasn’t coming off as any creepier than you’d expect a fashion photographer to be.  But!  Brian eventually goes to Rome to see Tracy and Sean pulls a gun on Brian during a party.  When Tracy finally stumbles home from the party, she and Brian argue (again) about careers (again) and he flies back to the U.S.  After the party Tracy and Sean clearly can’t stand each other and become very combative, and it’s also increasingly obvious that Sean is … well … psycho.  He has no respect for Tracy’s desire to be a fashion designer either.  Eventually, he throws her into a car, goes speeding onto a highway, insists on trying to photograph her while still stepping on the gas, and ultimately kills himself and gravely injures Tracy.

But why did Sean summon Tracy to Rome?  Basically to be his next big model.  He nicknames her … Mahogany.  UGH.  She becomes a superstar, which Sean loves, but which eventually grates on Tracy because no one is taking her designs seriously.  She seems to find an ally with Carlotta, the woman who was the 1st person to book her as a model in Rome, and during a fashion show the 2 of them scheme to have Tracy wear one of her own designs instead of what the show assigned to her.  This goes quite horribly until an older man, Christian, bids an outrageous sum for it.  Probably you can see where this is going, but i’ll tell you anyway.  After the accident with Sean, she winds up living at Christian’s villa as she recuperates.  He also arranges, aided by Carlotta, to establish a fashion house to produce Tracy’s own designs.  This  culminates in a fashion show for Tracy’s designs — in fact, the scene the film opens on — which is a spectacular success.

Tracy seems to feel horribly empty during the show, however.  And once back at villa for the night, Christian makes clear that when he spent that outrageous sum on her 1st design he had also very clearly intended to buy her.  Fortunately, despite demanding that she have sex with him that night, he relents because she’s clearly miserable and instead arranges for her to fly back to Chicago in the morning.

Naturally, the film ends with a scene of Brian on an outdoor stage campaigning for his senate campaign (fail to get elected alderman, of course you should aim for senate next — i mean, you’re clearly on a roll), and in the middle of his speechifying you hear Tracy’s voice shouting/flirting at him with exactly the same script she did earlier in the film after their 1st breakup.  He freaks out (but tries to remain cool, because, y’know, campaigning) because it’s obviously Tracy but he can’t see her.  And eventually there’s a big romantic moment where they’re moving thru’ the crowd toward each other and blah blah, but he’s challenging her out loud in front of the entire crowd to use her talents toward his political campaign.  So of course they embrace and kiss and the credits roll.

The meet-cute for Tracy and Brian is this.  She comes home at 11pm after her night class to hear Brian shouting thru’ a bullhorn about housing.  I agree with Tracy that this is not proper 11pm etiquette.  So the next time she seems him, one afternoon several days later, shouting at people thru’ his bullhorn she takes the opportunity to prank him by pouring milk into the mouthpiece so when he picks it up to use it again he gets doused.  Naturally, he blames the nearby white construction workers and starts a fight.  He spends the night in jail and she bails him out with a bum $100 check.  Andy1 assures me getting into fistfights is how people know they can trust you as a Chicago politician.  Therefore i’m also assuming that getting someone thrown in jail overnight is standard South Side flirtation practice.

In conclusion, not even Diana Ross’s great hair can save this movie.  I do think Ross and Williams had nice, flirty chemistry between them and am sorry they didn’t have a better film to explore it in.

  1. His grandparents are from the South Side. []
‘Lady Sings the Blues’ (Furie, Sidney J. 1972.)
chris. | 4 October 2013 | 11:17 pm | (consuming) 2013 | 2 Comments

There are 2 things that bothered me about “Lady Sings the Blues”.  First, if the Wikipedia article on Billie Holiday is in any way accurate (and i generally estimate bios on Wikipedia to be at least 50% accurate), then the film only gives the barest outline of her life.  For one thing, Billie was married at least once before Louis McKay.  Second, as good as Diana Ross is, i was never once fooled into seeing her as Billie Holiday.  There is just not sufficient resemblance for Ross to carry it off.

If you look at “Lady Sings the Blues” as a piece of fiction that just happens to be about someone who’s also named Billie Holiday and aspires to be a jazz singer in New York clubs, then it’s a perfectly fine film.  And what they’ve done by including Louis McKay from the very beginning of Billie’s career is turn their relationship into a nice love story.

What i especially enjoyed about the film:

Richard Pryor plays Piano Man.  Damn.  As a child of the ’80s, my impression of Pryor was mostly (unfortunately!) limited to a vague awareness of “the freebasing incident”.  I deeply regret this now because he was absolutely the standout for me in this movie.

The chemistry between Diana Ross/Billie Holiday and Billy Dee Williams/Louis McKay.  If you skip ahead to 39.20 (and you can watch the whole film via YouTube if you want1) you’ll get to see the 1st time Billie and Louis go out together.  The way she keeps him sassed and on his toes and he gets all flustered is just heart-meltingly adorable2:

Also, goddamn can Billy Dee Williams wear the hell out of a vintage 3-piece pinstripe suit.  He also looks fine in the scene where he is out of his 3-piece suit — ahem.

The deleted scenes on the DVD were also fascinating3.  There’s a scene where Louis confronts and punches the bandmember who’s been sharing drugs with Billie, which is something i really kept hoping would happen.  There’s a really delightful scene between Billie’s mother (who’s otherwise barely in the film) and Piano Man, which i found very sweet.  There’s a scene with Billie going back to her mother after Louis kicks her out, which showed Billie’s mother being very sick and would have helped to make more sense of Billie’s mother’s death (which otherwise seemed to come pretty abruptly).  And there’s also a decent scene which, admittedly, was a bit overlong and talky where Billie and Louis discuss the offer she’s received to tour with Reg’s band and Louis pretty much talks her into it because he knows it will be good for her career (which would have made clear the line later on when Louis tries to take her off the tour, saying “I’m the one who sent you out here and now i’m taking you home”).

I’d mostly recommend this film for the chemistry between Ross and Williams.  Otherwise, as mentioned, it’s only loosely about Billie Holiday.

And there’s also much to not recommend it.  I mean, it’s about Billie Holiday, so there need to be trigger warnings for rape, lynching, a KKK assault, drug use, and the violent assault and death of Piano Man.

I did appreciate that the film tried to end on a not-too-somber note.  The last scene is Billie triumphant at her Carnegie Hall performance, overlaid with newspaper headlines detailing how she failed to get her cabaret license back (and thus could not legally perform in New York clubs), was arrested (again) for drugs, and finally died at age 44.  The film had already run my heart thru’ the ringer so i was grateful it didn’t give me one final sucker punch on the way out.

  1. The person who uploaded the film has the most charming and utterly wrong idea of how copyright law works that i have ever seen. []
  2. Not that their relationship starts on the best of notes, since he tries to imply that he deserves to spend the night with her because he tipped her as she was singing and he knows she worked as a prostitute. []
  3. Which is unusual.  I enjoy looking at deleted scenes, but usually it’s pretty obvious why they were deleted. []
‘Pitch Perfect’ (Moore, Jason. 2012.)
chris. | 28 September 2013 | 10:40 pm | (consuming) 2013 | Comments closed

I picked this up because Mimi Thi Nguyen recommended it to me on Twitter1And she was not wrong.

It’s about college acapella groups, focusing on the Barden Bellas who are trying to win nationals after an unfortunate projectile vomit episode at last year’s competition.  The Bellas aren’t respected by the Treblemakers (the other premier acapella group on campus) and are down to only 2 members.  Beca is a freshman who doesn’t want to be at college, wants to be in LA mixing music, and basically joins the Bellas despite herself.

The movie wasn’t as consistently laugh-out-loud funny as “Undercover Brother” was (probably we should have watched this on friday night and followed up with UB on saturday), and i could feel Andy losing interest periodically.  Overall, he came out enjoying it, declaring it “sufficiently self-aware”.  And also he loved Rebel Wilson.

Things i could have done without:

  • Beca’s dad.  He could have been 100% absent from the movie and no one would have noticed.  His storyline does not add anything to the film overall, and i could not believe the film believed that he, as both Beca’s dad and a professor at the college, would have had carte blanche to just walk into a dorm and enter his daughter’s room.  I mean, she also has a roommate and did she consent to that??  GROSS.
  • Lesbians being funny just by existing.
  • Pushy almost-boyfriend.  Jesse was adorable and i didn’t mind the romantic element (tho’ Andy declared it could have been axed), but he was way more involved in Beca’s life than he needed to be for someone who wasn’t actually a boyfriend.

Things that were awesome:

  • Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy.
  • Lilly “I set fires to feel joy” Onakuramara.
  • Ester Dean.  My god, what a voice.  I’m going to have to pick up her album.
  • Utkarsh Ambudkar — Donald, of the Treblemakers.  Another great vocalist.  Looks like he has some albums available, too.

But, overall, i loved this movie for the music and for how it captured the sense of performing live.  I think this is where Andy and i wildly diverge in our reaction to the film.  I could watch it over and over for remembering the sense of putting on a well-honed performance in front of a live audience.  I was in my high school’s band and it’s just an amazing rush to be part of a performance coming together perfectly.  I really miss that.

Here are some clips worth watching.

The Riff-Off:

The Treblemakers’ final (i loved the staging for this, also DONALD!):

And the Bellas’ final:

Also, just for Andy, Rebel Wilson:

“I sometimes have a feeling I could do crystal meth, but then I think, Mmmmmm, better not”.

  1. Yes, i basically only watch films these days that are recommended to me by friends, Twitter, and Tumblr. []
‘Undercover Brother’ (Lee, Malcom D. 2002.)
chris. | 27 September 2013 | 10:59 pm | (consuming) 2013 | Comments closed

We watched this because Andy’s friend Paul suggested it.  Paul’s success rate in suggesting movies to me is frankly alarming for someone who likes to argue that modern English speakers are using words wrong based on the word’s Latin root.  I mean, just on principle i want to hate everything he suggests for me.  But “Undercover Brother” was hilarious and, honestly, i nearly hurt myself laughing.  We had to pause at one point near the end because i couldn’t breathe.

The film is a spoof of both ’70s blaxploitation filmes and James Bond movies, neither of which i know sufficiently to judge how well “Undercover Brother” spoofed them.  Frankly, i hate James Bond movies in general.  I’d be glad for suggestions of blaxploitation movies that are worth seeing, tho’.

It’s hard to overpraise the movie.  It was smart, witty, and self-aware.  The plot moved at a good pace.  I recommend it for the characters and tight, snappy dialogue.  Dave Chappelle was hilarious as conspiracy brother!  Aunjanue Ellis was fantastic as Sistah Girl.  And Neil Patrick Harris had a nice bit part.

The one thing that makes me uncomfortable about the film is its damn marketing.  I mean, for one thing, here’s the movie poster:

'Undercover Brother' film poster

And for another thing, here’s the trailer:

Problem?  White She-Devil was just not that important a part of the film for me.  I was far more invested in the badass Sistah Girl.  Ugh, pandering much?

‘Fast Five’ (Lin, Justin. 2011.)
chris. | 25 May 2013 | 1:07 am | (consuming) 2013 | 3 Comments

I didn’t know a movie could be more perfect than “Hot Fuzz”, but apparently if you add The Rock + Vin Diesel you can actually equal the awesome of Timothy Dalton.

me:  “Andy, does math really work that way?  Maybe i shouldn’t have flunked all those math classes in high school.  I guess they don’t get to this until you get to the really advanced stuff.”

Andy:  “If only Timothy Dalton could be the villain in a future ‘Fast & Furious’ movie.”

me:  [dies]

In conclusion, if Sparkymonster tells you to watch a movie, you watch that movie.

re-reading Earthsea: ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ (Le Guin. 1968.)
chris. | 13 February 2013 | 10:04 pm | (consuming) 2013 | Comments closed

I don’t want to write too much about Tehanu before i actually get to that book in my re-reading, but i do want to mention up front that i feel very lucky to have first encountered the Earthsea trilogy in about 1989/1990 because it meant that Tehanu was published very shortly thereafter and so there was only about a year or so in between when i read the trilogy and when i read the 4th book.  I say that this makes me feel lucky because i feel that the short distance between the Trilogy and Tehanu for me made the 4th book feel as tho’ it was a natural, organic progression of the stories of Earthsea.  I am not one of those who hates Tehanu and everything else after it that Le Guin has written in the world of Earthsea.  Quite the contrary: i can’t imagine Earthsea without Tehanu.  I, in fact, absolutely loved Tehanu.

I mention this now because it’s hard for me to not keep Tehanu (and all the stories that have come after that novel) in mind as i re-read the Earthsea trilogy this time thru’.  And especially, returning to the original 3 Earthsea stories as a 40-year-old who has had decades to think about their place in the world as a woman — to re-think their gender entirely –, it’s impossible for me to not think about the genders of Earthsea, to not think about the expectations of and limitations on the women of this world.

And … Earthsea is a completely male world.  Women are typically mentioned only because of a connection they have to a man.  Any magical power a woman has is immediately put into context as being lesser/stupider than the true magic that men wield.  It really bothers me a lot.  I do keep finding myself hoping that beyond the farthest Reaches, beyond the open sea is a land on the other side of the world where women have power that’s valued, that gives them status and worth that isn’t tied to the men in their lives.  I start The Tombs of Atuan tomorrow and i can’t wait to meet Arha/Tenar again.  I’m curious how her world will strike me on this re-read.

Other thoughts on A Wizard of Earthsea:

*)  It’s interesting to me that the main character is referred to in the narrative by his true name, whereas everyone else is referred to by their use-name.  Whenever anyone calls Ged “Sparrowhawk” — or, more jarring still, “Lord Sparrowhawk” — i am momentarily thrown out of the story as i try to reconcile the use-name with the main character.

*)  I am caught between 2 sides of Ged that i can’t quite reconcile in my mind.  On the one hand, he so easily moves into the role of wizard where he simply accepts/expects that people will give him things solely because he’s a wizard and carries a staff — something i noted most keenly when he met the castaway prince and princess on the uncharted island and he simply commanded the old man to build up the fire, and then helped himself to clothes and several nights’s rest, as tho’ all this were his due.  Yet, on the other hand, the narrative makes it clear when he’s in the village in the Hands that he feels most at home amongst poor folk.  This is simply my own set of U.S. class issues pressing against the story, i know, but nevertheless they are 2 attitudes that don’t quite sync up for me.

*)  Reading this now that i’ve lived in Seattle for over a decade one thing is very clear to me:  This is a deeply Pacific Northwest story/world.  The inland sea, the wild coasts, the islands.  And, over all, my god — THE WEATHER.  Is this world ever not grey?  Is there no sun??  DOES THE RAIN NEVER END?!?!