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MoVideos will be featuring the latest & greatest of DVD releases and your opinions on feature films -- the netitor of the NetPaper

"BLACK LOVE" VIDEO VIEWS...

VIDEO VIEWS by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

FROM THE VIDEOVIEWS VAULT:

- "BLACK LOVE" VIDEOS

"THE BEST MAN" "SPRUNG" "POETIC JUSTICE,"

"BELOVED" "TRIPPIN"

"HOW TO BE A PLAYER"

"THE WOOD" "ROMEO MUST DIE" "FOOLISH"

967

oct 12 tues. 1999 filename: best man

CINEMAVIEWS  by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

The ‘Best Man’ Is Best Bet

The delightful romantic comedy "Best Man" combines several winning ingredients from past movies and genres such as "Sprung", "Woo", "Waiting To Exhale" and "Hav Plenty" to craft a funny, arousing ensemble film, based on the "Screwball Comedies" of the 1940s.

Like "Sprung" another screwball comedy oriented towards a young African descended population, there is a wedding on the offing, with some pre-nuptial jitters on the part of the male. This is quite unlike "Runaway Bride" where instead it is Julia Roberts as a woman with a serial case of the nerves that causes her to bolt just before the altar.

"Best Man" is an uplifting and triumphal celebration of friendship and fidelity. There are comical scenes, tender loving scenes, and scenes of supreme hurt in "Best Man." Even as a man I was on an emotional roller coaster during the film.

There are going to be comparisons to "The Wood," and while understandable they are misplaced. The films are different in several respects. One, "The Wood" is about high schoolers and is richly and primarily flashback-based, with dual casts of Then and Now.

"Best Man" keeps the flashbacks to a minimum, uses the same cast members, and is about a group of college friends. Its also more "R" rated fare than "The Wood." We’ll get to that. Think "Soul Food" with the windowsill. And the sink.

Mia is the bride, an angelic delicate woman. Jordan is a workaholic for Black Entertainment Television. "A woman like Jordan don’t need no man, she’s one step from being a Lesbian, bro," says Quentin, the cynic among the crew who changed his major many times back in school and is somewhat the philosopher of the group.

Robin is Harper’s stalwart woman back home; Shelby is the pushy control freak over Murchison, who gives into her pouty behaviour every time. Lance is the groom, an NFL football player with a phat new contract. Candy is a shake dancer at the bachelor party, and another reason kids shouldn’t see the movie! But the brothas will be well-pleased. The movie was directed by a Black man, and he’s kicked those anorexic, bony actresses to the curb for those real sistahs with some serious back!

The craziness begins when an advance copy of a "factional" fiction romantic book starts making the rounds on the weekend of a marriage between two of the author’s friends. Harper figured they’d be married for a couple of months before his "Unfinished Business" even hit the stands, But Jordan, an ambitious BET reporter played by "love jones" ,"Soul Food" and "In Too Deep’s" Nia Long, has obtained an advance copy that has been making the rounds of the wedding party. Harper and Jordan also have a bit of a history.

Taye Diggs is the new novelist who used his and their college years as the basis of the novel, including the late-night chats with formerly platonic female friends and study-buddies who up decide to make a move on you when you’ve got your face in a textbook on Analytical Trigonometry. Later, you look at each other in a vastly different way. Are you still friends after you’ve become lovers?

The fur starts to fly and hitting the fan when people start to recognize themselves in the novel about college life and lovers, including the last two people in the world who should see it. "But it’s just a book! That’s what writers do!!" Harper protests to those who think he put their business out.

"Best Man" has the one scene that I always wanted to see, with brothas talking about women and our relationships with them. It was seen with women in "Jungle Fever" and "Waiting To Exhale." The one scene we’re not likely to ever see in a movie is a group with all White women talking about why they go after Black men. Because they do talk!

Taye Diggs is fast becoming the new age Billy Dee Williams of Black romantic films after starring opposite Angela Basset in "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." He also was the groom in "The Woo," and in the teen crime noir thriller "Go." Monica Calhoun as Mia is the second shake dancer from Ice Cube’s "Player’s Club" to play a bride, showing how resilient and talented these actors are. The first was LisaRaye, the radiant bride in "The Wood."

The others members in the "Big Chill" and "Hav Plenty" -like ensemble cast includes Terence Howard ("Dead Presidents" , "Sunset Park") Morris Chestnut ("The Inkwell", "Boyz N The Hood,") Melissa DeSouza ("Ride") Harold Perrineau ("The Edge", "Romeo & Juliette") Sanaa Lathan and Regina Hall.

"Best Man" is similar to other recent movies such as "Exhale," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and "Hav Plenty" with the story and surroundings taking place entirely with and among the upscale. Gone are the days when you could get people in the theatres by offering a love story in the gritty city.

As in the screwball comedies of the 40s, people want to see opulence and luxury for their $20 movie outing! Escapism is back with a vengeance, at least as far as romance is concerned. "Waiting To Exhale" was criticized by some Black women because they said the four mate-seeking professional women in the Phoenix, Arizona based film "weren’t realistic."

Excuse me? Most Black people, almost two-thirds in fact, are middle income /middle class with comfortable incomes and aren’t down and out slum dwellers, scuffling for cash or buying their groceries with food stamps, and it’s high time the movies reflected this.

"Best Man" exudes opulence. The dresses the women wear, Jordan’s upwardly mobile Buppie-tized apartment, even the night clubs where the fellas sit back and kick it are pleasing to the eye.

"I wanted to do a real story" says Malcolm Lee, the writer/director of "Best Man." "Educated people who haven’t seen each other in a long time because they are so busy with their careers… a film where no one shoots anyone, no one does drugs. People just live their lives." Robert Townsend and Rusty Condieff, the director of "Sprung" have much the same aspirations, with mixed success.

"Best Man" is a good, but not great movie, but it’s the entertainment people pay for in a movie: there are involving and sympathetic characters, an understandable storyline, nice sets, and a quick pace that doesn’t have you conscious of the time and peeking at your watch. But best of all it shows Black people loving each other, sisters helping each other through, and Black men being pals.

But being a friend sometimes includes checking your friends. "Everybody here knows you’re gonna be with Jordan tonight! You ain’t no better than the rest of us!" hisses Terence Howard’s Quentin, articulating part of the drama that’s been wafting and swirling through the air that weekend.

I take issue with the changeover with Harper, the cynical agnostic/atheist author played by Taye Diggs. As in "Hoodlum," when Laurence Fishburne’s original gangster character enters a church at the end of the movie that’s not how it is. An atheist or an agnostic is no more likely to convert so easily from their non-belief than a committed Christian or Muslim would renounce their faith and becomes an Unbeliever.

The film is not for the young, anymore than the sometimes raunchy "Soul Food" by Milwaukeean George Tillman, Jr. There are scenes and language used in "Best Man" that greatly earns its "R" rating. I’m talking about female pillow-biting to mute their orgasmic screams, and shadowy depictions of doggystyle such as in "The Walking Dead." Do you want your ten year old daughters --or even your sons! --to see that stuff? Don’t say you weren’t warned. And when you’re made a grandparent before you’re an In-Law don’t complain.

Many theatres don’t allow young children 6 or under into theatres. This is to keep the comfort level for paying customers, as well as a signal for some of y’all to come off that money and pay a babysitter! Nobody wants to have some kid wailing in the movie or kicking the backs of the seats.

Enough venting. One more thing: you’ll want to stay for ALL the credits in "Best Man," because they put things after them, like in "House On Haunted Hill," also starring Taye Diggs. You just watched a two-hour movie, why walk out on the last few minutes, anyway? --KJW

Got an opinion on the movies? Contact: Cinema Views c/o Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic,

BLACK & WHITE

 april 11, tuesday, 2000 filename: black & white

CINEMA VIEWS by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

"BLACK & WHITE"

"Black & White" is a movie that moves along at a good clip for most of its time that would at first seem to be mainly about a crew of upper-class suburban "Wiggers" and their ghetto homies before it starts to congeal just a bit into something a little more. But only a little.

"Black & White" moves along from character to character with the zest of a bumblebee in a garden of flowers, giving it a disjointed feel. But if you’ve watched music videos and the generation raised on them, you realize while these cinematic techniques may jar the more mature set, today’s younger filmgoers take them in stride.

Sticky Fingaz, Raekwon, Method Man, Power, Allan Houston and Mike Tyson join Elijah Wood, Gaby Hoffman, Marla Maples, Claudia Schiffer, Bijou Philips, Scott Caan, Ben Stiller, and Jared Leto. These are just a few of the actors in the sprawling film, which involves blackmail, a drug dealer trying to leave the life, a White chick studying Black people like lab rats, a District attorney trying to reconnect with his wayward sons, and several wiggers who’ll leave a quail dinner to dash uptown to be in the ‘hood.

One of the several plot lines revolve around Brook Shields as Sam Donager who arrives in NYC to shoot a documentary about White kids who want to be Black. She has a Gay husband Terry, who uses his Gaydar to spot out and solicit men, some of whom like Mike Tyson don’t play that mess! Notice how both characters have androgynous names, but Shield’s "Sam" is the more masculine?

The supremely talented Robert Downey Jr. of "U.S. Marshals" and "The Wonder Boys" plays the swish Terry in the ensemble film that is primarily dialog laden as the various lives and interconnections get more and more tangled and deadly.

Thoughts of massively cast films such as "Magnolia" spring to mind, where in that film there were nine or so main plots and subplots about a group of people in Los Angeles who are connected in ways that none could have imagined, including a plague of frogs falling from the nighttime sky! (Read the full review at www.geocities.com/ walkerworld_2000/ cinema_views.magnolia.html ].

I found "Black & White" to be enjoyable because it was fast paced, even if during its running it seemed it was going nowhere fast. The several plot lines start to converge about two-thirds of the way through "Black & White" , but by then it starts to noticeably drag. Then things start to get interesting, as the lifestyle choices start to catch up to several of the conflicted characters.

Rich is a drug dealer trying to change his lifestyle to a rap music impresario. "From now on the only hits we make is gonna be on CDs!" he tells his hotheaded homiez. The crime lord Rich is played by Wu Tang Clan’s Oli "Power" Grant. Method Man, also from Wu Tang, plays a street poem master, dropping rhymes like "do u love the other more than u love yourself?" The White kids don’t get it.

Director James Toback used lots of improvisation during the filming of "Black & White." One almost got Robert Downey Jr.’s face smashed in by Mike Tyson, who doesn’t need a lot of provocation to begin with. But when Downey’s flaming homo character comes onto him, saying "I had a dream the other night... that you were holding me..." that crosses the line!

The cast of dozens include a dredlocked Brooke Shields and Mike Tyson doing something like a tender emotional scene where she tells him "you’re beautiful..." as she strokes his face. The savage beast within Iron Mike is quelled.

Blonde Aryan Supermodel Claudia Schiffer’s Greta is shown gettin’ jiggy with a couple of brothas, because she likes her meat dark, mean and lean.

"Black & White" doesn’t whitewash the subject of interracial sexuality at all, it gleefully embraces it, although in a clumsy fashion. Black and White bodies are shown intertwined in the morning after a night of debaucherous sex; a inner city crime lord has a group of high school girls arrayed around him, fumbling through his robe and groping on him while he’s on the phone making dope deals. Their White boyfriends stand by helplessly.

A hopeful sistah, searching around the party house, walks in on an ex-boyfriend who she might be getting back together with. She’s aghast when she sees "a White Bitch with her legs cocked open, wearing Granny draws with flowers on them!"

The term "White Bitch" is used a quite a few times, as when Mike Tyson, playing himself, is explaining why he wants to stay out of trouble. "I don’t trust no White bitch…they’ll put me under the jail for messin’ with one’a you!"

The movie has a definite point of view, and among them seems to be "White Women Chasing After Black Men are Poison." Well, of course! Another is that these wiggers are having a lark while they’re young, after which they’ll rejoin their race and assume the rights of White Privilege they’re heirs to.

The movie "Black & White" although it has the rap stars and music that will draw the same urban Black crowd whose lifestyle is depicted, is really about privileged White kids who are temporarily attracted to what they think is the Black Urban Lifestyle. They refer to themselves as "me an’ my Niggas" and think "being Black" is animalistically laying around the house smoking dope while watching videos, listening to raunchy rap music and having sex with multiple partners with no commitment, like dogs in heat.

This occasions some discussion by Rich. "Wussup with these White kids tryin’ to be like us? White chick’s cravin’ brothas, White chicks slanging p___y around. Wassup with that?

"They tryin’ to draw off our life-force or somethin’?" he asks his pal Dean, a college basketball player headed for the NBA

Charly, one of the upper-class Manhattanites tries to explain the attraction of the urban Black experience --as they misunderstand it-- to Sam.

"I’m young, and in America! I can be what ever I want to be while I’m young. And I can do whatever I want. I wanna be Black, and be around it, and down in it. And I’ll be over it soon…

"Why do you refer to yourselves as niggers?" Sam asks the group as they prepare to head uptown and the Black part of town.

"I can say these are my niggas..." Charly, played by Bijou Phillips explains.

"But ‘nigger…’ that’s a pejorative term, why do you use it?," Terry asks, digital camcorder to her face as she interviews the crew of wannabes.

"Nig-GER’ is. Not nig-GUH’" Charly says, correcting her, swiveling her head around for emphasis, just like a sistah, and "What-evah!" as she dismisses people. Her mother Muffy is played by ex-Donald Trump woman Marla Maples.

Claudia Schiffer is pretty good in "Black & White" as Greta the Anthropology college student who is doing a thesis on Race Relations. The smitten basketball playing brother Dean, played by NBA star Allen Houston of the New York Knicks should have run the other way quick! But he doesn’t know that he’s only a lab rat to someone like her.

"I think we can make it," he says hopefully to his homie Rich. Oh you poor, poor, fool! I saw the movie a couple of weeks before its release with some critics, and as usual I was the only African descended person in the room. It would have been interesting to see the reactions of a young Black audience, or better yet a mixed one!

Movies like "Black & White" cry out for post-screening discussion, sucxh as we had for screenings of "Hav Plenty" and "The Hurricane."

The little seen "Whiteboys" impressed me more, although that film has little of the scope of "Black & White." Placed in Iowa and Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green housing projects, it’s about a crew of rural White dudes who also embrace being Black in their rural isolation. Some know, just as "Black & White" that they’re doing it as a youthful lark, or just like the music and it’s just a phase they’re going through. But one of the characters is more serious, immersing himself into being dysfunctionally "Black" to an alarming degree that lands him and the crew in some major drama.

Bonz Malone, as he did in his comparatively small jailhouse part in "Slam," shows superb acting ability in "Whiteboys" to go along with his writing and commentary as the naive group’s guide during an ill-fated trip to score a dope deal in the projects that will set them up in Iowa. —KJW

See these reviews at:  http://cinemaviews.tripod.com/ From there, you'll find links to the other sites featuring community news, science, commentary, and pictures and stories from Chronicles of The Travel Griot.

 --30--

________________________________

filename: romeo must die mon. march
                           20, 2000

CINEMA VIEWS by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

'Romeo Must Die' -A Tight Movie Spiced Up By Aaliyah, DMX

"Here’s the deal: You let me go, and I’ll let you live"

--Jet Li’s Han/Akbar

by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

"Romeo Must Die" is a winningly crafted film that is part of the new trend of blending urban themes with Martial Arts action and Hip Hop. In Oakland does the movie makes it's scene, where civil war makes civil hands unclean.

This shoot ’em up basically is about two warring factions for control of Oakland’s waterfront. Two syndicates, one African descended the other Asian based, are having a war and one of the Asian gangsters is snuffed. His big brother comes to America from Hong Kong to settle the score.

They have offended his family, leading Han to head to America and see that justice is done and avenge the family honour.

The furious Jet Li stars as big brother Han, who arrives from Hong Kong to Oakland, and finds two warring rival camps, and it turns out one of them is headed by his own family and that's why his brother was caught up in it.

The direction from former cinematographer Andrezej Bartkowiak gives "Romeo Must Die" some excellent visuals. The stares from patrons as the couple wades through Silk’s club, to the dive from a skyscraper as two couples falls slow-motion to their deaths in an extended free-fall, the camera tracking them for storey after awful storey as they claw the air.

The urban Gangsta Black/Asian field isn't being ignored by others. Also coming out in a couple of weeks will be "Ghost Dog." Forrest Whittaker stars in the Jim Jarmusch directed movie blending Kung-Fu with Urban Drama about a Homie who blends the style of the Asiatic Ninja with his career as a Hit Man. I like the way Ghost Dog re-holsters his silenced automatic like a Samurai puts back his sword. Save me a seat near the aisle, 'cause I'm in the house for that one too!!

"Romeo Must Die" features rap music stars as a way to bridge a wide trans-racial appeal while fueling record sales. Aaliyah costars with DMX, "Out Of Sight’s" Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong.

"Cider House Rules" star Delroy Lindo is Isaak O’Day one of the leaders of the Oakland waterfront, with the other half controlled by the Chinese.

"Who’re you talking to boy? I will knock the Black offa you!" Lindo’s Isaak O’Day says to his smart-alecky son, chomping at the bit to run his dad’s enterprise, which he is trying to turn legit. Curiously, there are no mamas in the movie.

Jungle Fever is breaking out all over again in the movies. "Next Friday" had Ice Cube chasing behind a muy bonita seņorita who lives across the suburban cul de sac.

Vanessa Williams and Arnold had a low level thing going on in "Eraser."

Rae Dawn Chong co-starred as Arnold's low-level love interest in "Commando." Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard." That one is another of the "Salt and Pepper Love" films we'll be revisiting in Video Views, another from the Video Vault as in the recent "Black Love" Videos.

Now this martial arts action film with Shakespearean pretensions dives right into interracial relationships.

Behind me during the movie I heard the chatterers go "But who is Romeo? Is it the son Colin, or..." In exasperation I finally turned around and told them:

"Han is Romeo. The movie is lightly based on Shakespeare's story of two families in a deadly blood feud, with two of the youngsters nevertheless falling for each other in the midst of the battles, hits and counter hits," or something to that effect.

O’Day’s daughter gets caught up in the drama after she’s assigned a dufeless bodyguard whom she tries to ditch from time to time, one time hopping into a stolen cab driven by Jet Li’s Han."

"Drive!" she snaps, tossing a crumpled Big Head Fifty onto the front seat.

"Where did you learn to drive?" Trish asks the cabbie "Akbar," who careens down the wrong side of the street Hong Kong style, forcing angry drivers off the road.

Their attraction, such as it is, is given a nice and easy ride, from mutual attraction and shared grief, with neither one caring how they are seen by others. She’s O’Day’s daughter after all, and Han can beat the hell out of a whole street gang, so they don’t sweat anything from the disapproving stares.

"Hold on -I have to give you some Hip Hop flava" Trish tells Han, putting her cap on his head as they wait outside Oakland’s Silk’s Place club.

"I know Hip Hop" he says, jacking his pants down a couple of inches, jamming his hands in his pockets and slouching with his backwards-turned hat they go into the club, where she dances with Han/Akbar to her ownself singing "I’m Feelin’ You."

"I'll take the yellow cone," Han quips with that grin, while on an ice cream outing with Trish who has a phalanx of O’Day bodyguards. Han is recognized by the thugs in her dad’s employ while they pass the time playing football in the park.

"Hey, ain’t that the dude who stole Maurice's truck after he beat us down?" Then ensues a raucous football game whose rules confuse newcomer Han. He's told to just run with the ball after the handoff, straight up the middle. "That's all?" he asks. Seems simple enough, he thinks, until he's smacked down by the opposing team.

"Can they do that?" he asks from the ground, trying to shake it off.

"It's because you have the ball," Mac tells him. The scene following was a crowd pleaser and I believe is a first: a martial arts football mayhem scene!

This underscores the translatable appeal of "Romeo Must Die," which pokes fun at cultural and linguistic differences in a more deft manner than the ham-handed fashion "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

It also shows that Jackie Chan has a strong competitor in the martial arts action comedy field in Li, who won a following after his work in "Black Mask and "Lethal weapon 4."

Han, again using his ingenuity makes Trish into a weapon, swinging her like a dance partner with her long slit skirt flapping as she, through him, kicks and smacks the female assassin, walking up the sides of a panel truck, delivering spinning side kicks while Han turns her like a dance partner at a Latin dance club.

This sequence was very well done, and it made me almost like the scrawny anorexic-looking Aaliyah, who aside from her skin tone, looks like just another too-skinny White chick.

This scene was enough for me to see Aaliyah as a potential action role player. That scene took some doing, and if she can pull that off she's got some skills that can be exploited further.

"Romeo Must Die" has sequel possibility built in and it would not be unwelcome. I enjoyed "Romeo Must Die" for its humour, action, and personal appeal. The acting by Washington, Lindo, Li and even newcomers such as Aaliyah and DMX was done pretty well, or well enough, in the case of the rappers-turned-actors.

Li gives Chan a run for his money with his timing, grin, regular guy good looks, solid action credentials, and a flair for comedy. The women in the audience seemed to find Jet Li pleasing, which isn't the easiest thing to accomplish in depicting an interracial romance, sort of. Some brothas seemed to be of the mind that Jet Li was a bad enough dude, so he passed.

"Romeo Must Die" takes pages from several sources, notably Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliette, but also Julius Caesar, a touch of King Lear; film influences include "The Godfathers 2" and Part 3.

I particularly mean the ingredients of those movies dealing with ambitious schemers and back-stabbers, sons and daughters, and a crime overlord who, like Michael Corleone, is trying to go legit and is being pulled back into the drama from which he has tried to shield his kids.

"You think that just because you sent your kids off to college that it can clean up all the mess you did?" it’s thrown into O’Day’s face.

The minimal but well-placed use of visual special effects are akin to the Wire Fighting techniques seen in Hong Kong movies and "The Matrix" which showcased them to a wider audience but with a twist and snap. As bones are broken, snapped and flesh is pierced an "X-Ray Mode" kicks in and we see the injuries happening! It was waaay tight!

We can forgive the breaking of the laws of physics with characters being kicked, reversing themselves in midair, and coming back at their attacker because it was done well and furiously fast. Besides, this is an action film, not Shakespeare. Wait, it is Shakespeare!

"Romeo Must Die" passes the Walker Involvement Test. If I lose myself in a movie and forget that I'm watching it, then by definition it has involved me. This means the action, characterizations and acting is at a level sufficient to please a moviegoer, unless they're like these haters who don't like anything they see.

Even factoring in the inevitable chattering moviegoers a movie like this draws, there was real interest for what was going on onscreen.

"Romeo Must Die" is an African American movie that can be moved to the Asian market almost as-is, except the American dialog will be dubbed instead of the Chinese.

"We are not like the Blacks. Our unity is our strength" says Papa Ch’u to the other members of the Families as they move their human chess pieces across the board.

I caught the term "Kwai Loh" during the film's minimal subtitling segments. That means something like "Whitey" in Chinese. Incidentally, we don’t really need to see the translation for "Son!" when papa Chu first sees his son. We kinda knew that, just from being human.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was in one of the latest versions of Romeo & Juliette, placed on Venice Beach with warring between two gangs. West Side Story is among the most famous adaptations, between Whites and Puerto Ricans in New York City. There was even a Made For TV movie placed in California during World War II involving a Japanese American boy and a White girl as she tries to keep him out of President Roosevelt's Interment Camps the West Coast Japanese were put in after Pearl Harbor.

"Romeo Must Die" is rated "R" for violence and language, with little sex or nudity shown. Professionally done, it has good dialog, excellent stunt work and character development that isn't usually seen in most action films.

--30–

_____________________________

feb. 8 tues. 2000 filename: black love 2000

CINEMA VIEWS BY KEVIN J. WALKER, FILM CRITIC

Black Love Rules!

From the Black Love Video Vault:

Sprung,’

Poetic Justice,

‘Trippin’,

by Kevin J. Walker, Film Critic

Video theme nights have become an event in many households since the advent of the VCR, Cable and the video store. I know we often enjoy Theme Nights, and since I have a nice laserdisk collection this is common for us. I’ve added kid movies and weepy romantic Chick Flicks to my stash because I was told it was weighted towards action adventure. And? What’s your point? I’m a guy, cut me some slack, why dontcha?!

Since this is African American History Month and Valentines Day was recent, here are some choice items from the Video Views Black Love Video Vault. Share them with someone you love.

"Poetic Justice"

Starring Tupak Shakur, Regina King, Joe Torry, Tyra Ferrell and Janet Jackson. Directed by John Singleton. A Columbia Pictures release

Irresponsible sexuality and unrealistic expectations that keep women out of relationships are at the heart of this easygoing Road Film that features two couples on a weekend errand from Los Angeles to Oakland.

I can hear the protesting already about how the John Singleton movie Poetic Justice makes Black women out to be simple-minded 'ho'es and skeezers who spend their time centering their limited world around men and engaging in petty disputes about each other.

Detractors shouldn't take the film too much too heart; if men could live through "The Color Purple" and the portrayal of brutal sexist pig oppressor Ike Turner in "What's Love Got To Do With It?" they'll survive. What Singleton did in what people have referred to as "Girlz N The Hood" is show a slice of life, a few days of a small segment of a community.

In "Poetic Justice," Singleton treats the topic of how people can drive wedges between each other by imaginary class divisions and noncommunication. The film has an easy pace to it, and mostly consists of the road trip to Oakland, when tempers flare and love finds a home. The withdrawn but snooty Justice turns her nose up at Lucky, the striving postal worker and single dad with dirty fingernails. "You one of those angry bitches, a feminist, right? One of them who only date lawyers and doctors,?" Lucky asks the noncommunicative Justice.

Her blossoming affection is shown by degrees; the cap loosened, a smile, holding hands, conversating with the persistent Lucky. Before her inevitable attitude adjustment, she criticizes a friend for hooking up with a blue collar laborer. "What are you doing going out with a postal worker? You know they don't make much money! What's he gonna do for you? Mail you your bills for free?"

This is a low-key, sweet film, with heart. Singleton's deft touch and pacing and eye for natural beauty and framing adds a lot to the film, where the turmoil of Los Angeles is escaped for a day and a half. Urban areas are only one reality, and a pretty poor one at that, he's saying. Get back to basics -- family, friends, laughter, nature.

The males work for the postal service in LA, while the females are cosmetologists on their way up to a hair show in Oakland. Along the way there's time for an exchange of ideas and some friction between all of them, about male bonding, romantic game playing, and especially irresponsible females.

Tyra Ferrell, familiar as the irresponsible mother of rapper Ice Cube's Doughboy in "Boyz N The Hood" and the student in "Jungle Fever," is the jaded owner of the beauty parlor, with vanity plates that read MS BOOTE and tries to get the reclusive Justice to adopt her "Four F" philosophy on men: "Girl, a man is like a tool, you gotta know when to take him out of the box and when to put him back in. And when you lose one, its like a hair dryer or a blower--just get you another one."

Lucky is played by the late controversial rap performer Shakur. His first film role was as a psychopathic villain in Spike Lee cinematographer Ernest Dickerson's street drama "Juice." Regina King plays Iesha, the gameplaying skeezer friend of Justice, played by Janet Jackson.

But Regina King "Jerry Maguire", "Enemy of The State" is the real actress of Poetic Justice, and effortlessly blows Jackson off the screen at every opportunity. Joe Torry, a standup comedian, carries his part well as Chicago, the self-centered boyfriend of Iesha. They deserve each other; both are playing the other one, and are of a kind.

Singleton is on the right creative track, preferring to make films dealing with the human dimension instead of simple-minded, rap music infested, shoot 'em up films. Simple filmgoers who expect to see something else should be advised to spend their time and money elsewhere. --KJW

'TRIPPIN'’

Think of a Black version of Walter Mitty, with lots of set changes and special effects from a brother with an overactive imagination, and with lots of pleasantly thick Black women. "Trippin'" is actually pretty decent, by that I mean it's a good film as a promising young man makes the transition from fantasy to keepin' it real.

There are some positive messages mixed in with the large helpings of sex and nudity that is spread throughout its length as Deon Richmond's Greg Reed fantasizes about having women, money and power when he's just a high school student headed for a career at a fast food joint unless he gets his butte in gear. After awhile I realized that "Trippin" was more than a film about the antics of a daydreaming teenager, and it is a better film for it.

"Trippin" used the skills of its director David Raynr who shot parts of Jada Pinkette's "Woo."

The positive messages mainly come through their teacher Mr. Shapic, played by Michael Warren, who tells them "a high school diploma only gets you in the game." When he sees Greg looking at the lovely Cynni Hawkins in class he pulls him aside after one of his daydream sequences and lays it on him:

"You'll never have her. She's out of your league because you can't get to the moon by riding a bicycle. Men are drawn to women like her because they need their strength. But she's not for a half-stepper like you..."

This is from one who knows. Teach has a fly sports car and a deliciously fine woman named Naomi, played by supermodel Naomi Campbell. Her Fine Chocolately-ness made many is us men in the audience such in our breath --and our gut. I appreciated the inclusion of the truth that being intelligent and pursuing excellence doesn't make you into a hopeless lifelong nerd-sellout who eats TV dinners and has no social life.

"Trippin'" is better than I expected because it wasn't overly preachy while being laugh-out-loud funny, with sight gags an integral ingredient because of Greg's fantasies which often involve him being a big man with plenty of butte-naked and willing freaks piled in his future college dorm room, or his rap company, or his seaside Caribbean crib.

Greg is urged by his homiez to just go on over to the girl group and say something to Cynni, who everybody and even he knows is way out of his league. But she lets him down with style.

"Now we don't want your boys over there watching to see that you just got dissed," Cynni tells him.

"So why don't you just nod your head, that's good; while I smile at you. Now, good bye... " The fellas in the audience winced in a knowing way. Maia Campbell from TVs "In The House," plays Cynni, and that show's writers also wrote this film. His buds are Donald Faison from "Clueless" as June, with Guy Torry from "Poetic Justice" as Fish.

Teen movies have been getting better and now in "Trippin'" we can see the quality bar being raised for Black teen flicks too. This is a good thing.

Co-stars include Stoney Jackson as the thuggish Kenyatta; Harold Sylvester as his dad, and Bill Henderson, a veteran of many a Black film of the 1970s as Gramps. Countess Vaughn is Cynni’s friend man hating Anetta. --KJW

"SPRUNG"

The "love jones," "Jason's Lyric," and the "Poetic Justice" -type tasteful romance films are okay, but we’ll make a brief foray into one of the better of the genre of romantic comedies

"Sprung" is a lot better than I expected it to be, with good editing and lively special effects, but this is an adults-only video with some raw scenes and rougher sex talk.

She isn't talking about Tiger Woods and a golf game when Paula Jai Parker's Adina the Sexpot tells off Clyde: "Your stroke is off, and you couldn't even find the hole!!"

"Sprung's" story involves, like "Booty Call," two couples with two approaches to romance. There is Clyde, the dark-skinned "hard" brother of the canine variety (Whoof!) who is just out for what he can get in the way of one-night stands. (In what may be Condieff's little dig, Clyde has an Omega Psi Phi brand on his arm, and other frat insignia in his room).

His light-skinned friend Montel is gentlemanly and awkward with women, and confesses "I have no rap to speak of," so he just comes correct to women. "Your butte is big, I mean you got a good butte, but its big... wait!"

The two ladies are likewise different in how they deal with romance. Adina, played by the firecracker goldmine of comedy talent that is Paula Jai Parker, is the archetypal skeezer who clocks the brothers' dough like she has a built-in scanner.

One of the most humorous parts among many in "Sprung" is when special effects show Adina in Scan Mode eyeing the men in a party, with a visual overlay of the sort seen in "Terminator" and "RoboCop" as her internal Skeez-O-Meter rejects them as "wimp", "gay", "crackhead" "buckwheat" and "perpetrator," while Adina the ultimate Material Girl clocks the cost of their eyeglass frames, shoes, and clothes. Adina's friend Brandy is Tisha Campbell.

Brandy is burnt out with the brothers and weary of relationships, and wary of even good ones like the genuine Montel, played by "Sprung's" director Rusty Condieff. He tells her "I'll make you a deal: you don't treat me like the dogs you dated, and I wont treat you like the tired women I've dated."

Although it’s top-heavy with an almost detectable aroma of hyped-up sexuality throughout its two hours, for all its gleeful depiction of varied sexual antics and hardened bodies, there are zero, nada, zip bared breasts or bottoms.

This didn't escape the notice of those who thought that like the similar "Booty Call" they'd see more; and one opinionated wag, of which there were many in the theatre audience, said so.

"Man, this is some B.S.! `Booty Call' had more than this!! I expected to see me some t & a, or something..."

It almost seemed like there had to have been some nudity in "Sprung" since so much melanin-tinted body parts were dangled and jiggled in front of our faces, and a Brother can almost overdose on Black beauty, especially the luscious Jennifer Lee as the sexalacious femme fatale Veronica! She joins other African descended screen lovelies like Lela Rochon of "Waiting To Exhale," and Khandi Alexander from Chris Rock's scandalous "CB-4."

The movie takes a turn after the raucous comedy and sexual antics that load the first half of the film when the real romance starts.

This is what upsets some of the hard-core members of the audiences. It seems like they'd enjoy a film filled with only party scenes, put-downs, sexual Olympics, and nearly-naked bodies like the inferior (but funny) "How To Be A Player."

Instead, the director-actor shows the tender courtship of Brandy and Montel, while Clyde and Adina plot to bust up their liaison, feeling their friends are moving too fast. "Look, I ain't 'Harry' and you definitely ain't 'Sally'" Clyde tells his female co-conspirator, but between them they decide their friends are not ready to be in so deep, and so the trap is ...sprung.

The movie has mellow and jazzy interludes, with Freda Payne in a cameo singing "I Want a Sunday Kind of Love" after the two lovers crash an old-timers outdoor ballroom party in a local park instead of going out to a dance club.

This is when Tisha Campbell's Brandy radiates, her suspicious frown is replaced with a smile, and she begins to let love back into her heart again after she cuts her friend Adina and her promiscuous negative ways loose.

Spending a chaste night in the park watching the sun come up after they've talked and dozed off marks the point in "Sprung" when the film starts its transformation, (and loses some of the rowdy audience) as it turns into a neo-screwball comedy from the 40s, complete with hotel suite sets and lighting from that era, even with velvety songs from Mel Torme. This is all well and good, but depicting the film's villains as dark-skinned is a clumsy technique that Cundieff should've known better than to spring.

"Sprung" does a good job showing what impediments so-called friends throw in the path of romance. "No, no my dear, MLK had a dream; he ain't got no money!!," Adina says, scheming to steer Brandy away from Montel. "All dogs run in packs, and he'll be back sniffing around."

Clyde in his part of the plot tells Montel that Brandy might have that Middle Age Fat Gene, and `balloon up' on him and turn into a fat, mean Booga Bear years later; or he'll come home early and find a man --or men-- in his house and see something he doesn't want to see.

The film doesn't shy away from previously unaddressed topics, just nudity. Dating White guys, man's size, and attraction to skin tone all come up for discussion in "Sprung."

Director Condieff through his photographer character Montel, tells Brandy of his ideas and his lofty filmmaking aspirations. "You're trying to make a film with no violence, no killing and no drugs? You ain't going to make no money." Condieff has done it in "Sprung," although it was a raunchy road he took to do it.

                                                 --30--

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VIDEOVIEWS by Kevin J. Walker

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2PAC STORY WELL TOLD IN

"TUPAC RESURRECTED"

TUPAC FILMS:  

GRIDLOCK'D 

-- ABOVE THE RIM  

-- POETIC JUSTICE

GANG RELATED 

-- JUICE

"TUPAC: RESURRECTED" is a feature length documentary of the controversial slain rapper through his own words. Compiled from his interviews and with much unseen footage such a home videos and such, the film is being recommended for all those who want to know more about the son of Black Panthers more than that he was killed as the result of a hyped up West Coast versus East Coast Rap music rivalry against the also mysteriously slain Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa.

 

    He had a thriving film career that was on the upswing, and was assuming roles that allowed him to stretch his creative wings. His last role in "Gang Related" was a detective opposite John Belushi and Lela Roshon. With Tim Roth he portrayed a recovering addict in "Gridlock'd" and a villain in the street basketball film "Above The Rim" with Marlon Wayans and Bernie Mac.

 

The film he was most seen in would have been "Poetic Justice" with Janet Jackson and Joe Torry. The romantic Road Film did a lot to establish the rapper as an actor with promise, even more so than "Juice," his first feature film role as the villain Bishop, a high school delinquent against Omar Epps.

 

The short turbulent life of the 25 year old Gangsta Rap star and evolving political activist, born of Black Panthers on the East coast, moving from one ghetto to another from New York to Baltimore to Marin in California, would be seen as a tragedy even by those who weren't fans of his music. The movie is very well done, and moves at a pace that will win fans for those who thought that documentaries would be dull.

 

It will disappoint those who think they're going to see a concert film as there is very little of that in "Tupac Resurrected." The goal of the documentary was to allow Shakur's story to be told, and as such there are aspects that haven't been seen before, such as the student audition tape a teenaged 2Pac made of the Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff Bubble Gum Rap tune "Parents Just Don't Understand."

 

The range of the film is impressive, and no one can come out of the theatre not knowing and appreciating the ups and downs of Tupac's life path, his achievements, and what he planned to do with his celebrity. I count myself among them.

 

I had no idea that he was establishing neighborhood level charities by using bare-bones city concerts that would incorporate national acts with the area's local rappers, with the money staying in the affected communities to address social concerns. From the Video Jukebox Channel I knew of his positive videos "Brenda Had A Baby", "Dear Mama" and "You Are Appreciated," odes to the women who were a formative and continuing force in his life.

 

"I love women" Tupac confesses. "I feel like calling Prince up and asking him, 'Man, can I just, like, hang out with you?'" and enjoy women like he does.

 

The point is buttressed with fast moving clips of videos and stills of girl friends and Girl Friends such as Jasmine Guy and Jada Pinkett Smith, whom he said he would love forever. This segment of the movie also will dash the belief that he would have abused any woman, an idea that he seemed to not be able to even put into words as he sputtered and hesitated during an interview following his arrest on sodomy charges after a NYC groupie said she was assaulted in his hotel room.

 

Also an activist who doesn't much care what the White folks think who sign her pay checks, Jada, like pal Queen Latifah both attended and spoke at the 1997 Million Women March in Philadelphia that I attended (and made a short documentary of), while many celebrities wouldn't have been caught dead within a hundred miles of any of the Million-whatever Marches. (Tupac himself attended and spoke at the Indianapolis Black Expo).

 

It was friends like they who supported him while he was imprisoned on the rape charge, along with actor and former Irish boxer Mickey Rourke, and Tony Danza.

 

His wide ranging interests and reaching beyond just being Black gained him fans on a Global scale. The movie shows people unfurling Tupac Shakur banners outside the Eiffel Tower, and hand lettered signs in foreign languages in Eastern Europe as his young White fans mug for the camera. A young White man has a Tupac headband for his infant son, posing by his car's "2PAC" license plate.

 

Curiously the movie doesn't get into long imprisoned Black Panther Geronimo Pratt, someone who was considered a godfather to Shakur. Granted, he had a lot of men in and out of his life, raised as he was by a single mother.

 

"A woman can't teach a boy how to be a man" he says of the immutable but harsh truth, over images of home movies and stills showing him being hugged by his adoring mother topic of a recently released book who went from a high level East Coast Black Panther to California crack addict to Hollywood film producer and peacemaker with the mother of Biggie Smalls.

2Pac, as he became known in the headline ellipsis that shortens names for convenience and was embraced even by him on his albums -- was a quintessential Mama's Boy, as many are from single parent households.

 

He even explained the self knowledge that this was the wellspring of the much observed toughness and machismo of young men without men in their family lives. "I act tough, but I'm really very soft" he explained in the verbal explanations that are liberally throughout the documentary "Tupac Resurrection."

 

Tupac was quite the entertainer and clown who loved the camera and did the opposite of clamming up when one was around. During his stint with the group "Digital Underground" the videos chronicle the obscene onstage antics of the fun loving group whose biggest hit was "Humpty Hump." His first release for Shock G after he put in work as a roadie then onstage talent was the solo "Same Song."

 

Reality has a way of intruding harshly into the mythos built upon Tupac's memory. He played a detective in his last film with John Belushi and Lela Roshon; a recovering drug addict with Tim Roth in "Gridlock'd," and was a student at the Baltimore School Of The Arts. Some members of the audience audibly groaned when a still picture came up of the dance student in his black leotards. "Damn, 'Pac…" sadly muttered a young man next to me.

 

Although some rappers denigrated others for having to write their raps down, the doc shows the copious notes that Shakur made, with underlines and references to other works, documents, literary allusions or Van Gogh's paintings, such as "Starry Night." He made the most of his classical education, where history, mythology and more was required reading along with Shakespeare's plays. It is also where he caught the acting bug, big-time.

 

"I wouldn't have turned out the way I did if I hadn't gone there" he says of Baltimore HSA, in one of the many interviews and open talks he gave. Among entertainers he was unusually accessible, and there are many examples included in "Tupac Resurrected."

 

The erudite student had a penchant for history and philosophy, much of which found its way into his music such as Machiavelli's "The Prince," a treatise on power and how to keep it, which Tupac morphed into his Mack A Velli persona. He talked about he incorporated aspects of his learning, such as Sun Tzu's "The Art of War."

 

The documentary uses much source material supplied by his cooperative teachers, including library check out slips showing his wide interests. Afeni Shakur who is a producer of the film, 2Pac's Aunties, MTV the sponsoring studio, as well as police records and legal writs. Johnnie Cochran and Alan Dershowitz turn up in the copious lawyer billing records, which come up and are replaced with other images in the fast-moving documentary. The DVD should be a treat if it is similarly as well supplied.

 

The MTV produced effort employs the same technique used by fellow documentarian Ken Burns, who also used still shots of materials in his Civil War opus. Since there was a lack of motion pictures then, and photography had only recently been popularized by those such as Matthew Brady, Burns caused the camera itself to move.

 

"Tupac Resurrected" employs the technique, although there is no lack of camcorder or MTV interview tapes, and it adds to the immediacy and multimedia impact of the presentation. Youth raised up on fast-edited fare and video games are particularly well suited to this approach, but it also isn't bone-jarring for those used to traditional exposition.

 

Ominously, a black car is shown following in Vegas. The soundtrack has shots ringing out as the screen goes black. This is not the hit that was performed on the Vegas strip in September of 1996 however, this was a brief forward to the robbery/abortive hit outside the elevators of a NYC recording studio, with 2Pac talking about how he reacted to his brush with death. Still the audience, the overwhelming majority of who were fans of his music as much as some White kids were of the late Kurt Kobain -- who Tupac references -- caught its collective breath.

 

The film made a wise decision to let the slain rapper tell his own tale, as he was ably to do. There were no Talking Heads to explain the impact of 2Pac, and he himself talks throughout the film, even performing as the narrator. He left behind an impressive amount of material, especially music. Forbes magazine lists Shakur as in the top ten of musical sales of deceased entertainers. Most people didn't even know that there was such a list, but people like Elvis, Kobain, Sinatra, and John Lennon have reissues and studio tapes that fuel this economy.

 

Like the late Christopher Wallace or Biggie Smalls also known as "Big Poppa," both men seemed to foretell their own shortened lives as seen in their music, especially Smalls, a onetime friend of Tupac Shakur until a very public falling out as part of the East Coast -- West Coast Rap rivalry.

I have the perfect companion to take along to see this movie a second time. Toni is well versed on all the rap acts, and even dresses the part of a Thug Babe, although she's actually in Law Enforcement. The first time I met her I thought I was about to get jacked! But she's college educated, and All Woman.

 

"I just like to dress this way, its who I am" Toni says. Hey sweetie, you don’t have to justify yourself to me. It ain't like that.

Anyway, she'll help me translate what I'm seeing at the Milwaukee Northtown theatres showing of "Tupac: Resurrection" as one of my Expert Viewers I sometimes take along.

 

There wasn't the expected mouthing off during the film, at least not much past the few first few minutes. Security wasn't much needed as the crowd was self policing, and not going to take any mess from loudmouths or cat callers.

 

"Can we get some respect for 'Pac up in here? Damn!" asked a woman.

"Hey, man I paid $8 dollars to see this movie, y'all gonna have to be quiet up in here!" cautioned one man to a pocket of loud talkers toward the front, who were passing a tall translucent bottle of liquor back and forth that sometimes clattered against the floor during the movie.

 

There was a bit of abortive drama at the Northtown theatre in Milwaukee, as somebody saw somebody they didn't like, and words became taunts, then an invitation to step outside. The Northtown has largely banished the thugs who once made moviegoing there an unpalatable experience that nationwide has made onetime moviegoing fans devotees of DVDs and Pay Cable. But theatre management has cracked down, and with the opening of the AMC Mayfair in Wauwatosa many of the miscreants have flowed over there and are presently causing trouble far from the Northtown since there are only so many thugs to go around.

 

But there was a touch of small scale drama nonetheless. Somebody undertook to start running, and about 75 patrons streamed outside the exits when they thought some gunplay was about to ensue. Most stayed In their seats.

 

"I came to see this movie" one wag said. "I ain't moving from this seat."

"Look at them, afraid of being shot!" sneered another.

 

Well, yeah! I myself didn't want to move because this might well take me right into the line of fire. Besides, idea of being surrounded of people with weapons has worn off since I was in Israel last. The militia there is always around with Uzis and whatnot. You get used to it after a couple of days.

By then I was glad I hadn't gotten hold of Toni to take her along to see "Tupac Resurrected" on the first night. It would have been a helluva date if she or I'd been shot or trampled in the melee! As it was, the two verbal poseurs/combatants were removed, and the security, who weren't able to enter because the outstreaming moviegoers prevented their entry came inside and stayed for the entire film.

 

There is a strange congruence with the Angela Bassett Science Fiction film "Strange Days." The basic plot dealt with a controversial politically active rapper who is slain by trigger happy LAPD police, with the crime witnessed by a woman who was wearing an experience recorder. The controversy threatens massive violence on the eve of the new Millennium. Tupac was amazed and disturbed by the building power he was starting to attract. "At the shows there would be audiences with Blacks, Whites and Latinos, guys writing me from prisons saying "what do you want us to do?"

 

"There were 14,000 people in a theatre, and if I told them to get and turn around three times they would do it!" he said, eyes wide, long dark eyebrows framing his large eyes. Baby pictures, and pictures of Shakur as a youngster show the grade schooler then adolescent then gawky preteen he was. We've seen many of these type of photos of our own, many times.

It was poignant to see the overexposed bedroom pictures, skinny bare-chested youngster by a mismatched bedroom dresser drawer. We remember those days, those houses and flats. Tupac could have been, was, like one of our own sons or nephews. This was part of the appeal -- he never tried to separate himself from the people, quite the opposite, he ran to them, was always trying to incorporate them.

Had he lived who knows what a mind like his could have accomplished, with the cross-cultural popularity of his music, combined with a revolutionary upbringing once he been stabilized and mature? This is when the inclusion of the short segment on the FBI's Cointel program against Black men is particularly telling.

Tupac had many problems with the police when he started to get political. It is of note that the rudest crudest rappers seem to not have similar problems, even when they or their bodyguards shoot and beat down each other outside popular nightclubs. The film early on reference J. Edgar Hoover and his CoIntel Program.

"This was a man whose job was to make sure no Black man emerged as a leader" says Shakur in one of musings. To underscore, the film has rapid pictures of slain Black Panthers, newspaper clippings, and footage of Eldridge Cleaver in handcuffs giving the Black Power sign. This was no doubt the influence of Producer Afeni Shakur, queen mother and onetime Black Pantheress making her presence known.

Her input and openness to ensure that her son's story was told resulted in a filmic work that hit all its main points and entertained its audience, which is all that you ask of a film or documentary.

 

 

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