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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Does It Seem Like There's More Sex in Horror Than in the Romance Genre?

Friday the 13th (1980)

I always thought it was funny that Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy often wondered why they weren't getting pregnant when they didn't even sleep in the same bed. Or why some of the most sexual films still only show the female character nude and the male character half clothedOr even why you could often divide the romance genre into two categories: its sanitation of sex and its dependence on sex for shock value.

You can debate for hours about the evolution of sex in the romance genre, from the '50s to present day. Of course, its presence or significance in a movie doesn't determine its quality. But it is interesting to note that a genre that probably discusses or at least eludes to it more than any other portrays it the least.

Which is why it's funny that a genre that isn't nearly as sensual as romance perhaps shows it more than any other. I'm talking about the horror genre. Whether it were the promiscuous babysitters in the original Halloween or the oblivious camp counselors in Friday the 13th or even the random acts of sex -- often devoid of romantic context-- that prevail in any number of more modern contributions to the genre, it always seems like its presence is as mandated as blood, darkness and torrential rain.

It could be about the, er, vulnerable positions the characters are in -- leaving them completely unsuspecting as the villain awaits. Or, it maybe it is the generally undiscussed roles that religion and conservatism play in horror (particularly in the '70s but arguable in other decades as well). Is gory murder the punishment for promiscuity or sex outside of marriage? And, on that note, is the absence of sex the answer to an everlasting romance and livelihood, as presented in some romance films? Or does it just help maintain the genre's largely unadulterated image?

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Clearly, certain entries in the romance and horror genres represent fantasies that are build on truths as they pertain to the screenwriters or story developers. But with such prevalent trends, you've got to wonder what the agenda is sometimes. What does the presence of sex mean to the characters, to the story, to even the filmmakers? We often balk at the gratuitous portrayal of sex in some films. But is sex used as a tool to humanize or demonize the characters? Is it supposed to enhance the depravity of the movie's themes (which may present a larger discussion on our perception of sex)? Or maybe it's just a matter of human occurrence, used in tandem with the some of the frivolity of horror.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this. What do you think about the ways sex is portrayed in the horror and romance genres?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oh Snap, They're Trying to 'Take' Liam Neeson Now?! Good Luck.

After two Taken films, you'd think by now that villains would realize that Liam Neeson is NOT to be f*cked with. But I guess we need another movie just as a reminder. As many of you already know, I was a HUGE fan of Taken (I still watch it every time it comes on TV), but I felt the sequel was painfully awful. So when I heard about this third installment, simply titled TAKEN 3, I had very low hopes for it. I mean, who else could be abducted from this unfortunate little family?

Well, it looks like there's a whole new batch of baddies trying to frame Bryan Mills (Neeson) for --gasp!-- the murder of his wife  Lenore (who I have to say I am not sad to see go since she was SO annoying). When we reunite with our favorite man with "a particular set of skills," he's on the run from pretty much every major law enforcement official, while at the same time trying to protect his dumb young daughter (Maggie Grace). More in the synopsis below:

Liam Neeson returns as ex-covert operative Bryan Mills, whose reconciliation with his ex-wife is tragically cut short when she is brutally murdered. Consumed with rage, and framed for the crime, he goes on the run to evade the relentless pursuit of the CIA, FBI and the police. For one last time, Mills must use his “particular set of skills,” to track down the real killers, exact his unique brand of justice, and protect the only thing that matters to him now – his daughter.

So now it's been confirmed that this will in fact be the last of the series. Which means this film will likely be very, very congested with high-octane action series (I just hope Bryan doesn't die, because then I'd cry). Director Olivier Megaton (with co-writer Luc Besson) also return for this last hurrah. Forest Whitaker joins the franchise as a law official who may or may not be actually trying to help Bryan (based on the trailer), along with Dougray Scott (who I feel I haven't seen since forever). Watch the first clip:

TAKEN 3 hits theaters everywhere January 9, 2015.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The New Trailer for V/H/S: VIRAL Looks All Kinds of Crazy

Why is it that the trailer for each V/H/S film is so good...and the actual movies are so, so bad? Well actually, I can only judge the first film from 2012 -- which I just barely finished (my brain has since deleted it from memory). I can only guesstimate that last year's sequel isn't much better.  But yet again, the fresh batch of filmmakers behind the newest installment, V/H/S: VIRAL, are trying to hook audiences with a completely batsh*t trailer that will likely appeal to fans who can't stay away from these found footage films. (Honestly, aside from the Rec and Quarantine series, I could do without them. But I remain hopeful).

Coincidentally, this new film aims to play off of people's obsessions with viral videos and becoming their own YouTube sensations by, well, making them the victims of their own videos. More in the synopsis:

A police chase after a deranged ice cream truck has captivated the attention of the greater Los Angeles area. Dozens of fame---obsessed teens flock to the streets with their video cameras and camera phones, hell---bent on capturing the next viral video. But there is something far more sinister occurring in the streets of L.A. than a simple police chase. A resounding effect is created onto all those obsessed with capturing salacious footage for no other purpose than to amuse or titillate. Soon the discovery becomes that they themselves are the stars of the next video, one where they face their own death.

The six-member directorial team includes two alums from the similarly styled horror, The ABCs of Death -- Marcel Sarmiento and Nacho Vigalondo. Which gives me a little pause since I tried but simply could not make it through that film (it was just so ridiculous). But here's hoping for their sakes that this is a little better. Watch the trailer:

Thoughts? V/H/S: VIRAL will be available on iTunes / On Demand October 23rd and in theaters November 21st. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cinema in Noir: Who Are The Great Latina Filmmakers Of Today?

Patricia Cardoso
Last Sunday the ladies and I hosted a #CinNoir Twitter chat via our @CinemaInNoir Twitter feed which helped honor National Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating our favorite and most underrated Latino filmmakers. We came up with a strong list that included Rodrigo Garcia (Mother and Child), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Biutiful) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), but -- with the exception of a few like Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) and Patricia Riggen (Girl in Progress) -- we were hard pressed to come up with more female filmmakers. It's been nearly a week since our discussion and I am still thinking about this.

This is a conversation we're constantly having: where are all the great women directors? Where are all the great stories from Latina filmmakers in Hollywood? There are so many great Spanish-language films but they're often ignored by American audiences. I'm sure we're missing plenty more Latina voices from our lists, so I'm going to open this up to you by asking, Who are all the great Latina filmmakers of today?

I look forward to your responses in the comments section.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nas' 'TIME IS ILLMATIC' is a Riveting Doc That Helps Reconnect America with Hip-Hop

I have what you may call a complicated relationship with hip-hop. While I can't claim to be exactly in tuned with the genre these days -- not the superficial and diluted sound which consumes too many popular songs today. But I love it for what it was, what it could be. I love it for its poetry, its philosophies, its storytelling. That moment when it brings you closer to the artist -- his struggles, his fears, his pain, his joy. That moment it transports you.

I experienced that again when I saw NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC. Just when I got tired of sifting through empty commercial hip-hop, this documentary chronicling rapper Nasir Jones' (better known simply as Nas) journey to his iconic 20-year-old album, Illmatic, is exactly what is needed right now -- a reminder of what hip-hop is all about. The film follows the artist's life from an 8th grade dropout (or 9th grade - he doesn't seem sure of the exact year in the film) to a driven young poet with only his dreams and scribbled rhymes to sustain him. While the crux of the film is lifted from Nas' beginnings in Queensbridge, known as the largest housing projects in the country, the rapper - who provides the bulk of the narration -- is quick to say that he and his brother "Jungle" Jabari wanted for nothing. In fact, at one point in the film he mentions that his family home, led by his late mother, was often filled with kids in the neighborhood who didn't want to miss out on his mom's good cooking.

There is a warmness in Nas' voice as he reflects on this time in his life, but there's also a sorrow that seeps through as he thinks back to his best friend "Ill" Will Graham who was shot and killed right in front of the artist's stoop, or how too many of his childhood peers are either in jail, strung out or dead -- those who for various reasons couldn't escape their surroundings.

These feelings of being trapped, ignored and frustrated are exactly what provided the heartbeat of Illmatic, Nas' debut album which catapulted him from a dreamer to a success story. Director and co-producer (with writer Erik Parker) One9 gives audiences a chance to not only learn more about Nas but to know more about where great music -- of any genre -- often comes from: literature (Nas read everything from Asian philosophers to Harlem Renaissance author James Baldwin), relationships (both Jabari and Nas' father musician Olu Dara provide narrations in the film), and most of all the mental and political landscape of a young black man living in an America that always seemed to be just outside of his reach. For many artists, hip-hop was a way to break out of their environment. But for Nas, "Illmatic" was a way to bring America in.

What's also so great about NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC is that it offers fans like myself a trip down memory lane -- back when artists like Roxanne Shante, KRS-One, Biz Markie, Q-Tip and Erykah Badu (who are featured in the film) ruled the charts, back when hip-hop was dominated by hits like the 1987 hit "The Bridge is Over. This was a time when it seemed like every song was about something -- whether it was about the artist, how they viewed the world around them (or the other way around). Hip-hop offered a voice to those who were otherwise unheard.

As reaffirmed in this documentary, every great song -- including each "Illmatic" track -- is really an amalgam of past musical influences like Dara's jazz beats and beatboxing and the artist's singular message that gives birth to a brand new sound. Just as "Illmatic" brought people from all across the globe a little closer to Queensbridge, NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC draws audiences closer to hip-hop.

Rating: A- (**** out of *****)

NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC will release in New York City and Los Angeles on October 1st, and On Demand on October 3rd. For more information on Nas' tour dates, which correspond with the release of the film, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

5 Resonating Moments from Wednesday's Series Premiere of BLACK-ISH

After weeks of impassioned online debate about its title, the new ABC show Black-ish finally premiered last night and immediately took Twitter by storm. From those who felt uncomfortable by the show's all-too-real commentary to others like myself who found a kindred spirit lying underneath the jokes and traditional family sitcom format, ABC did at least one thing right -- started a conversation. But for many of us, the dialogue it's sparked is not particularly new (these are things we discuss regularly among our own in our communities); it's just now it's on national primetime television during an era many have considered "post-racial."

So many times throughout the 30-minute episode I found myself nodding during certain scenes and praising Black-ish for being not only genuinely funny (its lead actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson are hilarious), but also daring, smart and, yes, uncomfortable at times. That's what all great shows of any genre should do -- provoke thought and emotion. And if you can apply it to your own lives, if it offers a personal truth that you feel is absent from other shows, all the better.

For me, these were the moments that resonated the most:

1) Using colorism to define someone's level of blackness: During a heated conversation on the episode, Andre (Anderson) tries to negate an opinion his wife Rainbow (Ross) has on what it means to be black by using her lighter skin tone and biracial identity as a way to discredit her. I believe he even goes as far to infer that she's not really black, and therefore can offer no authority on the subject. This is a scenario that too often goes undiscussed within the black community but still persists.

2) Struggling to navigate your own identity within an unspoken responsibility to your entire race: Andre and Rainbow's eldest son, Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner) is going through a bit of an identity crisis -- or perhaps an identity awakening -- when the family moves to a new (read: mainly white) neighborhood and he develops new friends at school. As a result, young Andre, whether it is due to peer pressure or natural adolescence, begins assimilating with the predominant race -- to his father's chagrin. Experimenting with a name change and (gasp!) religion switch, he gives off an impression that he's trying to be someone who he's not. A defining moment in the episode is when he tells his that he's not trying to be anyone but himself (a paraphrase, but that's the gist of the sentiment).

3) Becoming the go-to expert for all things black: This scenario admittedly made me cringe as well as LOL because it's so sad but so true. Andre is in line for a great promotion at his job, so his confidence is sky high. So much so that not even the obligatory encounter with his white male counterpart, who asks him yet again how to translate something into blackspeak, can break his stride. But when it comes to the big announcement of his new status at the board meeting, he learns that he's actually been promoted to the Senior Vice President of the "Urban Division." (The jury is still out on what this would even entail, but the assumption is that black people are already supposed to know).

4) The grandfather who is wondering when it all got so complicated: While I am still in disbelief that Laurence Fishburne is now playing a grandfather on television (time flies!), I have to admit I kinda loved him on the show. Pops isn't in many scenes, but he sure makes an impact as the patriarch (Andre's father) who comes in just to offer a much needed side eye or brisk one-liner before he picks up his newspaper and checks out again. He's not of the generation when identity has become a matrix of discussion and provocation, he's not from the time when parents had an extravagant black intervention with their kids about race. He understands race and identity as black and white, that's it. The rest of the dialogue is just white noise to him. Clearly Pops was modeled after my own late granddad who had no time for this kind of debate.

5) That awkward moment when the food you eat brings your blackness into question: Rainbow didn't have a whole lot of splashy moments on the pilot episode, but I could already see that she is going to represent the so-called "progressive" black parent, the one who sometimes coddles but also supports her kids no matter their quirks. She's a little bit hippie, a little bit bohemian -- but is quick to check somebody (even if it's her husband) when they try to say her opinion or professional responsibilities aren't important. So when Pops calls her out for serving the family baked fried chicken instead of fried fried chicken, saying the real thing was apparently too black for her, it definitely hit home for me. Everything from the food you eat, to the clothes you wear, to the shows you watch, to the way you speak is grounds for cultural judgment.

It's been a few years since a 30-minute primetime black family sitcom has explored some of nuances and complexities of black culture (Everybody Hates Chris comes to mind). I definitely hope Black-ish sticks around. It's off to a great start.

Black-ish airs Wednesday nights at 9:30pm/8:30pm CST on ABC. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RAY DONOVAN's Liev Schreiber Will Be Taking Your Questions on Thursday

Raise your hand if you didn't realize that this Sunday will be the season finale of Showtime's Ray Donovan. Seriously, either I dismissed this devastation or I completely forgot. This season went by way too fast, especially considering all the questions I still have (Who will win the the eternal Ray versus Mickey battle now that it's reached a fever pitch?).

But before we find out what's in store for what is sure to be an exciting season finale, titular star Liev Schrieber will answer your burning questions tomorrow, September 25th, at 9pm EST during a live Facebook Q&A on the Ray Donovan page. So get your questions ready and don't miss this rare opportunity to chat with the Golden Globe-nominated actor (and perhaps get some insider details on the coming finale)!

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