Thursday, July 26, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: Don't be a menace to South Central while drinking your Juice in the Hood

Directed by Paris Barclay 

Line that stays with me: “Loc Dog was America's worst nightmare, raised in a house with three generations of hopelessness, poverty... and profanity."

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

When most critics speak about “important” films in America you usually get a list of boring Oscar winners like “Beautiful Mind” or “Crash”. Famous films that are supposedly important because they are taking their subject matter seriously and seem to be tackling an important issue. I think most of that is hogwash; I mean really how many films have had a quantifiable positive impact in society? I remember when “Passion of the Christ” was released, you had people crying and walking out saying “That’s it I am going to Church every Sunday and I will become a better person”.  Of course two months later those same people forgot all about that. I do not think it is a film’s job to better society or create guidelines for human beings. Film is an art form, and art should make complex ideas simple to grasp while enlightening or entertaining us. Films shouldn’t be the reason we want to create a better society, if that is the case something is terribly wrong with us as people.  The movies I think are important entertain you with hard work and a clear set of ideas, which will resonate for a very long time. I believe “Don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood” is one of those films. It was a made by a family of filmmakers and the dedication put forth to make it speaks volumes. I do not go to films looking for a “message”, I go to see a great film. The power of a great film is amazing, it gives you great conversations with your friends, and you can watch it ten times and still be excited to watch it again. Films are magical in that way, they make you laugh, cry, reflect, and I think that’s enough. Human beings are stubborn animals who will not learn from reading or watching someone fail. Nope, human beings only seem to learn from tough experiences so why treat movies with ultra-importance?  Instead of searching for a gimmick message we should be taking a good look at the films we watch and realize this is where we are as people. Take it all in and maybe you will find some truths within the film that will be much more powerful than some standard message about good will and cheap hope. 

“Don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood” is a great parody film. It comes from a family that has dedicated themselves to comedy as much as the Marx Bros. did. From “I’m Gonna get you Sucka” to “Scary Movie”, this is what the Wayans Bros. do. The parody genre is under-appreciated, but when it’s done right it can be very successful as “Scary Movie” proved.  Most people have no idea how hard it is to do a parody film. They are hard to write due to the fact that they have to be consistently funny, silly yet without deflating the main story. All the silliness has to fit for it to work. Great parody films also shine in areas most films fail in doing so like using production design to enhance the reality of that world or visual gags on the corner of the screen that you won’t catch till the third time you watch the film. That is a great incentive for a viewer, but one that takes a lot of dedication from a filmmaker to achieve.  Parody films have more pure cinematic moments than most for that reason. They make your eyes wander to find something in the background, and you find yourself judging how close the parody came to the real thing. Those are great visual techniques; film is a visual medium so I refuse to judge it as poetry. I will always judge films on how they enticed me visually as a viewer and the interaction in that format. Yes, dialog is important, but if visually you cannot make me believe that the story I am watching is happening, what’s the point? From beginning to end “Don’t be a menace...” lets you look into a fully created world designed with precision ,which is something that you rarely see from any film, plus it’s a truly hilarious parody film and the first of its kind.

I am the kind of person that respects hard work. I have problems with people who do not respect hard work. You do not have to like it but please respect it. “Don’t be a menace..” may not be your cup of tea but these artists were not lazy. Soon as Ashtray walks into his young father’s home, we see a crazy amount of production design on display. Everything is covered in plastic from the couches to the book shelves, which is a great visual joke. Throughout the film every set is treated in this manner. When Loc Dog and Ash Tray go to “40’s and Nines” you see all types of funny signs, posters, “Robopimp” being  my favorite. My favorite set is the “Rufus Deep Fried Chicken and Oil Change” set, which is a stupid silly idea that could only exists in a parody film. That’s the classic scene where Ashtray and Locdog “Vogue” and get arrested for being black on a Friday night. It would have been enough for the filmmakers to just show the sign of “Rufus Deep Fried Chicken and Oil Change” ,but during Loc Dog and Ashtray’s conversation you can actually see the clerk serving soda with a gas pump. All this extra work just to make this silly world come to life and to keep our eyes ready for the next joke. I love films that have purpose. A film that says this is what I am and is not ashamed one bit. The Wayans Bros. set out to make a great parody film. They did not try to please everybody, but to make a film that can stand next to the likes of “Airplane” and “Naked Gun”.  They achieved that visually with this film, with visual gags that you can only catch if you pause the film, and classic moments like gang leader “Toothpick” jumping in a new member using a jump rope. 

Top Ten Dialog Moments (Tribute to Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Phil Beauman) 

  •   Tray, I don't want you hangin' out in the streets. I want you to finish school, 'cause without an education the only kind of work you're gonna get is sellin' drugs, pimpin' women, or workin' security for Eddie Murphy.
  •  Ashtray! You little bitch ass motherfucker! Come over here and give your grandma a hug!
  • Well, I see your hobbies include "drinkin', smokin' weed, and all kinds of ill shit."
  •  If you hit a man, in time his wounds will heal. If you steal from a man, you can replace what you steal. But always cross in the green, never in between. Because the honorable Elijah Muhammed Ali floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. And always remember my brother, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, knick knack, paddy whack, give a dog a bone, two thousand, zero, zero, party, oops! Out of time, my bacon smellin' fine.
  • Name: Loc Dog, baby. Height: Six-deuce! Age: 19. Father's name: mmm... I dunno. Sex: hell yeah, nigga! Salary desired: 3 million dollars! Cash!
  • You ain't so tough now, little nigga. I hate your black bastards, you *stink*! I hate your black skin. I hate your black pants. I hate black pepper. I hate black keys on a piano. I hate my gums, because they're black. I hate Whoopi Goldberg's *lips*. I hate the back of Forrest Whittaker's neck. AHH! Most of all, I hate that black-ass Wesley Snipes.
  • Loc Dogg, turn down that loud ass mothafuckin music down, you wakin up the fuckin babies, mothafucka. This still my mothafuckin house, mothafucka...
  •  And that's what God expects from His sheep, here at the Greater Ebenezer New Revival Tree of Life Institutional Double Rock on the Side of the Road to Jericho Missionary Baptist Church of Zion! And I said Mount Cavalry! Huh! Y'all gonna help me!
  • Uh uh, fool. That's the baby's lunch.
  • Trying to win best actor at the Soul Train awards.

You have to go frame by frame to catch all the jokes on the screen in “Don’t be a menace”, but what makes the film even more impressive is that it also has a great set of one-liners and performances. Everybody remembers the famous line from the film “Are you my daddy” ,which is still very funny ,but now I find myself laughing at so many more lines of dialog, which are very thought out. For example, when Ashtray’s father says “I’m about to have some breakfast” and holds up a Hershey Bar or the late great Bernie Mac as Officer Self Hatred, saying things like “I hate black keys on a piano” ,that scene alone is worth the price of admission. There’s a fine tuning in the dialog that I just love.  It sounds natural, but the dialog is so rich that it had to be thought out in order for the audience to enjoy the punch line. It is in this manner that Wayans Bros. and their writing partners separate themselves from the competition. Perfect example is the scene where Ashtray’s dad gives him some advice while they’re fishing. Ashtray’s father tells him “Give up hope, dreams are for suckers! There ain’t no world for you!”  That is classic Wayans Bros. dialog filled with blunt truths and honest comedy.  This is a silly movie; this is not about righting the world’s wrongs. This is about laughing, and a crook pointing a gun at some old lady saying “Hey that’s a nice walker lady” is very funny, unless you’re uptight of course. The comical performances in this film are amazing, whether you single out Marlon's Wayan's classic physically heavy performance of "Loc Dog" or Sulli McCullough infectious laugh as "Crazy Legs", the performances alone in various moments throughout the film are very special.

“Don’t be menace…” may not seem like a big deal anymore but I know the truth. This film came out before “Chappelle Show” before “The Boondocks” before every other film or TV show started using the word nigga as a punch line. Even before Hip-Hop as a whole became one big inside joke for many. The Wayans Bros. were the first to put it all on the table for better or worse. It included every stereotype hood joke you can think of and created some new ones. They took it there, a grandma smoking out all day, Ashtray’s father being only a couple of years older than him, the MAN! (Who in the film is responsible for setting up OJ Simpson). The film did not hold back in sharing these very taboo jokes about real people in poor neighborhoods.  Now what’s amazing to me is how much more power this film has to brighten people’s day or open their eyes than the original films it is based on. People who live in poor neighborhoods do not need a reminder of how bad things have gotten. “Boyz N the Hood” did not make the ghetto a better place, it just became a film for the media to "enlighten"  better off people on how bad some kids have it in these impoverished neighborhoods . Is that important? I don’t think so. At least “Menace II Society” tried to scare kids to death by killing it’s hero in the end, but even the Hughes Brothers have admitted that they don’t think “Menace II Society” will change someone’s life in a positive way.  I think “Don’t be a menace...” has a better shot of making ignorant people wise up, due to the fact that it makes them look like a bunch of clowns. Loc Dog is an exaggeration of O -Dog from “Menace II Society” but it is not that far fetch.  To me, the whole film is one big joke of how ignorant and pathetic most urban communities have become. To the point where we can poke fun at them all the time, from the way they dress, to the way they speak, the ghetto is one big joke. I think someone laughing at your short comings is a very powerful way to tell someone to get it together. It’s like when you’re on a diet and someone calls you fatty, it hurts your feelings, but I bet you the next day you will be working out even harder to escape ridicule. Yet,somehow the basic fact that being overweight is very unhealthy and dangerous is not a good enough motivation, go figure. I think this film works in a similar way, and if these people don’t mind being looked at as clowns or the butt to many jokes, then I say let it be more jokes for me.   

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" 


Sunday, July 8, 2012

RUTZ Song: Table Manners

Table Manners is a song I made when I experimented on creating songs in ONE TAKE (No writing lyrics, just freestyle, saying what ever honestly comes to mind) this song I thought was one of the stronger songs from those recordings. I want to say thank you to everybody who has checked out and supported my work. It is a very exciting time for me thanks to you! On the way is my 2nd Hip-Hop EP "No Parachutes, No Routes" , a music video and my 35 min short film "KRAZY". I hope you enjoy this song, I think it is over 3 years old. I look forward to your thoughts on this ONE TAKE song...

Monday, July 2, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: Starship Troopers

Directed by Paul Verhoeven    

Line that stays with me: “Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays.”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

In film history the fall of 1997 will always belong to Titanic but the film I was most excited about that autumn was “Starship Troopers”. I was 13 when I watched the Starship Troopers trailer for first time on some Live Entertainment straight to video movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme I rented. I thought it was going to be the BEST MOVIE EVER! It had everything most young American boys want in movies, amazing special effects, intense action, and the promise of childhood dreams coming to life. That’s what amazes me about the film now, the film seems to know more about the audience than the audience know about themselves. When I watched “Starship Troopers” the first time, I wasn’t aware of Paul Verhoeven’s style. I found his over the top satirical style hilarious even though I wasn’t ready to catch all the jokes at the time.  The first time I watched the film I loved it for being the great Sci-Fi War film romp that it is. Now, I love it for many more reasons, but mainly how intelligent it is in figuring out ways to involve audiences in conversations most Americans do not have. This film is a dedicated satirical look on America’s righteous belief in fighting wars with enemies most Americans have never seen except maybe in the movies or TV. You never truly know what you are watching in “Starship Troopers”, which is one of Paul Verhoeven’s secret of success for his career.  In “Total Recall” you don’t know if you are watching Arnold’s reality or Arnold’s implanted experience. “Basic Instinct” keeps you guessing till the final shot and even then there are no answers. It is a very special gift in cinema when a director can play with your head in that manner and not piss you off but excite you with all its ideas and themes. In “Starship Troopers” we are never sure if we are watching a “movie –movie” or a Propaganda film created for the young people in the movie’s reality. This adds a staggering amount of complexity and fun for those who catch on.  I didn’t catch on till I realized that the first shot of the movie is a title card that says “Federal Network”, like we are watching a TV signal broadcast from the future.

If you do not pick up on the idea that we are watching a Propaganda film for some future generation, “Starship Troopers” is still a blast to watch. It has a very simple straightforward story and the filmmakers were not lazy in any area. But knowing about the “Propaganda” aspect does get me excited about watching the movie again just to discover more of its secrets and discreet intentions. At this moment and time I do believe that the whole film is a “Propaganda” film for the young people in the movie’s future.   I am not going to lie, when I first watched the film as a kid, the propaganda worked on me. In my head I could see myself battling the bugs for the glory that all propaganda war films promise and that’s the whole point. Propaganda films are supposed to desensitize you to the point that war is hell and make you feel that there is no other way. You could also become a war hero. Some say the movie is so bloody, that it couldn’t possibly be a propaganda film. Wouldn’t that scare people away? My answer is no. This generation is very much desensitized to violence; we watch terrible tragedies on the news while we enjoy our dinner without flinching. That is us people today, so it is safe to think that future generations will be even less disturbed. Try and speak to a couple of 12 year olds today about what they’re into. Ask them, what videogames they play and you’ll see what I am getting at. I truly believe for better or worse that the Call of Duty series might be the best form of Propaganda ever created.  “Starship Troopers” has found a way to express to audiences how propaganda works and it is not as straightforward as most people think.  

To me, “Starships Troopers” is the Federation’s film to entice young men to join the Mobile Infantry like Johnny Rico, and for young women to become a pilot like Carmen Ibanez. Near the end of the film they even tell you to join so you can become successful like them. The film starts with Johnny and Carmen in High School even though the actors playing the roles look like they finished high school a decade ago, which goes back to my “Propaganda”  film theory.  Throughout the high school scenes we are informed how this society views citizenship, which is very interesting and simple: IF YOU DO NOT FIGHT IN THEIR WAR YOU ARE NOT A CITIZEN.  Their teacher Lt. Jean Rasczak in a great fun performance by Michael Ironside talks about Hiroshima and how violence has solved many of the world’s conflicts. “Starship Troopers” has Sci-Fi elements but at the end of the day it is a war film. The classic war film story, about a young recruit whose home was destroyed by the ENEMY and now realizes that there is no turning back. He must go to war. It reminds me of those Marine commercials from the 90’s that they played all the time, with a Marine running through fire and other heroic obstacles that have nothing to do with the real horrors of war but I thought it was cool all the same.  I’ve spoken to a few people who have lived through war and the feeling of heroism or glory is not really what comes across. Usually you feel they have seen things they rather not talk about for fear that talking about it may make them remember. Still propaganda works, World War Two and Vietnam proved that. “Love it or Leave it” is one of scariest phrases I ever heard.  

Throughout “Starships Troopers” the propaganda continues to do its job and that’s the reason the film works. As a child, I clearly remember dreaming of the glory of war. Rolling around on the floor pretending to take out a whole fleet or dying bravely in some fantastic explosion.  Even though I had no real concept of what bullets can do to human flesh. “Starship Troopers” lets you have fun with those very natural immature feelings. You watch Johnny Rico ride a giant bug, shoot a hole on its back, drop a grenade in there, and jump to safety before it explodes in spectacular fashion. Another scene gives us the heroic sacrifice death, which couldn’t be cooler because our dying hero Sugar Watkins actually says “Just give me the Nuke!” I love that line, it is freaking hilarious, I love how it plays on our American psyche of a war hero taking one for the team and the fact that things have gotten so bad in the future that he couldn’t say give me the grenade, he said “give me the NUKE”, wow.  The film uses irony in ways that fascinates me and makes me ask over and over, what is this film trying to say. It talks about the power of ideas, and pushing ideology and beliefs on people who do not know the whole story. You just have to take the Federation’s word for it. For all we know there is no such thing as a “Brain Bug”. We don’t even know if the bugs ever truly attacked “Buenos Aires”. The Federation Network showed crushed buildings and bodies but we didn’t see one bug. They said it was a spore the bugs sent from space, which sounds ridiculous when you think about it. The whole invasion of Klendathu, could have been one big set up for the “Federation” to take over a new inhabitable planet they just found, all they have to do is kill all the bugs first. The “Federation” knows that they will find very little public support if they sell the war with their true intentions so of course they lied. That’s where the “Brain Bug” comes to play; the “Federation” needs to sell to their citizens the idea that these bugs are evil and are purposely out for their destruction.  The “Brain Bug” setting a trap for the troopers was the best way to sell that idea, it proves that the bugs are evil and must be destroyed before they destroy us. Now if you can’t read between the lines and figure out what the movie is truly talking about, I do not know what to say. I find the message to be loud and clear now. To make a nation of people believe they were attacked, when no such thing happened, is a very dangerous idea and one that has a prominent ugly solid track record in human history. 

The hardest thing for me to understand about “Starship Troopers” is the fact that it was not a box office success. Maybe it was because it had no real star power or just bad timing but as a film for action fans I don’t think it gets any better. The film’s craftsmanship is impeccable, the tone is perfect, the acting never really falters, but instead I think it hits all the notes that Paul Verhoeven planned to hit. The special effects at the time were the best there was and it was actually one of the few hardcore action movies around. The film’s box office failure will always be a mystery to me but the film has continued to gain respect year after year. It has so much to offer. The melodrama in the story works great, we get a great sense of camaraderie and once we get to know these characters we start to like them in all their simplicity. Casper Van Dien, does a great job of transforming from na├»ve young man to rugged solider. Michael Ironside, makes me laugh with lines like “Here’s the entertainment! Here’s the beer!”  I love how smart the filmmakers are right from beginning, as there is no score in the high school scenes which forces the audiences to truly pay attention to the dialog. This technique gets you deeply involved in the story as there is no other notion to hold on to. You got Clancy Brown screaming “Solider put your hand on that wall”. The film is very funny; Paul Verhoeven has a very unique style which is primarily based on attitude. An attitude that is in all his films, whether it’s pushing the threshold of film eroticism, or strange jokes like, why did he chose a black man to give Johnny Rico 10 lashes? Paul Verhoeven has a very controversial approach to cinema, but it also has purpose and it is not just for show. With “Starship Troopers” he shared with us the dangers of propaganda in a very brilliant way, so brilliant most people didn’t even notice. He got to ask us, where does our belief in war as a righteous way to solve our problems come from and question if the origins of those beliefs are true at all.  

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Paris Barclay's  "Don't be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood"