February 28, 2006

Brokeback Mountain: A Review

I felt weird coming out of Brokeback Mountain. When I usually do it’s because I couldn’t place my finger on what I was watching; Was it a love story? Or a love story dressed with gay rights politics? I’ve come to the conclusion that it tells its story and makes its point through the very tagline that it’s become famous for: Love is a force of nature.

E. Annie Proulx’s novella begins in 1960’s Wyoming with Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) for a seasonal job of sheepherding. During the months that follow, Jack and Ennis develop a friendship that eventually leads to a relationship. The two agree to keep that secret to themselves and to visit Brokeback Mountain every summer. But just as they didn’t plan on becoming lovers, Jack and Ennis also didn’t plan on other things.

The two of them marry later on in life; Jack to Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and Alma (Michelle Williams) to Ennis. Each develops within himself the mask of the heterosexual man living in a gay man’s body. All of which they have to do while being husband to their wives and fathers to their children.

You could argue that it’s a typical love story about forbidden love and the forces that can tear it apart. Such themes are explored in movies like Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice, but not without the classic heterosexual designation for its characters. The genius of the movie lies in the fact that it treats the subject matter of love and homosexuality as if it’s an everyday issue.

Whether you are gay or straight, male or female, pretty much all of the issues you have at the core are all the same to everyone else. There’s nothing special about falling in or out of love, being gay or being heterosexual, but there is in the way you deal with it. Jack and Ennis denied their sexuality to live a life they thought they wanted, when they really wanted was each other and Brokeback Mountain.

The credit for this movie lies in all involved. Director Ang Lee holds the camera down and lets the scenes play out for until necessary, while Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana give a sense of restriction and imprisonment to the script to make the tension and passion both real. The actors themselves, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal should be given credit for translating all that to the screen.  Lastly, praise should largely be given to Annie Proulx’s short story with its combination of the American cowboy with a twist on the sexual preference of the usual male cowboy characters seen in Western stories.

If it seems to be an average story to you and more for something for your girlfriend, take her with you. You might need to cry on her shoulder when you are done--it’s that kind of movie.
Posted by Matthew at 09:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

TV Review: Everybody Hates Chris - The First 15 Episodes

Everybody Hates Chris is a very straightforward show on the black experience. That simplicity allows itself to be funny and insightful on what it is to grow up black in America. It also goes to show that African-Americans do try to live normal lives, rather than lives of desperation as shown in such shows as The Parkers or Girlfriends.

The quality of the work that comes from this show comes from none other than comedian Chris Rock himself, whose own childhood serves as the basis for this series. Executive produced by Rock and Ali LeRoi (a co-writer on the show and HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show”), Everybody Hates Chris manages to tell stories without the menace and anger that a lot of black sitcoms and dramas have done to death as of late when it comes to race and relating to other ethnic groups.

Through narration, Rock starts of on his childhood in 1982 when he was 13 years old in Brooklyn, New York. Having just moved out of the projects into the even rougher neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, things seemed to be changing; but not for the better. No matter the age or the place, his complex situation gets even more complex.

Chris (Tyler James-Williams) is considered the “emergency adult” to his two younger siblings Tanya (Imani Hakim) and Drew (Tequan Richmond) when his parents Rochelle and Julius (Terry Crews and Tichina Arnold) aren’t around. While weaving his way through that position, he also carries the notoriety of being the one black student in the all-white populated school of Corleone Junior High School. There he deals with his token label with his white friend Greg (Vincent Martella), who is equally outcasted and seeking acceptance away from his nerd status. On occasion while at the school, he deals with Joey Carsuo, who acts as the local thug whose bigotry towards Chris is equally as fierce as his ways of torture towards him.

The following will be my review of the first 15 episodes that have aired so far this season:

“Everybody Hates the Pilot” – Original Air Date: September 22, 2005
Two stars

Chris and his family move to Bed Stuy after leaving the projects for a better place to live. As a result of this change, 13-year-old Chris ends up going to a different school then his younger brother and sister (Drew and Tanya) across town. When he gets there, he automatically stands out as the only black child in the midst of hundreds of white kids. At the same time he meets Greg, a white nerd who befriends Chris. Meanwhile, his parents (Rochelle and Julius) debate over who has control over paying the bills in the family.

Pilots are a tough call since it’s all about establishing, but this one I can say is one of the weaker episodes of the season. What it lacks in plot however is made up by some strong performances, especially by Terry Crews (Julius) and by Tichina Arnold (Rochelle). The main actor of the show, Tyler James Williams, hadn’t quite perfected the character of Chris yet. He did however get the look and surprise the character feels when he’s always in a crisis.

"Everybody Hates Keisha" – Original Air Date: September 29, 2005
Four stars

Chris has a crush on Keisha, the girl next door. Her mother, Shelia, also becomes the accidental recipient of Julius’ familiarity with the female backside while in his bathroom. Meanwhile, Greg sticks with Chris to avoid the bullies from attacking him.

Terry Crews is especially good dealing with his frustrating attraction towards Shelia. (The scene where Shelia comes by to get Keisha’s coat is especially hilarious).

"Everybody Hates Basketball" – Original Air Date: October 6, 2005
Three stars

Chris gets signed on to the basketball team after a coach for the school sees him dunk a paperball into a wastebasket. Meanwhile, his relationship with Greg suffers and costs him a test grade. Meanwhile, Julius rents out the upstairs room of their apartment to Tate, a man he meets on the street who pays his rent in advance.

Clarence Williams III gave a good performance as Tate, but his sly sinister face gave me the signals too early that he was going to be a crook. Chris's basketball story suffered from that same obviousness, but had a cool ending when the teacher reversed his make-up quiz grade back to an F.

"Everybody Hates Sausage" – Original Air Date – October 10, 2005
Two stars

The attacks from Joey Caruso resume after word gets around about Chris' first encounter (and fight) with him. After attempting to take a swing at Caruso during lunch, the principal throws Chris in detention for 3 days. Meanwhile, Rochelle attempts to get Tanya to eat one meal with sausage in it (which she dislikes.

The gag about Tanya not eating sausage, and how far Rochelle would go to get her to eat it, got on my nerves a bit. Making your kids stay up all night to make them eat food isn’t going to make them eat it. I feel the detention story was much stronger than the one about sausage. It does provide a nice showcase of the actress playing Chris’ sister.

"Everybody Hates Fat Mike" – Original Air Date – October 20, 2005
Two stars

Chris gets mugged every day by the local thugs on his block until Fat Mike becomes his friend. His association with Mike is cool until he takes off with his new bike. Meanwhile, Julius is on strike from his job due to an accident and is left with nothing to do but the housework. This would impress the average woman, but Rochelle finds herself in danger of losing her job at home.

I can't decide whether I like this episode or not. It’s a good episode to learn a lesson from, but not necessarily the best episode to laugh at.

"Everybody Hates Halloween" – Original Air Date – October 27, 2005
Three stars

It’s Halloween time at the Rock family. Chris is 13 wants to go to a party with kids more his age. When Keisha invites Drew to a party she’s holding, he decides to go get some candy instead. Chris goes to the party dressed as Prince only to find that his tastes are slightly out of date. Meanwhile, Julius decides to give cheap candy to the kids.

There's not much to say on this episode, except that the whole thing should have been given to the Halloween story. The Julius plot with him giving out cheap candy kinda fell a bit flat.

"Everybody Hates the Babysitter" – Original Air Date – November 3, 2005
Four stars

Julius and Rochelle go out to dinner and leave a babysitter to look after Chris and the kids. All goes well until the sitter turns out to be irresponsible as she leaves a baby with Chris. Meanwhile, the dinner date goes wrong thanks to bad service and a robbery that happen all at once.

This is one of the first episodes in which all the kids get a chance to interact with each other without their parents around. It also explores the pressure Chris endures when he is left by himself to deal with situations. The actress who played Yvette thankfully was given little screen time as she seemed rather stiff.

The subplot involving Julius and Rochelle was cool; the highlight was the robbery and one of the robbers being a friend of Rochelle's.

"Everybody Hates the Laundromat" – Original Air Date – November 10, 2005
Three stars

Chris, Tanya, and Drew go to the Laundromat to wash clothes while their parents go off in search of a television. Meanwhile, Julius and Rochelle find the TV they want on sale isn’t in stock, but they can get another TV if they purchase it with credit.

The subplot with the TV dilemma dragged a bit beyond the “will they, won’t they?” timeframe allowed for a comedy; obviously Julius was going to get the TV on credit.

"Everybody Hates Greg" – Original Air Date – November 24, 2005
Four stars

Chris hangs out with Greg and discovers that he has an Atari video game system. At the same time he discovers, that although Greg is white, his life is as crappy as Chris'. Meanwhile, Tanya gets into trouble and tries to blame Chris. Since Chris was with Greg, she fails.

Even though the neighborhoods of Chris and Greg are racially different, they ended up learning just how hard it was to get along when everyone else of your color feels your friendship is wrong. This episode also shows how much deep down Tanya cares about Chris despite the fact she tends to get him into trouble.

"Everybody Hates Christmas" – Original Air Date – December 15, 2005
Four stars

Julius and Rochelle discover that the water heater is broken, which means they have to spend the money they set aside for presents. Meanwhile, Chris participates in a food drive not knowing who the recipients will be.

This episode shows exactly what <i>Chris</i> is about -- a black family trying to make it while trying to maintain some dignity. They aren’t "ghetto", but they aren’t snobbish either. The dialogue that Chris has with his teacher about him not being poor is funny to watch, especially when she sings “We Shall Overcome”.

This episode is also known for blowing the whistle on the myth of Christmas. While this show is made with a family audience in mind, it’s a bit too adult to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

"Everybody Hates a Part-Time Job" – Original Air Date – January 19, 2006
Two stars

Chris wants a jacket to look cool, but he has to get a job first. Meanwhile, Drew and Tanya engage in a game of dare, which puts one of them in the emergency room.

Like “Everybody Hates Sausage”, this episode should have been more focused on the part-time job rather than the hospital. I did enjoy the hell out of the scenes with Chris and his father driving around, delivering papers.

"Everybody Hates Picture Day" – Original Air Date – February 2, 2006
Two and a half stars

Chris attempts to find the perfect set of clothes for his school picture. Meanwhile, Rochelle sells makeup on the side.

Instead of two stories not fitting together, this is a case of two stories deserving separate episodes. I liked both of them, but I thought that Rochelle’s business venture could have been expanded upon a little more than the time it was given. The same can go for Chris and his picture day story.

"Everybody Hates Valentine’s Day" – Original Air Date - February 9, 2006
Four stars

Chris develops a crush on his way to school, and Julius and Rochelle deal with Drew and Tanya’s prospective mates.

This episode was funny. When Chris ends up disliking the girl he finally gets, we end up feeling the same for him. Julius finds himself in his own pile of doo-doo when he tries to break up Tanya’s relationship with her boyfriend.

"Everybody Hates the Lottery" – Original Air Date – February 16, 2006
Four stars

While Chris tries to maintain his score playing Asteroids, Julius and Rochelle attempt to curb their vices -- Julius and his lottery tickets, and Rochelle with her chocolate turtles.

I liked this episode because withdrawal during poverty is a mother. It’s very hard to resist the usual temptations when you've been used to them so long. The performances of Arnold and Crews were believable and done well.

This is a show that gives everyone something to like. Even when Chris has a weak episode, there’s still plenty of funny material to be found.

You can see Everybody Hates Chris on UPN on Thursday nights every week (check your local guide for listings).

Posted by Matthew at 03:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

What this blog is

This will hopefully become a place where I can showcase my professionalism in writing. Having signed up with blogcritics.org, I hope to do well in the coming months. That being said, let the fun begin.


Posted by Matthew at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack