Monday Morning Critic 3.7.2011 – Oscar Fallout & The Rock’s Faster

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

It’s obvious there’s not ONE Black male actor in Hollywood that’s able to read a teleprompter, or that’s ‘hip enuf,’ for the new academy demographic! …. In the Hollywood I saw tonite, I don’t exist nor does Denzel, Eddie, Will, Jamie, or even a young comer like Anthony Mackie!
–Samuel L Jackson, via email, from the L.A Times about the 2011 Oscar ceremony

I had a whole 8,000 word bit on how the new Star Wars 3D conversion was the thing that made George Lucas into a bigger branding whore than Gene Simmons of KISS that was remarkably crass, and what I was going to use for this week’s column, until I read this article from the L.A Times about those of color in the Oscar ceremony. There are a lot of angles that could come out of this, easily the aspect of racism in new Hollywood being one of them, but one thing really stands out to me.

Halle Berry and Oprah Winfrey both presented, which isn’t a huge surprise, but there was an attempt to infuse new talent into a mix with older winners and stars of note. But none of them were of color for a very simple reason: Fewer black actors were amongst the “young, hip” crowd because fewer young black stars have been made in the past 15 years.

One of the downsides of Hollywood targeting the “urban” market with a handful of comedies, as well as the whole Tyler Perry experience, is that the market for plenty of minority actors and actresses is becoming much more of a genre market than anything else. Look at how Hollywood now markets black-centric films; it’s geared towards that particular market in the same way women are marketed for romantic films, et al, as opposed to a blockbuster or a prestige picture. It’s more of a niche market now as opposed to a main one in the same way you marketed Kurt Russell in the ‘80s. Yeah he was a star but it’s not like he was Michael Douglas, after all. He had a purpose and a niche, though, and many of the next generation of African-American stars are in this same boat.

And that’s not a horrible thing; plenty of actors have had wonderful careers working in genre picks and have made quite the living doing so. Look at how many actors have been able to work the horror film circuit for decades. A lot of them aren’t household names but they do have a community of loyal fans who do come out. But being a genre star isn’t quite the same as being a MOVIE STAR. And if Hollywood is trying to go young and hip for its signature awards ceremony bringing in the modern day equivalent of what used to be cult film stars won’t cut it. Having Brandon T. Jackson present an award wouldn’t feel right, if only because he’s a couple years removed from Tropic Thunder giving him a moment in the sun in the same way Russell presenting after starring in Escape from New York would back then.

Excluding those that Jackson mentions, the one thing Hollywood hasn’t done is created the same volume of movie stars as it used to. There aren’t as many stars and as such Hollywood is a bit more monochromatic because of it. Looking at the names of those who presented it came down to two types: those who actually were recognizable to the mainstream and those who appealed to the masses in a classy manner. They could’ve had Kim Kardashian host instead of Anne Hathaway, or any one of the 300 prostitutes who makes up the harem of sisters she springs forth from like an Orc in a Lord of the Rings film, but that’s just pandering to the lowest common denominator and Hollywood (for now) is still above that for the Oscars.

For anyone who’s a serious cinema buff, Anthony Mackie is someone who will has a chance at ending up being one of the great actors of his generation. By all rights he should be a bigger star than he is and get at least one of the chances that Russell Brand gets. There’s an entire group of great actors willing to be the next group of stars to follow Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Denzel, Samuel L Jackson and Forest Whitaker. Fifteen to Twenty years ago they’d be fighting (and sometimes winning) for the same roles that guys like Ashton Kutcher get now. But the Hollywood of now isn’t the same as the one in which Will Smith started in.

Opportunities are down in volume because not as many films are being made, which is a legitimate answer, but fewer genuine film stars have come out. What has come out is an entire generation of actors who either find roles in what I guess could be called “afro-centric” films like Lottery Ticket, Next Day Air and the American remake Death at a Funeral or struggle for the few good parts that remain. He’s too good to be in the same sort of soulless productions that gave us Soul Plane. And yet he seemingly can’t get into the mix for the sorts of roles that bigger names (but lesser actors) can. My best guess would be to say “Welcome to the world of the struggling mid level actor trying to get onto the A-list.”

Samuel L Jackson may curse better than anyone, and I think he does have a point about the lack of diversity in the Oscars not reflecting the reality of the current acting world, but I think there’s a bigger point he’s missing. Hollywood hasn’t made a new star of any kind in a long time, much less someone of color. There are a lot of reasons for it but the biggest one, I think, is that Hollywood just hasn’t created a movie star of note of any color in so long that it stands out even more when talented actors and actresses of color aren’t getting the same opportunities they did 20 years ago.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Faster

You have to admire the massive stones that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has when it comes to his career as a film star. Poised to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger after a couple moderate hits in The Scorpion King and The Rundown, as well as a perfunctory if unsatisfying remake of Walking Tall, Johnson had all the makings of a throwback action hero to satisfy the urgings of an audience waiting for one. And then something curious happened.

He decided he’d rather take roles to make him a movie star and not just an action hero.

With a handful of films under the Disney banner, Johnson has gone from being a professional wrestler who dabbled in film to being a movie star who used to be a WWF champion. He may not be an A-list leading man but he’s enough of a draw to have his name and face on a movie poster. But something about him just screams for him to be in an action film, to be the man who saves the day. Arnold had a handful of films roles before he became an action star with Conan but didn’t become a bonafide action star until The Terminator. So one sees where he’s going with Faster: it’s the hard R-rated action film to shake off roles in The Tooth Fairy that kind of wussied him and reveal the inner badass we all want him to be. Thus …. Faster.

Driver (Johnson) has just been released from prison. Ten years he’s wanted revenge against the men who ambushed him and his crew after they pulled off a bank robbery. Ten years is a long time and all he has left is revenge. There are four names on his list and he’s not checking it twice. People are going to die … and not well. Pursuing him are two people: Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) is on the last case of his career, hiding an addiction from his peers and a secret that’ll be revealed in the film’s final act. Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is also on his trail, hired to kill him on what he wants to be his final job as an assassin.

That’s all you really need to know, as well, as this film follows the Crank style of story-telling: two minutes of exposition, 90 minutes of ass-kicking.

For a pared down exploitation flick, there’s a lot of nuance to how George Tillman Jr. showcases Johnson. Driver is a guy who’s wanted revenge so much that it defines everything about him now. Everything he does is with a purpose; his opening act of revenge showcases exactly how. He walks out of his car, through traffic as it stops in front of him and he doesn’t even acknowledge it. He walks with authority and purpose, confirming the target before he pulls the trigger. The second one is similar but it’s not as exacting. As he continues through his path vengeance only fuels him so far.

There’s an intriguing amount of nuance to Johnson’s performance. Driver is a man defined by his vengeance, and his obsession with revenge, but it eats at him after a while. His want for that primal urge of vengeance eats at him through all this, culminating in a shockingly powerful scene with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje at the end. It’s not brilliant but it’s unexpectedly good for a genre film.

Strong recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Battle: Los Angeles – Aliens invade. We fight back.

See It – This film intrigues me. You have a war story meshed with science fiction overtones, like what McG wanted to do with Terminator: Salvation but with aliens instead of robots. I can dig that.

Mars Needs Moms – Mars needs mothers because its stepfathers slap it around too much, I guess.

Skip It – With animation it’s always one step forward, two steps back. For every Toy Story franchise you get crap like this.

Red Riding Hood – Amanda Seyfried dons the red hood and deals with werewolves.

Skip It – Amanda Seyfried is one of my favorite actresses but she’s been in a lot of crap lately. The bar has been set low and this looks awful.

Jane Eyre – The girl from Alice in Wonderland is Jane and Michael Fassbender is in it, too.

See It – It’s Jane Eyre … kind of hard to mess it up, one would think.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at Kubryk@Insidepulse.com and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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