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by Bill Gibron

15 Jun 2008

There is a fine line between realism and the ridiculous. Put another way, when dealing with ethnic archetypes, it is easy to confuse truth with a tendency toward cultural insensitivity. Comedy is frequently guilty of such random racial profiling. Tyler Perry, for example, paints his portraits of African Americans in the broadest, most brazen strokes possible. On the one hand, his leads are usually troubled professionals plowing through personal problems direct from a soap opera’s story session. On the other, he relies on crass, sometimes crude social stereotypes to get that all important laugh - no matter how cheap or overbroad.

It’s the same tiring tightrope act that a movie like Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (new to DVD from Universal) must maintain. Initially, audiences need to be engaged beyond a borderline black face burlesque, actors standing in for the senseless slander of the past. Yet there is no denying that, within said pigeonholes, some small amounts of truth exist. After all, fact is the reason that most farce works. It’s all about recognizeability. Luckily, writer/director Malcolm D. Lee understands this all too well. He takes his simple story about a family reunion (already a tired cinematic setup) and finds a way to work both truth and a BET comedy club mentality into a marginally successful, frequently funny outing.

When we first meet the title character, he’s a successful self-help guru, a media-made Dr. Phil type with a supermodel girlfriend and a lonely, disconnected son. Returning to the family home for the first time in years, Roscoe will have to face a few daunting demons from his past. His brother Otis and sister Betty still enjoy picking on him, and a long standing rivalry with adopted cousin Clyde remains bitter (if slightly unbelievable). Of course, once he steps onto the familiar Georgian soil, all the old issues reappear. His father remains aloof, his mother loving but unable to forge a lasting bond between the two. Similarly, Clyde’s conceited nature manages to transcend Roscoe’s La-La Land fame. And then there’s the high school sweetheart who still seems smitten with the man she once loved.

It has to be said that, for all its over the top tendencies, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins remains grounded in a way that saves it from outright racial disparagement. White audiences may wonder why Lee is allowed to flaunt seeming insensitivity the way he does, and at least two of the characters here - Betty, and the casually criminal relative Reggie - apparently push the boundaries of African American truisms. But as a director, the man behind Undercover Brother recognizes two things: one, casting will save you from even the most questionable artistic approach, and; two, wit mixed with even the wildest premise, if handled properly, always succeeds. Though he occasionally loses his funny business focus, Lee remains right on both accounts.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins has one of the best casts in a recent comedy, everyone from name star Martin Lawrence to supporting players Mo’Nique and Cedric the Entertainer proving their movie star mantle, while reliable names such as Michael Clarke Duncan, James Earl Jones, and Margaret Avery smooth over the rougher, racially charged edges. The story does skate around some quasi-controversial questions, however. Betty is viewed as a horny prison whore, using the Bible as a means to get “busy” with the local jail population. Reggie regularly steals, swindles, and smokes his way to pseudo-shiftless Southern comfort. While Duncan’s Otis invests the movie with a solid sense of responsibility and honor, Cedric’s Clyde continues the corrupt closet con artist elements the narrative claims to avoid.

Yet Lee keeps things concrete and likeable - at least most of the time. There are physical comedy elements that go way overboard in both their shtick and sensibility, like the time when Roscoe and Clyde literally destroy the family home while fighting. There is also an extended foot race sequence where the concept of sportsmanship is tossed out the window for bigger and bigger slapstick set pieces. If it weren’t for the actors involved, this would all grow tiresome and trite. But since the director establishes character early on, and finds a way to avoid most of the clichés inherent in his otherwise clockwork plotting, we forgive these indulgences. In fact, Lee is so skilled behind the camera that he paints purveyors of such purposeless pratfalls - like Perry - as the pretenders they are.

As part of the DVD, we see how carefully Lee constructed his comedy. Many of the deleted and extended scenes show where editing was required, while the outtakes argue for the ample improvisation skills of the entire cast. In the Making-of material, everyone seems really proud of being involved in such a stellar company, and we get the distinct impression that no one involved feels their race is being marginalized or attacked. Indeed, one gets the feeling that a good way to judge the inherent insensitivity in a film is to gauge how intentional the portrait really is/was. In this case, Lee looked to his past and the people he knows as a means of managing what some might consider an otherwise quasi-offensive screed.

Of course, this is all a matter of perspective. To the audience to whom this movie speaks loudest, claims of racism would be rejected outright. Similarly, anyone familiar with the burgeoning genre of urban comedy realizes that exaggeration and caricature are occasionally needed to help foster a sense of shared experience that many in America’s minority class openly embrace. In fact, while Judd Apatow walks away with all the cinematic humor saving accolades, Lee clearly deserves a place with the category’s rebirth. While no one is claiming that Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is a masterpiece, it does prove that humor doesn’t have to de-evolve into hate to be witty and pointed. Indeed, as long as you have clear characters, and actors who can handle the necessary nuances, you should have something solid on your hands - and that’s exactly what this winning effort is.

by Bill Gibron

14 Jun 2008

We often forget how much actual art there is in the art of animation. Not so much skill or filmmaking acumen, but genuine, painstaking personal craft. After all, the genre is built on the drawing, the pen and ink providence that, through motion, constructs an aesthetically pleasing perception of the world. It’s what the Great Masters strived for when they put oil to canvas, or chisel to stone. It’s also what directors and illustrators focus on when they put cells to celluloid for that all important imitation of life. Yet sometimes, concept transcends creativity, leading to something both revolutionary and retrograde.

Such is the case with Lawrence Jordan. Having been involved in making his “cartoon collages” since the ‘50s, the bay area maverick has seen both his Victorian styled stop motion cut outs and meditative live action tone poems celebrated as intense, inspired, and most importantly, artistic. Now, Facets Video has compiled a four disc DVD box set celebrating the man’s career. Entitled The Lawrence Jordan Album, we get two sets of animation, and two additional collections of standard cinematic statements. Yet once viewed, it is clear that there is nothing “typical” about what this inventive, sometimes irritating auteur has to offer.

Disc one takes us through the most typical of Jordan’s work, with pieces ranging from 1961 (“Duo Concertantes”) to 2004 (“Enid’s Idyll”). Following themes typically built around particular classical compositions, the 10 presentations illustrate the main muse that the filmmaker follows. The second DVD delves into the other side of Jordan’s passion. Known as “The H.D. Trilogy” (based on the poet Hilda Doolittle and her long form elegy “Hermetic Definitions”) this trip through Italy, Greece and Britain serves as a statement about aging gracefully, and vitally, through a world seemingly ignorant of its history. Disc three returns to the careful collage style, the trio of films following similar pattern. The final DVD delivers seven more live action efforts, including the stellar “Sacred Art of Tibet”.

Together, these films tell a compelling story, the implied narrative centering on an idealist locked in a battle between the suggested and the sensible. The first few films argue for a man exploring the very limits of a certain set agenda. As the gorgeous tones of the “Gymnopedies” or “Moonlight Sonata” play, Jordan juxtaposes images from ancient tapestries and etchings, old world wonders manipulated in such a way as to suggest Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam without a sense of humor. Certain constants resonate throughout - the crying, all seeing eyes; the escape implied in the hot air balloon; the grace of the human body; the undeniable beauty in nature. When combined with Jordan’s seemingly random approach (objects fly in and out of frame with minimal reference to anything storied or purposefully plotted), one gets the impression of an effervescent vision inspired by too many dreams and not enough drama.

Yet Lawrence Jordan’s scattershot stratagem can be very effective. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Samuel Taylor’s lyrical ballad about the seemingly supernatural events that occur to a sailor as he heads home, benefits from this wide open imagination approach. It’s a masterstroke to take the arc poetics the material provides and provide some manner of visual association. The other animations of Disc three follow a similar pattern. “Sophie’s Place” does try to intimate a centeral location and person, but the boundaries of such an idea are pushed, and then broken, time and again. Similarly, “Blue Skies Beyond the Looking Glass” gives us man (in the form of old Hollywood stars) vs. nature, the ephemeral and the exacting in close quarters combat.

Yet it’s his live action work which resonates deeper. The “HD Trilogy”, for example, explores elements that, even today, many filmmakers fail to bother with. Acting as a stand-in for both Doolittle and the poem’s complex protagonist, actress Joanna McClure depicts aging sensuality with frank openness and abject honesty. There are times when she appears frail and fragile. In other sepia toned lights, she sizzles beyond what her beauty pageant betters could ever accomplish. As the material turns contemplative and more insular, Jordan investigates the intimate. McClure bravely responds with nude scenes, self-reflection, and a last act sequence where all we see is her philosophical face, mind lost in deep thought. Some may see this trip through Italy and Greece (with a side trek through the cemeteries of London) as an extended travelogue. Sadly, they are missing the major point of this material.

The last disc is not so deceptive. Here, Jordan provides what some might consider straight forward documentaries. Of course, his clash of images style remains real and intact. Some of his subjects are fairly obvious. “Views of a City” looks at a burgeoning metropolis through the various reflective surfaces within, while “In a Summer Garden” and “Winter Light” are vistas captured in a self explanatory form. Perhaps the best example of what Jordan can accomplish with both his fact and fiction conceit is the vibrant “Sacred Art of Tibet”. Using a voice over that explains the various deities in the country’s religion, the filmmaker manipulates the material, double exposures and camera tricks creating an epiphany like look at the psychedelic dimension of faith. It stands as a fascinating piece.

In fact, all ‘facets’ of The Lawrence Jordan Album stand the test of time and post-modern temperament. As with any overview, the sudden sandwiching of movies that were never meant to ‘play’ together can be off putting. One sees patterns purposely avoided thanks to the displacement of years, and it causes a kind of fault the artist is far from guilty of. In fact, if one takes this box set as a gallery exhibit, a chance to view Jordan as a whole and not just a singular selection of one or two works, a prescience evolves. There is humor of the grotesque here, anatomical models dancing like chorus girls in a cheap vaudeville revue. Similar, Jordan applies a dream logic even more specious than David Lynch’s psyche scarred scenarios. Yet there is no denying that what he forges is, as Ed Blank of the Pittsburgh Press referred to it as “pure film”.

Indeed, The Lawrence Jordan Album could be subtitled “A Primer on the Language of the Artform”. Like a grammar guide required of school children to understand the fundamentals, and the tenet bending nuances, of writing and the resulting literature, this complicated creator reveres the rules, only to then break them with radical regularity. It’s the perfect amalgamation of what many in creativity already know - you’ve got to perfect the basics before venturing out into the unknown. With their spinning orbs, buried pagan symbols, understated purpose, and overdone calculations, Jordan’s work joins the ranks of other fringe finery. He may not deserve a place among the mainstream, but to understand the normative, one needs to know his formidable flights of fancy. They help put animation, and its internal element of art, into proper perspective.

by John Bohannon

14 Jun 2008

Bonnaroo now holds an odd place in the summer festival circuit. Although it is out of touch with its roots on some levels, it is looking ahead to the future to be able to sustain itself. With a Friday line-up bearing the likes of Metallica, My Morning Jacket, and MSTRKRFT -– it sums it up all in those three names. Metallica being the new generation of headliner material (thank the lord they nixed the two-night Widespread Panic runs), My Morning Jacket finding themselves a staple on the schedule, and MSTRKRFT falling in line with the current trend of electronic DJ late-night sets (because why not have booty bass at 3 A.M.?). That doesn’t even include the always-pleasant surprises you’ll find along the way. People complained about the Bonnaroo headliners this year, but what they didn’t take a look at was the depth within every genre across the board.

The crowd has been interesting, to say the absolute least. For one thing, I’ve never seen much cocaine at the likes of a festival with supposed “free-spirits”, but people flocked to the white stuff. Some may say Metallica caused it, others just stopped being affected by Red Bull, and so they turned to making their entire face numb for an all-night marathon. The hippie factor has diminished quite substantially, probably because they weren’t offered to see String Cheese Incident for the 27th time this year or the produce prices got too high to sell their new-aged bullshit.

Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez

After a wretched morning of chasing whiskey with beer with frat boys and Volvo kids alike, the only thing I needed in my life was Jose Gonzalez. Although he had quite the battle with the bands playing at other stages flooding into his sound, he always finds a way to trooper through being the little guy with nothing but an acoustic guitar. As things got louder—he played louder and captured everyone’s attention rather they wanted it captured or not. Gonzalez’s performance was proof that if someone writes good songs consistently, people will listen. Rather than MGMT’s Thursday night performance where a small handful of songs held the crowd’s attention (although “Electric Feel” absolutely killed – yet, everyone was left standing with their hands in their pockets during filler.

I’ve been skeptical of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova since their independent hit Once—because I couldn’t quite measure its level of authenticity. Some of the songs felt insincere, others felt heartbreakingly sincere. But I’ll tell you one thing. When these two take the stage live as under their new moniker, The Swell Season, every pore out of their humble bodies surged with emotion. Songs like “Falling Slowly”, “Lies”, and “Leave hold more weight than one would think live, and they transfer over into a full band format beautifully. Also, shockingly everyone in attendance knew all the words. In environment’s like Bonnaroo you really get to see artists breakthrough –- and the stars from Once had their work cut out for them.

Up next I had a very reluctant set on my hands. !!! (pronounced Chk Chk Chk, which is pretty damn funny to hear people and try and say leading up to the show) fell outside of their environment during a hot day set where people just seemed to be too exhausted to dance. Where they last left the crowd drenched in a mass of sweat a few months ago at Langerado during the night, the day just didn’t fare too well for the New York art-rockers.

After !!!, M.I.A. was scheduled to cancel, but she showed up for what she announced was her last show of the tour – although I missed the set, the information was somewhat troubling that the wrong information was reported from the press with regards to cancellations -– it frankly doesn’t help anybody out, and a “surprise” performance when she was already scheduled is just uncalled for.



With a couple hours to relax, whiskey commenced in the campgrounds in preparation for my first (of hopefully many to come) Metallica performance. Chris Rock was set to play on the mainstage immediately before the legendary thrashers -– and it fit surprisingly well. Rather than spending hours making fun of white people this time around, Rock went for the women. He may have caused a ruckus among a breeding ground of feminists, but when was Chris Rock not a name associated with controversial? I’ll spare you details on the jokes, because nothing is worse than trying to transcribe that into print form -– let’s just say he was in rare form and held one of the biggest audiences at the festival still standing at the end.

And while we are talking about big audiences, Metallica had the largest army of the night -– and to great avail, because they were hands down the masters of Friday. Generally, the headliners can be rather week –- but there was so much volume coming out of the speakers (not to mention the most active crowd of the weekend thus far) that you could hear booming far into the campsites. There were no flashy stage set-ups or any of that who-haw to distract from the performance –- the songs were plenty enough. Playing with lightning speed and accuracy, Hetfield, Hammett, Lars, and Trujillo played like they were 20 last night –- and it was un-fucking-believable. From start to finish hands were in the sky to classic cuts like “Nothing Else Matters”, “Enter Sandman”, and “The Unforgiven”. Also included were deep cuts off their debut full-length Kill Em’ All with “No Remorse” and necks were left in pain during the speed-anthem “Whiplash”. Hammett also appeared later in the night at the SuperJam (which included Les Claypool and members of Gogol Bordello) and during the My Morning Jacket set. [Download Metallica set]

Metallica - Whiplash



The late nights are always party time, and nothing starts a party like MSTRKRT at one in the morning. With rave tendencies and drug dependencies, this was one giant dance fest –- and rightfully so. One of the most talked about performances of Friday, everyone that left was spreading the word –- and it looks like this may have been exactly what they needed to escape the shadow of Death From Above 1979. Also playing was Tiesto, who shared the stage at certain points with Jose Gonzalez during “Crosses” and Tegan and Sara showed up to sing as well.

After slightly wearing down, I finished up my night at My Morning Jacket, who was surprisingly less than stellar this year at Bonnaroo (when usually they have legendary performances here; see 2006 setlist). The songs from their recently released Evil Urges unfortunately don’t fall in place with the rest of their set, therefore creating an inconsistent performance. This is the first time I’ve claimed this in my existence –- but I think the My Morning Jacket kool-aid I’ve been drinking might be slightly wearing off. Let’s wait for the next record before I jump too far ahead of myself.

All in all, Friday was beyond a success. The crowd was a lot less drug oriented and more people seemed to be here to actually see the bands playing. Always a complaint with Bonnaroo as more drug-oriented than music oriented, the tables may have finally turned –- and I have to commend the Bonnaroo organizers for their excellent decisions on the line-up this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a full day ahead and a cooler of iced cold Pabst with my name on it.

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket

by tjmHolden

14 Jun 2008

As you may recall, my last post took up the matter of lifestyle. For those of you who didn’t read it, can’t recall what it said, or are always looking for the easy way out, let’s review . . . lifestyle was held out to be akin to culture, only with more attitude. That’s because it isn’t something we simply assume and let wash over us; it has to be recognized, contemplated, and intentionality engaged. Like culture, though, lifestyle can be located anywhere and comes in multiple manifestations—often in the same place. In the last post, a list of Southern California possibilities was provided, but homed in on the beach. That was fun—at least for me; refreshing, and it put a little color on my cheeks, too. I don’t know how it was for you, but that really doesn’t matter now because I am about to touch upon a second lifestyle pursuit. Unless you are a porpoise (or even if you are since they are purportedly smarter than the average human being) you can probably infer what I’m going to talk about, based on the pictures above.

Yup: baseball.

Maybe that word alone carries clout sufficient to induce half of you to immediately stop reading, but wait, take heart: this post isn’t really about baseball, at all. It is actually about existence (and not just because for some, the latter is predicated on the former). So now I know you’ll want to keep reading; for who among (the non-suicidal of) us isn’t interested in existence. Right?

by Jason Gross

13 Jun 2008

“The Pied Piper of R&B” is off the hook in his trial but Jim DeRogatis has good reason to fear for his own freedom in the trial, as detailed well in this Chicago Reader story about the case and his involvement.  It turns out that despite the court’s assurances, taking the 5th was a wise move in the murky waters of the legal matters involved.  Other writers/reporters, and not just in the music field, can rest easy for now that he handled things so deftly.  Rest assured, when another high profile case comes up and some high-paid lawyers grill another writer, the outcome might not be so peachy-creamy.

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