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The New Serg Beret

Talking and Writing About Cinema Since 2012

Month

February 2016

Film A Week: The Series- “The Princess and the Frog” (2009)

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“The evening star is shining bright
So make a wish and hold on tight
There’s magic in the air tonight
And anything can happen…”

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In the early 2000’s, Disney was struggling to keep traditional hand drawn animation afloat in an era of computer-generated animation. Dreamworks started to show off with unadulterated send ups like Shrek and Pixar was giving brilliant stories in Finding Nemo. Disney, however, was delivering projects that had limited appeal (with the exception of Lilo & Stitch) with Atlantis getting mixed reviews, The Emperor’s New Groove taking forever in production and Treasure Planet being a major flop on par with The Black Cauldron.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Home on the Range, a film about three cows trying to save their farm which was flat out a waste of talent, time and tree pulp. Disney said “well, we fucked that up” and focused on CGI animation to compete with their competitors. Unfortunately, their first film out of the gate was Chicken Little, which was a flat out waste of talent, time and megabytes. After much noise and certain films succeeding such as Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, Disney shocked all animation fans with a return to form of hand drawn animation to the rejoicing of fans everywhere.

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This is accurate

Disney decided to tackle the classic story of The Frog Prince in their film “The Princess and the Frog” with new twists and something the company never really did before. The film took a new twist on the story set in the 1920’s New Orleans with a predominately Black cast. Now this caused a shit storm in certain areas as the princess’ former name was going to be Maddy, which the Black community where having none of as it was practically offensive as it was to close to Mammy. Disney went back and changed it to the much nicer name Tiana and changed the name of the film from The Frog Princess to The Princess and the Frog to avoid audiences thinking she was a frog and potential spoilers.

The film was ready for wide released with a all-star Black cast of Anika Noni Rose as the titular princess, Terrance Howard as her father, James, and Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s mother, Eudora. Others include Keith David as Dr. Facilier, a voodoo witch doctor referred as the Shadow Man, Jennifer Lewis as Mama Odie, a blind voodoo priestess that just happens to be 197 years old, and Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis, an alligator with a dream of playing trumpet with the big boys. There is also a bevy of other voice actors such as Jim Cummings as Ray the firefly, Jennifer Cody as Tiana’s white friend Charlotte, John Goodman as “Big Daddy” LeBeouf, Charlotte’s dad, and Bruno Campos as the naive Prince Naveen of Maldonia. With the cast in place, Disney headed into this film with a dream. So, what’s the story?

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WISH UPON A STAR: Tiana (Rose) looks to the night sky for hope. Source: disneyscreencaps.com

Tiana (Rose) is constantly working at to obtain the dream of owning her own restaurant that she wished for. She gets no sleep in between jobs and is drowning in the day to day. Tiana is hired by her friend Charlotte (Cody) to serve her “man-catching beignets” at a welcoming costume party for Prince Naveen (Campos). Naveen is recently cut off from his family and is New Orleans to live a little and find a job under the watch of his servant LAwrence (Peter Bartlett). Naveen unfortnately comes to deal with Dr. Facilier who takes advantage of Lawrence’s desire to have the power of the prince and Naveen to suffer as a frog for the rest of his days. Naveen escapes and goes on search for help and comes across Tiana in a princess costume wondering if her dream is worth it. After seeing the book of The Frog Prince, Naveen suggests to Tiana being a “princess” that they can kiss and break the spell. This strategy doesn’t work and Tiana gets turned into the most adorable damn frog on screen.

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No offense, Jean-Bob

These two head out on a journey involving the aforementioned Louis (Wooley), Ray (Jim Cummings), Mama Odie (Lewis) while trying to fight off the Shadow Man’s shadows and evil ways.

“The Princess and the Frog” may not be seen as the best of Disney films, but it certainly holds it owns together. It is great to see Disney tackle the old tale with a new twist as it takes notes from E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess and the classic tale into a weird meshing. The story works wonders for its setting as New Orleans, though a big city, is very contained and small. It’s a smaller scale for sure as the film only goes from the swamps to the city itself, but everyone is connected in some sort of way. The message the story conveys is also startling as it is a mature message.

It takes one of the foundations of the Disney corporation of “When You Wish Upon A Star” and says “Nope, that’s just to set a goal. You have to work at it.” That is a wonderful message as it is true. It takes hard work and focus on getting the dream, but the message also tells you not to make that the sole focus. Look at the world around you, smell the roses and don’t forget others as you accomplish the goal that are set out. That takes major cojones to tell an audience of kids. It takes its character’s ambitions seriously and doesn’t dull them in anyway. Yet, there are moments that seemed to be in there for the sake for being in there such as Louis being a typical comic relief, the stuff with Lawrence that is simply “I’m evil because, fuck it, why not?” and an odd out of nowhere fight with frog catchers, which while fun, is sort of useless.

The animation is nothing but stellar. It is so nice to see Disney hand drawn animation in a modern era because it not only came back, but it came back with a vengeance. It’s rich, vibrant and not afraid to play with the pallette of greens, purple, browns and black. For example, the “Friend from the Other Side/Transformation Central” sequence is a sight to behold. Hell, watch it for yourself.

That sequence alone is worth watching this film. I saw this film the first weekend it came out and when that scene came on, me and my sister shouted “That’s how you do animation.” It was gorgeous as hell. Even better, the whole film is filled with magical moments like that.

The songs by Randy Newman work wonders. I was iffy at first because of those corny tunes from Toy Story, but Newman nailed the bayou and jazz sounds of that era to a tee. Highlights besides the sequence above are “Almost There” with a upbeat Broadway-esque jazz tune with minmalist 2D animation, “Ma Belle Evangeline” as Tiana and Naveen dance (see the title card for this post) “Dig a Little Deeper” with Lewis going full gospel and “Down in New Orleans” with Dr. John giving his unique sound to the world of Nawlins. It’s a fun soundtrack and I listened to it days after re-watching the movie.

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ONLY IN DREAMS: Dr. Falicier (David) shows Tiana (Rose) what her dreams could be if she listens to him. Source: disneyscreencaps.com

The vocal performances are great with David, Cody, Rose and Cummings being the real standouts. David as Dr. Facilier is astounding as he covers the charm and charisma of a con man, but all the evil of a bastard. The scene in which he is face to face with Tiana and manipulates her with visions of her dreams is brilliant. He delivers every line with such bravado and assurance that it is hard for even the audience to tell him no. Cody’s performance as Charlotte is too damn hilarious. She covers the Southern Belle stereotype to a tee and every line she delivers is effin’ gold. Rose gives Tiana a strong voice that proves she can make herself accomplish her dreams and goals. This actually makes the battle of wits between her and Facilier incredible. Cummings as Ray the firefly is filled with heart and soul as he maybe a comic relief, but he has dreams of his own one day to be with the love of his life, the northern star named Evangeline. This helps make (spoilers) his death all the more upsetting because we want him to succeed.

The film went on to become a modest hit, but not big enough for Disney to continue with hand drawn. In a winter packed with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel (who took their kid to see that crap?) with Avatar (I forgot that existed), it suffered a small loss. The next hand drawn film would be Winnie the Pooh, released the same day as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, to which I assume the schedule guy at Disney was promptly fired for.

The film, though, does have its fair share of fans, myself included, that enjoyed what it brought to the table. Tiana has gone to be part of the Disney Princess franchise and Dr. Facilier is now getting recognized as one of Disney’s best villains since Jafar from AladdinThe Princess and the Frog is a fun and fantastic film with wonderful animation, top notch performances and a message that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

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Next week, Film A Week continues Black History on Film month with a bad mother-“shut your mouth!” What? We are just talking about Shaft, man. Shaft gets the Film A Week treatment next Wednesday, February 17. See you then.

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Film A Week: The Series-“Straight Outta Compton” (2015)

This month of February, Film A Week takes a look at Black History on Film. These range from icons of the industry, memorable characters that stand the test of time and important moments within cinema itself. It is to celebrate the influence of Black culture in cinema and show their place in the world of cinema, music, art and beyond. Let’s get it started with a look at the most influential group in hip-hop: N.W.A.

“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”

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Their music was their art. Their rhymes caused controversy. Their look and reputation scared the ever-loving shit out of White America. N.W.A. aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes consisted of MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy (Motherfucking) E. They were the epitome of the rap scne showing off their reality through their music to engage the audience into what was going on not only in Los Angeles, but the nation itself. Of course, every group has its beginning leading to a rise and, eventually, a fall. Straight Outta Compton, just like their music, encapsulates what made N.W.A. America’s most wanted rap group.

“Cause the boys in the hood are always hard
You come talking the trash we’ll pull your card
Knowing nothing in life, but to be legit
Don’t quote me boy cause I ain’t said shit”
– Eazy-E, “Boyz-N-The Hood”

Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray, is an intense look at the life of the group by showcasing not only them as a group, but as individuals. The story is the aforementioned rise and fall with a bit of an edge showing the gritty reality of the gangsta rap lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Some parts may seem exaggerated, but the fact that even those exaggerations might have happened, it adds to the group’s legacy.

Andre Young aka Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and O’Shea Jackson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) are looking for an outlet to express themselves. While working as part of World Class Wrecking Crew, complete with hilarious satin jackets that Ready for the World would envy, Andre brings O’Shea to the stage as Ice Cube to give Compton a taste of reality rap, which pisses off the club owner Alonzo Williams (Corey Reynolds). Andre has had enough of this Shalamar-esque crap, along with O’Shea tired of putting up with the daily street bullshit, go to their friend Eric Wright (Jason Mitchell) to start recording in the studio. Wright uses the money he hustled in various drug deals to start up Ruthless Records. One of the first records they record is Eric as Eazy-E being given the chance to rap on “Boyz-In-The Hood.” These three, along with Lorenzo Patterson aka Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby aka Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.), join together to become N.W.A.

“When something happens in South Central, Los Angeles, nothing happens, it’s just another nigga day….
Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggas Wit Attitudes”
-“Straight Outta Compton”

 

The group presses Eric’s record which catches the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Heller offers Eric and the group a chance to be their manager. Reluctant at first, the group eventually agrees and Heller tries to get investors to give them a record deal. After a performance at Skateland in Compton, Brian Turner (Tate Ellington) of Proirity Records decides to give them a record deal after mentioning the California Raisins as the “little fuckers that made him fuckin’ gold.” N.W.A. head to the studio to record and begin to record their hit “Striaght Outta Compton.” Unfortunately, while taking a break, they are taken down by the Torrance Police just because of how they look with their trademark gear. Heller tells off the cops saying they are his clients. The cops scoff and the group go back in to bring to life “Fuck Tha Police.”

“Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority”
“Fuck Tha Police”

The group hits it big and begins to tour the nation while White America losing their fucking minds. The FBi sends them a letter informing them that they are being investigated for “Fuck Tha Police” due to the song’s nature and possible provocation of violence against cops. While performing at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Detroit Police force says if they perform it, they will be arrested. As such, the group, well within the rights of the most American concept on the planet of free speech, get arrested for expressing themselves. The group hold a press conference telling the public what they do is art and what they are showing is something everyone is afraid of being aware of. All of this chaos is due to their lyrics and color of their skin. The group is infuriated by it. Frustration tends to grow in between the massive amounts of partying and sex, along with Andre dealing with the sudden death of his brother. The crew returns home to Compton to focus on work for the future. Ice Cube, on the other hand, is getting sick of not being under contract by Heller. Heller has been holding the contracts of all the others not Eazy-E hostage. Cube sees that Heller is screwing Eazy and the others out of money and declines to resign. This sows the seeds of the break-up, leading to Ice Cube to go solo on Priority Records. Cube hears a diss on N.W.A.’s new record called “Message to B.A.” Ice Cube, beyond pissed about his own projects and the diss, strikes back and hard with “No Vaseline.”

“Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple.
Cuz you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew
with a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.”
– Ice Cube, “No Vaseline”

Heller, as does Eazy, but Dre, Yella and Ren begin to see what Cube was talking about. Dre goes solo by signing to Suge Knight’s (R. Marcos Young) label Death Row and, honestly, I don’t really know what the heck Ren and Yella where up to. Cube and Dre have their ups and downs with their friendship. Dre gets to help with new artists such as Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) while dealing with Sug Knight being a complete scary asshole. Cube is busy writing Friday, supporting a family and trying to make ends meet. Eazy is on his own struggling with money and his solo life. He comes to terms with Heller over Heller practically screwing him over with the contract. Eazy has been growing weak and ready to end Knight’s life due to him being a threat to him. One day, after reconciling with Cube and Dre, Eazy collapses and is taken to the hospital. Turns out, Eazy is HIV Postive and is in a severe state. Dre, Cube, Yella and Ren get wind of it all and realize this is the end of Eazy. It is also the official end of N.W.A. ever becoming one again. With a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony demo left for him, Eazy never gets to hear as he passes on. The surviving members finally part their ways to go on. Unfortunately, Eric Wright, the soul of the group, won’t be around to enjoy it with them.

“Lil E-Z long gone
Really wish he could come home
But when it’s time to die, gotta go bye bye
All ‘lil thug could do was cry, cry”
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony “Tha Crossroads” 

Straight Outta Compton is a biopic that stands out among others. Yes, it does touch on the points all biographies have made before and even is overly-long at times, yet it never comes off as boring. It’s interesting to dive into this group because it still feels recent. 1988 is quite far away, but I was born in 1992, so it seems a bit close to that age. I watched this film with my mother who was a kid and teen of the 80’s and knew more than I did. She said that the film depicted everything quite right and I have to agree. It is the world as seen through their eyes. It’s a complex world riddled with problems and race issues. It’s a problematic world and a gritty one. The group themselves are not depicted as heroes, but more anti-heroes because they actually do some heinous things every now and then, but they have a voice to acknowledge it and the world around them. The way the issues in this movie are handled are great . It shows the anger and frustration cause by the authority figures. This sort of goes back to the authority analysis from The Graduate as the authority here are keeping the new generation of voices down, but now that authority is the police force that has racist undertones to their overbearing power. Even worse, that problem still exists today with the Black Live Matter movement and the constant beatings by the police force. It’s very idiotic that those trying to protect us are the same people trying to keep others down due to their false sense of entitlement. I’m all for the police forces, but if any police officer is like the ones depicted in this feature, please drop your gun, your badge and leave the force because you are a fucking joke.

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Ice Cibe (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) has something to say

The performances in the film are outstanding. The casting department did a great job in the casting of newcomers as each of them took the time to make their roles feel real and perfect. The standouts are the main three of Dre, Cube and Eazy. Hawkins plays Dre with ease and a sense of honesty as the audience can tell that Dre is a smart man and a very supportive partner. Jackson, Jr. does a great job playing his father and really comes across as the worthy successor to his father. There is a moment where he tells Brian in the film “I have a kid on the way” and my thought was “Yes, you do…wait, that kid on the way is you!” Mitchell as Eazy captures the role as a man who is smart, knows the game and is genuinely upset when nothing works out. There is soul in that performance. The other great performance comes from Giamatti as Heller who is depicted not as a bad guy, but a guy who got into his own sense of insecurity taking advantage of others. Young as Suge Knight is, with all honesty, fucking terrifying. Anytime he comes on screen, their is a sense of evil and an aura of “oh, god no” looming.

Now, the depiction of women in this movie is a hot button issue and shouldn’t be ignore. It is horrendous on how they are used as groupies and sex objects during the tour scenes. No woman should be deemed as only an object. Also, skipping over the entire domestic abuse cases and beating of Dee Barnes all at the hands of Dr. Dre is really something that the film could have used to show how far Dr. Dre has come from being the beater, but to also give the victims of his actions a chance to get their story heard. The fact that all that was given was a “I’m sorry” is completely upsetting.

Straight Outta Compton is a great biopic and maybe one of the best ever made. It tells the story that needs to be told, delivers fantastic performances and gives the audience something to talk about, be it their legacy or the issues shown throughout the film. It is a film that is sure to become a classic, not just in the hip-hop community or the Black community, but for everyone in the years to come.

“Damn, that shit was dope!”

Next month, Film A Week continues with a look at a historic moment in Black History with a film featuring a predominantly Black cast of characters and giving a return to form to a classic piece of storytelling. It also is a plus that the film broke new ground in animation and for Disney. Join the first Black Disney Princess Tiana on a journey to accomplish her goals, even if it means accidentally turning into a frog. “The Princess and the Frog” on Film A Week next Wednesday, February 10.

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Wednesday, February 10

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