Previous Joints

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Unfinished Western: Cowboys and Aliens

I'm writing about a film that I didn’t finish watching. I think of the utter and complete tosh that I've managed to sit through in my life and realise just how special this film, Cowboys and Aliens, is. I mean, I've finished Spiderman 3, Catwoman and Batman and Robin. The latter was so bad that the director, Joel Schumacher apologised for the film – yet I've watched that film many times.

The only other film that I abandoned midway was You’ve Got Mail in 1998. My uncle took me, my sisters and our cousins to see that film. I was so mystified by how bad that film was that I walked out and spent half an hour in the arcade.

But Cowboys and Aliens is different, this Jon Favreau joint should have been a good, if nothing else, fun film.

I sat and watched the first hour of this film and not once did I smile. For a film called Cowboys and Aliens not to rise one smirk from my face suggests that there is a fundamental flaw in its DNA.

The warning signs were there from the very beginning – Daniel Craig scowled far too much and Mr Ford played the grumpy old man too well for my liking. I found myself getting angry at Daniel Craig for playing his character just as he would Bond and that isn’t what I signed up to watch. 

But for me it was Sam Rockwell’s character which indexed the very reason why this film didn’t work. I assume that Rockwell’s Doc was supposed to be the comedy relief of this piece and that relief never materialised. I felt for Rockwell in this film because given the right material he is a fantastic actor, but you get the impression that he and the film itself was just weighed down by a need to be taken seriously.

The blame for the faults of this film has to be put on the door of the director. Jon Favreau should have known better – why on earth he thought this film should be a straight and serious movie is beyond me. The title and premise is Cowboys and Aliens for crying out loud.

You honestly wouldn’t be able to tell that this film is related to Iron Man, Elf, Zathura and (little gem of a film) Made. You couldn’t even tell that it was a second cousin of Swingers.  
This film should have been light, fast moving and silly – but it plods along at an excruciatingly slow pace. This film should have been bogged down with stupid jokes, not tired western-film cliches.

At the end of the day it comes down to me losing my patience, something that I rarely do when it comes to films. 

The hour that I watched of this film didn’t intrigue me or give me sufficient reason to hang on beside my better judgement – many films have made me make that poor decision.

Not only is Cowboys and Aliens a bad film (I can handle and enjoy bad films), it is a disappointing film that feels very lazy and that is something I cannot stomach.

As an aside, this film made me appreciate the much panned Wild Wild West. WWW and its stars knew that the films was ridiculous. Ridiculous is fun to watch. Ridiculousness is an ingredient that this film sorely needed. 

                             Master Bear

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Guest Post: The show must go on

This lovely little piece was written by my friend Jess Everett. One of the few sad things about being a new father is the fact that I haven't had many opportunities to go to the cinema - first world problems and all that, right? But there is something special about being in an enclosed space with smelly strangers, as Jess explains below.

As an aside, Jess has one of the best speaking voices known to man.
 Just saying.


Attending the movies is a communal experience and some movies were just meant to be seen in the theatre. Much like music aficionados who claim the only way to really know a band is to see them live, or sports fans who travel continents not only for the joy of cheering on their team but also to experience being part of the crowd, when you go to a theatre and watch a movie you become part of something.

Inspiring films move us more when watched with others. The dread in a horror movie becomes more real as the person behind you gasps and screams. Jokes are more enjoyable when others are laughing with you. And epic moments are more memorable when you high-five the stranger next you (this actually happened to me during the first screening of Attack of The Clones. Apparently the gentleman really enjoyed a good Yoda fight).

Movies are a defining moment for generations. Anyone who experienced the first Star Wars trilogy in the theatre has an immediate connection. Growing up and watching every Harry Potter movie, waiting in anticipation for the next Lord of the Rings, and knowing every song lyric to The Lion King are moments that connect us all.

We all remember our first movie. The thrill of watching the screen light up and seeing larger than imaginable characters flood your view. The goosebumps that leave you feeling nervous and excited, and the joy of having your very own popcorn and sneaking ninja cuddles*with your movie date.

Although cinemas have been pricing themselves out of relevancy for years, I will continue to make the sacrifice as long as I can afford it. Why? Because for me there is nothing like a night out at the movies.

*The phrase “ninja cuddle” and its adorable relevance to movie theatre watching is borrowed from the film loving @8bitbatman

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Alternative: Janelle Monae's Electric Lady

Secondly and more positively, Idlewild was important because it was the first time I heard Janelle Monae. She was the silver lining on that album. We both heard the death of one of black music’s greatest and most innovative bands and the birth of fearless young artist.

Fast forward to 2010 and Janelle Monae showed that I was right to take notice. She released an album which left my jaw on the floor. Although I am 26 years old, I feel like an old bastard and regularly complain about the quality of music today – especially black music. The ArchAndroid was all my complaints answered. It was ambitious, expansive and it took risks jovially – sometimes it missed the mark spectacularly (Make the bus, for example) but most of the time it hit highs that left me in goosebumps (Oh, maker).

The ArchAndroid is a modern day classic. I genuinely thought Monae did a Nas, she made her Illmatic and would be hard pressed to repeat the trick.

With Electric Lady, Janelle has proved how special she is. Monae has grown remarkably as an artist and it shines blindly through on this album. Electric lady doesn’t manically bounce from genre to genre like its predecessor, this is more of a traditional R’n’B album.

When I say R’n’B, I am not talking about her contemporaries such as Beyonce or Rihanna, I am talking the R’n’B of Prince, Stevie, Michael and Aretha and Marvin – that is who you must compare Janelle to after hearing this album. I can give no greater compliment than that.  

Suite four is where all the fireworks are stored. It tells you a lot about Janelle’s confidence when she starts the album off with His Royal Purpleness. What makes ‘Give em what they love’ spectacular is not only the appearance of Prince (by the way, this is the Controversy, Dirty Mind, Sexy MF Prince and not the jut found religion Prince), but the fact that Monae isn’t an afterthought once the song has finished. She stands toe to toe with the great Purple one and this prologues the greatness in the album.

In fact, every guest appearance on this album manage to sprinkle a little bit of magic to the proceedings and threaten to overshadow the headliner – but every single time Monae manages to rise above them. When Badu strolls silkily onto the funky-ass Q.U.E.E.N like a panther, Monae has a fierce rhyme reminiscent of Chuck D and KRS-1 to bat her off with. Janelle response to Solange’s irresistible 90’s TLC vide with a grin-inducing serenading rap-verse that makes you ache for Left Eye.  

When Primetime, featuring Mugel, rolls around you start to appreciate the change in Janelle Monae’s attitude and you suddenly realise a great flaw in her previous album. This Monae is much more open than the one listeners met on The ArchAndoid.  “Tonight, I don’t want to be mysterious with you”, she says on what can only be described as a bedroom jam, a song which would have never appeared on ArchAndoid. She no longer strictly sticks to her alter-ego Cindi when she is performing, in Primetime you feel like you are getting your first glimpse of Janelle.

Although Suite four may have all the headliners, the best of the album is found on Suite five. This is the Suite which propels this from just being a great album to being a jaw dropping one. Suite five shows you that Janelle wanted achieve more on this album other than catch people’s ear and show them how many different genre’s she can pull off.

If you close your eyes, you can see a young Michael Jackson shuffling around and singing It’s Code with his brothers backing him up.  Ghetto Woman could happily sit in the middle of Stevie Wonder’s classic Innervisions and not be out of place at all. This isn’t to say that Janelle Monae is trying to imitate these artist, you don’t get that impression at all – you feel like she understands what made the greats great and she taps into that and makes their style her own.

In this regard, Ghetto Woman is an extraordinary extraordinary song. She updates a sound which is timeless and familiar and entirely owned by a legendary artist and claims it as her own (I would kill for Stevie to cover this song). This is a worthy successor to Living in the City and after Kelindo does his usual fantastic guitar solo, Monae’s Andre 3000 like rap lifts this song into a stratosphere that I thought modern day R’n’B would never reach. I would love to know what Wonder thinks of this song.

Victory is my personal favourite. Again, this song shows how much more willing Monae is to open up to her audience. She feels vulnerable on this song, something that I never felt on her previous album. It is a song for when everything in your life has gone wrong and you need to find something, anything, to make you get up off the floor before the count. Again, there are shades of the greats on this song – Aretha and Ms Hill come to mind – but this song is totally Janelle’s own.

By the time the closer comes to your ears with its 80s synth chords, you feel exhausted. It is a different exhaustion to the one you feel at the end of ArchAndoid – here you succinct impression is that Janelle has given you all that she can emotionally as well as talent wise.  

Some listeners will be disappointed with this album for not being The ArchAndoid and not being as experimental – I can understand that but I don’t feel that way at all. I have someone I can champion after the untimely death of Amy Winehouse. Janelle could be the woman to take black music out of its oversexaulised, boring and risk adverse state that it has been in for years.

I am not naïve enough to believe that this album will be a commercial success. I do think that people will come to this album and this artist slowly throughout the coming years and will see her for the innovator and trail blazer she is.
Janelle Monae is the real queen of the new school and at 27 I don’t think she will let go of that crown anytime soon.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Amour: What is love?

One of the memories that still haunts me is when my family were moving my father into a hospice. My dad was barely recognisable at the time of the move. Gone was the strong and proud African I once knew and in his place a silent, frail and delicate man holding on to the last flickers of life.

Just when we were about to leave him in what I can still remember to be a pleasant but eerily place, my dad began to cry. I swear, nothing has made me sadder or more helpless in my life – not even the day when my mum rang to tell me and my sisters he had gone. I transferred all of my frustrations and anger to my mother – how could she leave him in such a place? Why couldn’t he be at home? Why couldn’t he die with his family around him? 

I had this anger weighing me down after my dad passed until my mum started telling me stories about the life she and my father had - the life I knew nothing about. How they met, how they courted in the strange way Africans do, the trials they faced once they were in the UK. I saw my mum trying to keep our grieving family together with every fibre of her being and began to realise what a remarkable woman she actually is.

I write all this because the film Amour reminded me of my parents and Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Georges made me realise what a child I was for blaming my mum during the latter stages of my dad’s life. Being a carer is a ridiculously difficult job.


Amour is a film about an elderly couple, Georges and Emmanuelle Riva’s Anne. The latter has a stroke and it is up to Georges to look after his wife – especially after she makes him promise never to hospitalise her. The film chronicles the couple’s lives as Anne health worsens.


Amour is a truly extraordinary film – for the first time in a long time I can say that I haven’t seen or experienced a film like this. It’s a harrowing film but extremely and utterly beautiful at the same time.

All my life I have been obsessed with Disney and the interpretation of love that they have helped to instil in the films of today. Watching Amour I realised the film was answering a question that I never realised needed answering – what happens after the happily-ever-after?

Watching Georges look after his wife is the purest and most striking representation of love that I have ever seen in a film. Usually cinema will give outlandish scenario’s where characters prove their love by committing criminal acts but, fuck, would the Prince push Cinderella to the toilet, lifted her on it, wiped her when she was done and pull her pants up? And Aladdin do the same everyday while watching Jasmin's soul slowly ebb away?

Amour is a very difficult film to watch – so difficult that Mrs Bear couldn’t bear to finish it. “Why is this enjoyable? Why would you want to carry on watching?” All fair questions to ask. Why would you want to watch an elderly woman struggling to read a book? Why would you want to watch an elderly man struggling to feed his wife? You wouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop watching.

Every credit in the world has to go to the two main actors in this film. I never once felt like I was watching a film, rather that I was watching the intimate and very private moments of two people that loved each other deeply. Not much is said about the two main character’s history but somehow you seem to understand what they mean to each other and what they have gone through.


I only saw a fraction of the stuff my mother did while dad was ill and never had the chance to glance at the really grim activities. This film made me understand a little better what my mother had to endure and, frankly, it made me proud that my mother held out sending him to a hospice for as long as she did. I now understand how it can be overwhelming to care for someone who has been your life for most of your life.

Happily-ever-after doesn’t end happily – Amour made me realise this. It always ends in sadness, one way or another. The only solace that I take from this new piece of information is that I want someone who will nurse me and love me, like Georges loved Anne, if times get pitch dark.

                           Lovely Bear


Friday, 6 September 2013

The Tragedy of Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy is a legend. That seems like a controversial statement to make nowadays, but it is true.  He is probably one of the most talented men in Hollywood and has films on his CV which are among some of my most beloved of all time. But something tragic happened to his career.

Speak to any soul that knows an ounce about black (African-American) comedy and they will let you know that Murphy sits upon a tall pedestal. Comedians speak of Eddie Murphy with the same reverence they give to Bill Cosby or, better yet, Richard Pryor – Murphy is truly of that stature.

But think of Murphy now and I’d bet a lot of money that the embarrassment that is Norbit or Scary Spice comes to your mind – not Raw or Delirious or Boomerang. That is a tragedy.  

The reason why Eddie still deserves to be held in such high regard is simply because of what he achieved. He blazed the trail that allowed other great comedians to walk the path to to superstardom. I still haven’t forgotten the skinny (er) and goofy (er) Chappelle with his terrible hair cut telling terrible “you’re so fat” jokes in the Nutty Professor.

I personally haven’t seen any of his earlier Saturday Night Live Stuff, I only know Eddie Murphy through his film work and it wasn’t until Beverly Hills Cop that I really started to take notice. It may sound like an over-exaggeration but Axel Foley felt like the first black superhero to me.  I saw him do things and talk to (white) people in a way that I had never seen a ‘brother’ do before. And importantly he was funny, extremely funny but as well as that, he was strong – this felt important.

And then there was Coming to America – a film which is so important to me that it would take more than just a blog to clarify. As an African kid in a stranger’s land, I could absolutely identify with Prince Akeem. The film left me in awe of the world it created to a point where I stupidly asked my father whether such a kingdom where beautiful servants woke you up in such a wonderful way existed.   

Coming to America is to me a classic and displays Murphy’s talent in the brightest of light. His many disguises add to the comedy and wonder of the film rather than distract from it like in his later exploits. The Randy Watson scene (damn it, the whole church scene) is a slice of joy. Clarence the Barber still raises a smile out of me.

Murphy also puts in a much understated performance as Prince Akeem. He plays the royal as a charismatic and dignified young man who is childlike in his excitement at being in an environment different to his extravagant home life.  Like all great leading men you believe in the premise of the story because of Eddie Murphy’s performance.

I believe it all went wrong when Eddie made a conscious effort to stop making ‘edgy’ films and cater to the family audience instead. As much as I love(d) the Nutty Professor, I believe that film was the start of the ebbing out of Murphy’s creative talent. 

Unlike Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s prosthetics didn’t add much to The Nutty Professor  – in fact they enabled him to tell lazy fat jokes and lean on ill thought out toilet humour. 

I have absolutely no issue with the film Shrek, I actually think Eddie Murphy is great in it but the following inferior sequels are lazy (there’s that word again). I am not naive enough to say that Eddie was wrong to make those films – they generated a donkey dung (sorry) full of money but I can’t help feeling that Murphy could have done more with his time. He could have pushed himself.

The majority of films that he has had top billing in after the Nutty Professor have been tragic (there’s that word again) save from a few surprises. Eddie was actually ok in Tower Heist but this could be me giving him a petty pass.

I still believe that there is genius still left within Eddie Murphy. That genius has shown flashes of returning (Dreamgirls) but I am hoping that it makes a permanent reappearance in his future projects. Is the Beverly Hills Cop television show the right platform for his fight back? I don’t know, I have my doubts. I also shuddered when I read that Murphy was writing the Nutty Professor 3.

All I can hope for is for Eddie Murphy to be bold again – to be brave. Forget the family films, forget the fat suits – find that Eddie who wanted to push black comedy further than it has ever been before. There is a reason why Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Jamie Fox and Kevin Hart consider Eddie Murphy to be god like and hopefully the miraculous performances are not in his past.

                        Party Bear