Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #23: The Emperor Jones (dir by Dudley Murphy)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

emperor-jones

On November 8th, I recorded the 1933 film The Emperor Jones off of Retroplex.

Based on a play by Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones tells the story of Brutus Jones (Paul Robeson).  When we first meet Jones, he’s at a small Baptist church.  He has recently gotten a job as a Pullman Porter and the church’s congregation has gathered for his send off.  He shows off his uniform.  He sings a spiritual.  The congregation blesses him and Jones swears that he will make them proud.  However, soon after he starts working for the railroad, he finds himself in the city.  Though he’s a hard worker, he makes the wrong friends.  He falls for the beautiful but cold-hearted Undine (Fredi Washington).  A fight at a craps gang leads to Jones accidentally stabbing his friend, Jeff (Frank H. Wilson).

Jones is sentenced to hard labor and finds himself working on a chain gang, where he’s watched over by sadistic and racist guards.  Jones attempts to serve his time but, eventually, he’s driven to violence by the sight of a white guard beating another prisoner.  Jones attacks the guard and then flees.  Eventually, he escapes on a steamer ship.  Quickly growing tired of shoveling coal in the ship’s engine room, Jones jumps overboard and swims to a nearby island.

On the island, Jones meets Smithers (Dudley Digges).  Smithers is an alcoholic merchant who also happens to be the only white man in the island.  Working with Smithers, Jones convinces the natives that he has magical powers and overthrows the island’s previous dicttor.  Now thoroughly corrupted, Jones declares himself to be the Emperor Jones…

Interestingly enough — and this was probably especially revolutionary in 1933 — almost all of Jones’s corruption is learned from dealing with the white world.  It’s through dealing with the condescending and wealthy passengers on the train that Jones comes to understand that money equals power.  It’s from dealing with the white guards on the chain gang that Jones learns how people can be controlled through fear and brutality.  By the time Jones arrives on the island, he no longer has anything to learn from the white world.  Hence, Smithers becomes his servant.

(One thing I found particularly interesting, as I did research for this review, was that The Emperor Jones was banned in cities in both the North and the South.  In the North, the film was often banned for its frequent use of the n-word.  In the South, it was largely banned because of a scene in which Jones orders Smithers to light his cigarette.)

Seen today, The Emperor Jones is something of an oddity.  On the one hand, it’s a very stagey film.  The film’s origin as a stage play is obvious in almost every scene.  On the other hand, it’s also one of the few films from the 1930s to actually feature black characters as something other than comic relief.  If just for that historical reason, The Emperor Jones is still worth watching today.

It’s also worth watching for Paul Robeson’s performance in the lead role.  Robeson, whose career was derailed by both his political activism and his refusal to accept roles that he considered to be demeaning, gives a powerful and empathetic performance.  Towards the end of the film, Robeson gives a 12-minute monologue as he runs through the jungle.  For 12 minutes, it’s just the viewer and Robeson (and the menacing sound of drums in the distance).  As Robeson delivers his final monologue, he takes us on a journey through the Emperor’s mind, alternative between periods of delusion and moments of sudden clarity.  Even 83 years after it was first filmed, it remains a truly impressive performance.

Keep an eye out for this fascinating historical document.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #22: Ride Along 2 (dir by Tim Story)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

ride_along_2_poster

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook: “Name your vagina by using the last movie you watched!”  While everyone else was able to answer with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Christmas Vacation,” and “Zombeavers,” I was forced to answer “Ride Along 2,” because I watched it last night.  If only I had held off on watching Ride Along 2, I could have answered Moana.

Oh well…

ANYWAY — I recorded Ride Along 2 off of HBO on November 11th.  The main reason that I recorded it was because, at the time, I was panicking over the fact that the year is nearly over and there’s still a lot of 2016 releases that I haven’t seen.  You know me.  I’m a cinema completist and I like to see everything.  As a result, I’ve been recording every single 2016 movie that I come across on cable, even if the film in question is one that I really didn’t have much interest in actually watching.

Like this one for instance…

Ride Along 2 is the latest entry in the ever-growing Ken Jeong Gets Kidnapped genre of action comedies.  At some point in the future, film historians will wonder why Ken Jeong was always either getting abducted or arrested in violent comedies.  I imagine that they’ll devote most of their time to studying The Hangover films and Community but they’ll still find some time to consider Ride Along 2.

In Ride Along 2, Ken Jeong is abducted by two Atlanta detectives who have come to Miami to investigate his boss, murderous drug lord Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt).  The two detectives are James Payton (Ice Cube) and his future brother-in-law, Ben Barber (Kevin Hart).  Of course, it’s really not important that one of them is named Payton or that the other one is named Ben.  Ultimately, they are Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.  Payton is tough and no-nonsense.  Ben is short and outspoken and given to histrionics.  Needless to say, the plot is mostly just an excuse for Kevin Hart to get on Ice Cube’s nerves.

And it’s all pretty predictable.  There’s really nothing in Ride Along 2 that you haven’t already seen in a hundred other action comedies, including the first Ride Along.  So, how much you enjoy this film is going to depend on how much you like Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, and Ken Jeong.  (And I guess it might help if you’re a Benjamin Bratt fan as well.  Are there Benjamin Bratt fans?)  And, I will say this.  Nobody glowers with quite the skill of Ice Cube.  Ken Jeong may play the same role a hundred times but he knows what he’s doing.  And Kevin Hart is actually a good actor, even if his films rarely give him a chance to show the full depth of his ability.

Ride Along 2 is predictable and kinda forgettable.  It didn’t do much for me.  But, at the same time, it’s thoroughly nonpretentious and totally inoffensive.

I still think Moana is a better name, though…