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I always find the idea of improvised (or semi-improvised) film making an interesting one, even if the results themselves are disappointing, and very rarely work (exceptions being some of the movies of Christopher Guest and Abel Ferrara). It's a risky idea because it's a true test of an actors talent. Some succeed and some fall flat on their faces. 'Black and White' is a perfect example of this, for every interesting moment involving say Ben Stiller, or yes, Mike Tyson, there's way too many dull and rambling scenes that go nowhere (come on down Brooke Shields and Bijou Phillips). What makes this movie even more frustrating is James Toback is obviously aiming for a BIG STATEMENT regarding race relations in contemporary America, yet the movie is so superficial and confused it ultimately says nothing much. Toback is a maddingly uneven film maker, but he is responsible for one of my all time favourite movies, the sadly underrated 'Fingers', so I usually give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately 'Black and White' is a missed opportunity and has very little to recommend it. I suppose Toback deserves some credit for at least attempting to do something other than mainstream Hollywood dreck, but ultimately a crappy movie is still a crappy movie, no matter how good the intentions.
Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic in all of his 60 or so seconds in this
film. I think he is one of the best comic actors of all time.
Brooke Shields also does a spot-on amateur documentary film-maker shtick. I didn't even recognize her in her dreadlocks in the first half of the film. She and Downey trail a bunch of rich white high school kids half their age, trying to be one of them as they go slumming. Shields best moment is when she meets a recently married old friend on the Staten Island ferry, and you feel the disparity between Shield's refusing-to-grow-up character and her ordinary, grown-up old friend.
Downey's best moments are when he tries to pick up Mike Tyson and when he tries to pick up one of the high school students, reprising his character in Wonder Boys. It's too bad Hollywood has an insurance clause against him now, because everything he does is exceedingly knowing.
The flattest moments are the James Tolback Obligatory Sex In Central Park scene, apparently a rehearsal for an identical one in this year's "When will I be loved?", and in the contrived Typical Banker's Family Dinner with the Sullenly Rebellious Daughter While The Manservant Ladles the Soup. Please. We know Tolback has a lot of celebrity friends; they're all in his movies. I doubt he has met a single real banker in his life.
Also we are treated to the same flaw which is in Black and White, namely the highly implausible plot devices that tie all of the characters together, wherever they live in the movie and whatever their social strata. He is a big buyer of the Deus Ex Machina.
He's also a big buyer of improvisation. In the DVD he says almost all the films are improvised except the one where Claudia Schiffer impersonates what one critic called "the world's most unlikely graduate student", and another called "a surprisingly believable turn as a faithless brainiac". Whatever. She looks hot for the most part except towards the end where they're one outdoor shot in a riverside park where her lips just look too big and she looks like a squeaky and insufficiently made-up skinny yin-yang. What can you do. Her funniest moment was the split second sitting next to and conversing with Robert Downey Jr. when he turns to compare perfume notes with the young man sitting next to him, and she figures out she's no longer the center of attention and suddenly gets up and walks away. Her least likely moment is when she is about to have sex in a bathroom with her boyfriend's best friend. Not that the premise is unlikely: She is just too Teutonic and awkward beneath all that prettiness to look like she's about to tongue-wrestle with a big sweaty gangster. (Much more believable is the news story about her I read the other day where she is applying to private schools for her unborn child.)
Tolback cast himself as Tolback pretty much, as usual. If you're the director, why not throw yourself a cameo? It's just a stone's throw from there to writing in a sex scene with the lead actress, but if he did that he'd have to write himself a lead part and then he'd be Vincent Gallo, but he's not, he's more of a voyeur; enough to write those Central Park scenes and shoot them in closeup with full improvisatory rein given to the actors. Let them really get into the moment, keep the cameras rolling.
Am I boring you with this review? Is it running on a little long? Does it seem a little disconnected?
If you think this is bad, go see the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This project should have worked. It has at least one, maybe two, good actors, several competent ones, a couple genuine personalities and a few committed explorers. It has a moderately interesting subject: the adoption of middleclass white teenage rebellion modes by urban blacks and the its exploitive encouragement by the marketing machine as `black.'
Plus, it is framed in a promising perspective: weak minds finding roles, which gives the actors a chance to play people who are acting but don't know it. Add to this the approach that you let those actors create their own lines because they will be more `genuine,' an absolutely mindboggling self-referential irony. If you go this far, you must be explicit about the self-reference so make the film about the making of a film about the same thing. Even double it by putting filmmaker in a role of the `recording' boss.
More and more: make the key characters (and actors) `performers' of different kinds: models, sports guys, a DA, a journalist, a thesiswriter, in addition to the rappers. Turn sex into performance, not particularly original, but helpful. (The first scene is of `performance sex.')
This could have been a good film, even an important one in the hands of a filmmaker who could control and shape it, someone like Tarkovsky, possibly Soderbergh. But this guy isn't intelligent or strong enough. So we get a jellied mess of each actor strutting about. I have oft maintained that the actors are the last people who usually know what a project is about. The simply have different interests and concerns than filmmakers and almost every time you put them in control you loose.
The two actors who could have worked with the "knowingly acting a role which is acting a role but doesn't know it" bit are wasted: Downey and Stiller are motivated by compulsions (sex, gambling) and are out of the self-referential mechanism.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 4: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
Black & White: a documentary director and her husband follows several upper
middle class high school kids to try and comprehend why they have chosen to
emulate black inner city hip-hop rappers.
What is intended to be an avante-garde-in-your-face mockumentary addressing serious sociological issues is a weak series of loosely interconnecting stories with poorly developed and uninteresting characters. The credits tout many big names - Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Brooke Shields among them - but the performances are lackluster at best: while Downey's stereotypical fey gay character borders on offensive, he can't compare with Mike Tyson's ludicrous attempts at philosophizing.
At least there are no shades of grey here - it is all bad.
Exploitative and depressingly awful film by James Toback about rich white kids and their identity-seeking obsession with all things black. Toback proudly stated that most of the actors were improvising their scenes and dialogue; didn't he know that it only makes him look worse for letting such a mess go on in front of his cameras? The performances otherwise are all good, especially from Marla Maples and Claudia Schiffer, two names I never thought I'd be giving praise to. Unfortunately, the film just seems to be constantly looking for new ways to p**s you off.
Watching Robert Downey Jr. try to seduce Mike Tyson is worth the ticket price alone, but only just. The appropriation of black hip-hop culture by privileged white teenagers should prove interesting ground for storytelling, but James Toback's film is undermined by the lack of even one likeable character. It's very hard to care about the motivations or destinies of people you hate. Two pleasant surprises amongst the vignettes: Ben Stiller can be convincing outside of trash comedy; and Claudia Schiffer can actually act.
I rented this title because I saw Elijah Wood was casted in it, my
actor. Make a notation that I use the word "title" rather than movie
because it isn't deserving enough to be called that.
From the very beginning to the very end it was nothing but a major disappointment. I had no idea that Wood would even be in a movie so bad. I never even knew a movie that he was in could be bad! He had very little lines, and was the only decent character in it.
As for the film... IT HAD ABSOLUTELY NO PLOT!! None at all. There was no major internal conflict, or external for that matter.(Well at least that the movie was based on, just small disagreements). Everyone in this film played a static character, making no change within the movie. It starts off with white kids wishing they were black, and ends the same way. Many small plot strands were thrown together to make a meaningless, unsubstantial, stupid film. It was thought out like something a 5 year old could do, that is, a 5 year old with a terribly sick mind. Even if there was a plot there was too much swearing and cheap sex (which pertained to nothing at all in the movie) to even get a message across. I would rate this movie a perfect 1 on a scale from 1-10. And I think many would agree.
These white kids were not "hip-hop culture", they were a bunch of winey teenage posers who couldn't see how good they had it, middle class suburbs, so they stooped down a level where they had their own fantasy world of being black and from the ghetto, which they weren't either.
As for the "rappers" in the movie, their parts were thrown in for nothing. They did nothing accept waste time on the screen. Maybe (that's a BIG maybe) if as much thought went into emphasizing the the white kids (whom I thought it was about) the movie could have been semidesent.
The last 2 minutes of the film were the worst. It ended with an unpredictible twist that in no way pertained to anything that was seen during the other 97.
Well, at least that's what this movie becomes in the end. Actually, I
couldn't finish the movie. I got 90 minutes into it, and gave up hope that
the movie would return to its beginning. The movie starts out good, with a
nice angry premise. It seemed so full of venom and froth that the movie
would turn out to become a great statement about white culture, black
culture, inner city culture, middle class culture, etc.
The movie begins with a black man and two white girls having sex. Then jumps to show that one is middle class. Then, in one of its greatest moments, it has a white guy explore the difference between N-a and
N-r. That was a priceless moment. It adds to the fun with Brooks Shields, and Downey (unnecessarily, but fun). And it keeps going with brutality.
However (There's that nasty word), the movie loses itself fairly quickly. It gets caught up with a basketball player being bribe to lose a game, then blackmailed for accepting it. It goes on, and the movie begins to have a plot instead of a theme, which has nothing to do with the theme. Its like, the movie lost its way, and had nothing left to say. I think I knew where it was going to go with it, but it didn't go there. Maybe it was still on its way, I dunno.
But, in the end, the movie would have made a better episode of "Strangers With Candy" than anything else. It lost its way, and I wonder how it ever got greenlighted, nevertheless had all the big stars in it. Well, we all make bad choices (check "Ready to wear (Pret-a-porter)"), but this one should never have been made.
3/10 (for the beginning)
It's the one Tobackonists have been waiting for since the thrill of his
debut movie FINGERS--a movie with the soar and rush of obsession that also
has the sanity and craft of a grown man. This movie about the uneasy
millennium-era relationship of black and white people in America is not, as
many people have said, a work of moony White Negroism. It resembles one of
Godard's mid-sixties essay-movies like MASCULINE FEMININE or TWO OR THREE
THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, but with race substituted for sexual politics, and
with a heavy dose of pornography and melodramatic pulp. Toback keeps
cranking up the heat as the cast--a conceptual-art demonstration of stunt
casting--leaves the audience openmouthed.
Bijou Phillips is a wonder as the wigga-talkin' Upper East Side chiclet who proclaims, "I wanna be black--I'm a kid in America." Ben Stiller, as a tormented dirty cop, gives the performance of his life in a high-speed monologue of self-analysis that's like a speed freak's channeling the essence of Robert Downey, Jr. The great man himself appears here as well, as a gay artist who comes on to Mike Tyson (playing himself) at a party. The scene of violence that ensues should have James Toback clinking a glass in celebration in the mirror: he managed to top the Jim Brown/Tisa Farrow head-smashing sequence in FINGERS. Brooke Shields is an amazement as a fervent, sincere documentarian with dredlocks--she's like a deadpan version of the Geraldine Chaplin character in NASHVILLE, and Shields astonishes.
Toback wants to cram everything into this bird's eye view of race--sexual fantasies, money machinations, the class strata of New York City. That none of the scenes is a dud, that the movie is beautifully shot and edited, that nothing feels merely "excessive," is a testament to the passion behind the camera. BLACK AND WHITE is a miracle to this viewer: it renewed my excitement and faith in movies at a moment when I felt it falling down.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am not sure what this movie was trying to portray, whether it was
white kids wanting to act black, or life stories of black hip hop
artists/basketball players living in new york. If it was trying to
display both it made a total mess of it.
No story in the film was shown in depth, out of the all star cast only Brooke shields, Robert Downey Jr and Mike Tyson shone. Nice to see Claudia Schieffer on screen, she can act but her part in this film is awful. I became bored from listening to one constant hip hop song after another as well as the black rapper actors speaking in an unintelligible language which made the film even more confusing then it was before. The only highlights of the film for me was Robert Downey Jr confessing to his wife he is gay at the end, and Mike Tyson giving advice to a young rapper (he doesn't just box!) Anyways in my opinion, terrible, but if you got time to waste then perhaps watch it.
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