A friend already warned me not to expect a whole lot from this movie, so I went in trying to like it. Perhaps it's because it's the director's first feature film, but mainly because of budget constraints, "Civil Brand" left a lot of gaps in credibility, and visual creativity. I know that the director comes from a television background, and a lot of shots have tight close-ups. Saves money. But I honestly felt that this picture almost slid into B-movie campiness. Let me break it down. Actors. N'Bushe Wright is the best thing in this flick. Casting a few rappers and marginal actresses hurt this piece. I love Mos Def, but he was set up as an important character, but he's underutilized. Perhaps because there was not enough cash to get this thing done, some scenes were not filmed. Less Voice over narrative would've helped. In fact, there should be no narrator. Narration separates the audience from the characters, especially when the person narrating is not integral to the plot. Next, sound design. Clifton Powell (who plays the head prison guard) is an awesome actor. He brings intensity to any scene, and can flip directions like Gene Hackman, hands down. But the choice of music (too much) overwhelmed scenes that could be more intense without telegraphic music that announces what happens next. I felt like I was viewing a silent-era film where the organ player tells you what to feel by the music cue. Reminds me of that damn zither from "The Third Man", the music over powers certain scenes that just don't need it. Make-up/hair. These women are in prison. Sistas had their hair and nails hooked up better than the women I see walking down my street! The characer "Wet" has a faded scar in one scene; a few scenes later another character is commenting on how she just got a bad scar on her face from a beating, then, minutes later (days later in movie-speak), her scars are all red a fresh, even though she had them way before the mention of any beating. Chalk it up to lack of continuity. A fake bloodshot eye lense was very obvious on the Tichina Arnold character. (I know I mispelled her name...sorry) The warden had this thick gob of gel that is used to simulate sweat, but it never moved in all the close-ups he had. Just looked like a gob of goo. Not a big deal if it's a medium shot. But Extreme Close-up? Yikes. Looks like vasoline. I tried to overlook these things, but they are important if one is trying to immerse a person in this world. It was a distraction. Especially Lisa Raye's glitter eye shadow in a few of her close ups as she's talking behind bars. Some scenes were just plain over the top, to the point where I was laughing when I should've been focused on caring for these women. I feel like the movie should be done again, and Neema Barnette given the budget and support to take her time making this picture. It was meshed together in 15 days, when clearly three more weeks probably would've solved a lot of character problems and plot holes left over. So much potential. I support independent film by any means necessary, and Neema is to be commended for actually getting a film on screen. At the same time, the idea that this is a film being lauded as one of the best "black films" and is winning awards in some festivals has me concerned about the quality of films black audiences are desperate to watch. I honestly don't know if the script was even up to task on this. Too many missed opportunities. This film shoulda been popping like the Attica Prison Riot. Instead, it comes of limp and unfulfilled. Just a major disappointment. I hesitate to recommend people to see this. It's a catch-22. If people see this, and like it, then more will be made just like it. Not Good. And if no one goes to see it, distributors and studios can point the finger and say, "See, no one wants to see films, with a dominant black cast." So, I say go see it for what it is, and hopefully it will be financially viable enough to actually get the money to do a story of this magnitude better justice. The prison industrial complex and female slave labor and assualts behind bars is no joke. We have yet to see that story.
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