Friday, February 1, 2008

BlacKout. Why the big K? (******6/10)

BlacKout is about an event we likely all recall. That giant blackout that turned off the power across Ontario and upstate New York a few years ago. I remember exactly what I did. I got a couple of girls from work to come home with me, we grabbed ice bags from the store in my building, we filled the tub with the ice and the beer that was still in my fridge, and we waited. Our phones were dependant on power, so we didn't call anyone, we just waited. My roommate came home. Then the girls from downstairs came up. Then the two college guys from across the hall came over. Then other girls we knew just arrived from nowhere. Somehow the word was out, phones be damned, that our place was the central gathering point. People had beer, put it in the tub, and we had a great time out on our balcony and around our house for an entire night. This good time was aided by a small act of violence. When Dave from downstairs came up carrying his guitar, and set it down for a moment, we hid it in the ceiling until the next day. We were pleased to have a small party, but we'd be damned if it would turn into a campfire kumbaya party.

In other parts of the country, things weren't so orderly. In particular, a neighbourhood in New York City called East Flatbush, where the tension boiled over into violence, looting, and a vey scary night for everyone in the area. BlacKout tells their story, and it is out on DVD this coming Tuesday courtesy of Paramount and BET. Most exciting for me was seeing that Melvin Van Peebles was in the film. Van Peebles (and yes, he is Mario's father) is a cinematic legend, the man who almost single-handedly created the "blaxploitation" genre in the 70s with his film Sweet Sweetback's Baadaasss Song. He certainly hasn't done much of note recently, and I'm just glad to see that he's working. By now, he is playing George, who is in his nineties and is the super of a building in East Flatbush, the building that is central to the movie. The movie deals with several couples, a mother and son, three old ladies and a few other individuals who live in that building, and what they do during the blackout. Believe me, it is much different from what I did.

BlacKout (I don't know why I'm still putting that big K in there. I still don't get the big K) plays like a second-rate Spike Lee film. Specifically, a second-rate Do The Right Thing. Very very similar films, in that Do The Right Thing was centered around one day, in that case the hottest summer day of the year, and BlacKout is centered around one day, the day of the...blackout. Also similar in that it follows many people around, and their stories intersect with one another without building to any kind of massive cheesy ending where every story comes together. They just exist on their own, and in relation to one another, and it is quite good. Second-rate Spike Lee is not really a put-down. Few films could match the tempo, the dialogue and the feel of Do The Right Thing. For example, Disturbia was a second-rate Rear Window, but it was still pretty good. Comparisons to Do The Right Thing I think are unavoidable with this film, but if you can watch the whole thing while constantly thinking of Spike Lee's masterpiece and still enjoy it, the film maker here (in this case Jerry LaMothe) has done something impressive. BlacKout is good. It just isn't classic.

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