african-american directors series: devil in a blue dress (carl franklin, 1995)

This is the seventeenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 17 is called "LA Films Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen LA film.

Carl Franklin has had an interesting career. He grew up in Richmond, California, went to Cal, and as an actor appeared as a regular in many TV series. Then in 1986, he enrolled at the AFI Conservatory, got a Master's Degree, and went to work directing films for Roger Corman. Then, in 1992, came a terrific movie, One False Move, followed by Devil in a Blue Dress. The sky would seem to have been the limit. Franklin has always worked, but he only directed four features after Devil, moving instead to television, where he has directed episodes of some of the top series of the era.

Devil in a Blue Dress was based on the first book in the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley. Mosley has become a highly-acclaimed author, and his Easy Rawlins books now number more than a dozen. Lead actor Denzel Washington already had an Oscar (and another nomination). It's clear from the final scene of the film that the door was left open for a series of Easy Rawlins movies. But Devil in a Blue Dress is still the only time Rawlins has appeared on the screen. The film was a critical success, but it flopped at the box office. Denzel has remained one of our best actors, but the only film series he makes is the mediocre Equalizer movies.

Devil in a Blue Dress has a lot going for it besides Denzel. Don Cheadle gets his first big role and steals all of his scenes. Franklin and crew do a great job of creating Los Angeles in 1948. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto's work is impeccable. And Franklin (and Mosely) shows how racial relations are ever-present, as Rawlins steps around the charged atmosphere of a time and place where white people have the power. Devil in a Blue Dress works on all of these levels. It's a shame it didn't resonate with a big enough audience at the time.


music friday: ashley mcbryde

Asked on a music group on Facebook to post something about a new-to-me album I'd been listening to, I chose Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, which came out a few months ago. McBryde had self-released some music, going back to 2006, but she didn't make her major-label debut until 2018, and Lindeville is only her third such album (she turns 40 this year).  It's aptly named ... McBryde is joined by several guests, such that "Presents" is appropriate. Here are a couple of songs from the album.

Caylee Hammack and Pillbox Patti join in for "Brenda Put Your Bra On":

"Gospel Night at the Strip Club" with Benjy Davis:

And, from 2019, here's Miranda Lambert and an all-star group of singers including McBryde with a remake of Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love":


geezer cinema: plane (jean-françois richet, 2023)

Truth in advertising: this movie features a plane.

It's my first film from Jean-François Richet, about whom I know nothing. (His bio on the IMDB is only two sentences long, and tells us his birthdate and lists a few of his movies.) I've seen half-a-dozen Gerard Butler movies, and Plane is a bit better than the norm. It's always nice to see Mike Colter and Paul Ben-Victor, and Daniella Pineda does Oakland proud. A lot of times, action movies like this are by-the-numbers dull, but Richet manages to keep things going for a nice economical 107 minutes. There's nothing new here, but it's all as efficient as its title. The evil rebel Filipinos are unfortunately crazed stereotypes in the manner of the Somali pirates in Captain Phillips, which I guess is supposed to be countered with the diversity of the good guys in the movie (a Scotsman, an African-American, a co-pilot from Hong Kong, a Mexican-American woman from Oakland, etc.). It's a nothing movie that delivers what it promises and leaves out the rest, which is rarer than it should be. And it's my first film from 2023.


platform (jia shangke, 2000)

This is my first film from director Jia Shangke, another entry in the It's About Time department. Platform was Jia's second feature, made when he was 30 ... he is considered a leading light in the Chinese "Sixth Generation" school of films.

While there was much to appreciate in Platform, I felt like I was only scratching the surface. Clearly, Jia is commenting both on the 1980s, when the film mostly takes place, and 2000, when the film was released, but I don't have enough context to pick up on subtleties. What is left is a good, if long, look at 20-somethings as they interact with each other and experience the changes in Chinese society. The focus is on a theater troupe whose repertoire seems to focus on things The Party would approve of. As time progresses, the troupe becomes more pop, but again, my lack of context means I noticed this without being able to know the implications of much of the situation.

The main characters are played by Wang Hongwei and Zhao Tao, both of whom have worked frequently with Jia. (Zhao is married to Jia.) Jia often uses stationary camerawork, but the compositions are effective, and there is enough movement to prevent a static look.

I liked Platform; I just wanted to get it enough to love it. #376 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #36 on the 21st-century list.

Here is the opening scene: