November 2, 2007, - 2:42 pm

Weekend Box Office: Bad Message “Gangster,” Entertaining “Bee Movie,” Horrid Sidney Lumet Film

By Debbie Schlussel
Due to scheduling conflicts, I did not get to screen a few of the debuts this week (will review those later), but did see these big releases:
American Gangster“:

Jew gangsters, Mick gangsters, whatever kind you want. Since the beginnin’ of time, they been bleedin’ Harlem dry.

That’s the line uttered in his defense by late ’60s/early ’70s Harlem heroin drug kingpin Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington) in “American Gangster” when he’s finally caught. In other words, every ethnic group has thug mobsters who take advantage of poor Black people in Harlem. Now, it’s better ‘cuz it’s a Black thug mobster taking advantage of poor Black people in Harlem.


And that’s kind of the theme in this movie: The new “civil rights”–the new Black capitalism–is that the Blacks have caught “up” to the evil white guy criminals. No longer disrespected by White Italian mobsters, they work for the Black Frank Lucas. Well, bully for him. But it’s hard to take the message of this well made, entertaining movie.
The difference between “American Gangster” and every White mobster movie–aside from race/color/ethnicity–is that in those movies, many of the mobsters who enjoyed the good life got it in the end. Or they suffered tragedy. The glamor life of crime was not a happy tail.
But not so in “American Gangster”. In fact, in this movie, it’s basically almost three hours of the good life. A life of crime is portrayed as a good thing. Washington’s Frank Lucas has Harlem penthouses, country mansions, brags of owning five homes, and he’s married to the gorgeous Miss Puerto Rico. He’s a man of power and the object of respect–so much of both of these that he can walk up to a rival in the Harlem street, shoot him in the head dead, and walk away with no tattling, returning to an afternoon lunch with his brothers.
There’s no showing of the tragic consequences that a life of crime–albeit a high-class life of crime–brings. In fact, the movie ends shortly after Lucas is arrested, and the only consequence we “see” is a note posted on the screen that Lucas was sentenced to 70 years in prison (of which–and the movie does not note this–he served only 8). Now he has a movie glorifying it all, and Denzel Washington got him a new home. Not bad for years of murdering lots of innocent Black people and hooking far more of them on your highly addictive illegal drug. In “Goodfellas,” everyone got theirs and Henry Hill had to live the rest of his life as a loser in Witness Protection. Not the case for Frank Lucas’ story, “American Gangster.”
Is glorifying the gangster life of crime really the message Black America–to which this movie is being heavily marketed–needs? Someone must think so, since they’ve even included real life criminal thugs in the movie. Rapper T.I., a convicted felon, is about to go back to prison for violating probation and posessing a weapon. He plays one of Frank Lucas’ brothers in the movie. But I wish people would see his life onscreen and how he’s going back to the bighouse for a few years of new male girlfriends and despair.
The rest of the Hip-Hop world is pimping this movie, too. Jay-Z has a new “American Gangster” album out next week. Hip-hopper RZA, also in the movie, says of Frank Lucas (in real life, not on-screen):

In the Black community, he is the man. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t see him kind of as a hero of the people.

Hero? If this is the Black community’s hero, it’s no wonder so many Black men are in prison and so many Black communities are in despair. But no worries, in Jay-Z’s album, he blames the drug trade in Harlem headed by the Black Frank Lucas on “oppression”:

Anywhere there’s oppression / The drug profession / Flourishes like beverages / Resfreshing, sweet taste of sin.

And finally there’s Universal Pictures Chairman Marc Shmuger, who says he did “Gangster” because

The hip-hop generation reveres the gangster culture–you see it in the lyrics of songs, fashion, style, and cultural choices.

Great. So, he’s gotta contribute to this societal decay and take his cut, too.
And then, there’s the Vietnam War. Gee, and I thought we were there to fight the Vietcong and Communism. But what do I know about that. After all, to Frank Lucas and this movie, the real reason we were there was to smuggle the finest heroin out of Southeast Asia in the coffins of dead American soldiers. Yup, all that and revisionist history in this movie.
Oh, and the good guy in this movie? (Besides Frank Lucas, the good-guy heroin pimp.) Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, the honest White cop who’s on the trail of Lucas. He’s an honest cop who refuses to take any of the $1 million he found and turns it in. But we’re told that cops don’t do that and that cops who do are persecuted by the rest who are mostly dishonest and on the take. Figures. Cops–bad, drug kingpin–GUH-REAT!
And even Det. Roberts isn’t such a great guy. Figures. Unlike the honest, decent Black heroin kingpin and killer Lucas, Roberts is a lousy husband and father, who neglects his son and sleeps around with every stewardess, er . . . flight attendant he can find. Nice.
And–oh, yeah–the only reason he catches Frank Lucas–the only reason Frank Lucas is caught–is because Lucas wears a flashy chinchilla coat and hat to a boxing match, because his new hot wife insists. This is against his coda that you shouldn’t dress flashy. He admonishes the garish dress of one of his brothers:

The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.

Oh, I see. If you dress more demurely, then you’re strong and your life of crime will succeed. Sorry, but the fur coat is not why criminals ultimately get caught. They get caught because they do bad things to people, and it comes back to them.
Too bad you won’t see that in the almost three hours of this well-made movie with horrible messages.
Read my previous work on “American Gangster.”
{Note: This is just the first of other movies coming out soon glorifying drug kingpin gangsters from Harlem in the ’60s and ’70s. The next one out, next week, is “Mr. Untouchable,” about Harlem drug kingpin and gangster Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, the “Black Godfather.”)
Bee Movie“: Jerry Seinfeld was everywhere–including in Detroit–doing interviews (will write about my interview experience with him, later) and promoting this well-animated film in which he plays a bee, Barry, who sounds and acts a lot like Seinfeld. He wants to see the outside world before he spends his life at work on honey at Honex. So he goes out with the Pollen Jock bees and ends up meeting Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger), a human florist. He breaks cardinal bee rule #1: Never talk to humans. And he falls in love. But can this interspecies relationship work?
Also, in the human world, he sees that humans are marketing and selling honey–including Ray Liotta brand honey (Seinfeld had to find a way to sneak his actor buddy into the movie)–and gets enraged. Only bees should be allowed to market honey, so Barry sues the human race, with Oprah Winfrey playing judge. If he wins, will this change vegetation and the human world forever?
There are a lot very cute jokes and funny lines in the movie, and the animation is top notch. Seinfeld and company worked for four years on this. It’s a movie you’ll enjoy and can take your kids of all ages to see. There are jokes your kids won’t get, but you will. And overall, it’s entertaining and likeable. If I had one hang-up it’s the Jewish-centric jokes I heard like three times. Best of them:

You’re dating someone? Is she Beeish? You know you’re parents will be upset if she’s a Wasp.


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead“: Possibly the worst and most depressing movie of the year. I like Sidney Lumet and his movies, but this is an exception. In his other films, there is usually good versus evil. In this one, it’s all evil. Everyone’s in a contest to see who can be the most abhorrent. And there’s an unrelated gratuitous sex scene at the beginning that simply has no purpose.
The plot: Two brothers–Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke–need money, so one of them pitches robbing their parents’ jewelry store. The other agrees and the whole plot goes horribly wrong. Lots of death and destruction. And they and their whole lives and families are dysfunctional. Drugs, adultery with a brother’s wife, violence, killing, blood, tragedy, and unhappiness–this movie has it all.
Two hours of excruciating torture watching this movie about uninteresting, horrible people we don’t like or care about doing horrible things to other people and killing and hurting. Marisa Tomei co-stars in this boring, horrible mess.
Skip at all cost. You were forewarned.

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7 Responses

*sigh* yet another reason why my ethicity is held back, due to their brainwashed self-centered racial stereotypical beliefs.

Squirrel3D on November 2, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Debbie, it seem you have a serous stick with American Gangster. Chill out, its a movie, remember? And to the gentrifying woman who posted above me, you’re hilarious! i think you’re the type of black person that goes around apologizing to white people for all of the black race. good luck with that.

travis on November 2, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Lucas was a snitch!!!

Richard on November 3, 2007 at 12:45 pm

I’m a guy, moron.
And I don’t go around apologizing to NOBODY. It’s people like you who are too fucked in the head to realize why blacks like myself can’t be accepted by such people for not “acting black”.
I know who I repersent, and that’s the american people. I don’t need pieces of shit like you to speak or think for me with your one dimentional superior race beliefs.

Squirrel3D on November 3, 2007 at 2:12 pm

I’m no fan of gangsta rapper, but in the interest of accuracy, RZA didn’t say, “In the Black community, he is the man. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t see him kind of as a hero of the people,” about Frank Lucas. He said it about Denzel Washington.

Megan Basham on November 5, 2007 at 7:03 am

I find your analysis of the film to be extremely flat. In my opinion, you missed the gist entirely and it is quite evident that you have several race issues that you need to work out. You claim that this films portrayal of carniverous capitalism is Black America’s new “civil rights”, but I interpreted the films emphasis on the lush lifestyles and gruesome violence as an attempt to call attention to America’s extreme and hollow form of capitalism. Then you go on to state that this movie was irresponsible in that it did not clearly show the consequences of a life in crime while all the white gangster movies do. Since when are gangster movies categorized white and black? Are you serious? It’s a movie, the director/writer can tell the story the way they choose to and for those who are looking to be morally enlightened or guided by a film… well, they’re already lost. As an adult who realizes that U.S. social issues as complex, I saw the film as a critique of U.S. moral and political corruption on all levels and not the glorification of the “Black” gangster lifestyle. You missed the point and your analysis was extremely racist.

qhiramini on November 6, 2007 at 12:07 pm

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