S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 May 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


Hit & Run CCXXVII

 
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Kamal "Diva" Larsuel is one of the co-founders and lead reviewers at 3 Black Chicks...Review Flicks. She spoke with us from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Well, to begin with, I tremble in the presence of the Diva.

As well you should.

But don't you think VH1's "Divas" has ruined the whole Diva market, by anointing lightweights like Brandy and Mariah Carey? Nowadays even a 98-pound weakling like Fiona Apple gets passed off as a Diva. Hasn't that diluted Diva-hood?

That's a good question. But no, I don't think so. Because a true diva knows that half the people you mentioned aren't true divas.

What was your inspiration for starting 3 Black Chicks?

A question: I love movies, and I had written a synopsis of what I was going to see last summer. And somebody I knew laughed at that and said, "How come there aren't any black reviewers who are nationally know?" I said, "I don't know; let's do it."

What about Wesley Morris at the San Francisco Examiner? Or Elvis Mitchell at the New York Times?

We didn't know of them. We did a search on the internet, and we didn't find anybody. If they're not on the internet they don't exist. We'll amend our statement: There's nobody nationally known except for us and Elvis.

And Wesley; don't forget Wesley!

And Wesley.

Ebert needs new co-reviewers every week. Has he been courting you?

Nope. I don't even think he knows about us. I've been surprised by the attention we've gotten. We just started back in July. We contacted Ebert's web site, and we got the standard form letter back, saying, "We can't answer everything." That was back in August.

You've gotta work the phones. Email's a waste. The phone is how you get through to people. Ebert's got total jokers on his show now. You could do Ebert's show no sweat.

I'll keep trying as soon as I can get some time.

There are rumors that for a while you were actually running the show with only two black chicks.

We've always been three. And Lala has always been in the background. We had a third person who actually reviewed, but she couldn't keep up because of other obligations. But we already had the name and the persona of the three of us. So what are you gonna do? You can't just be 2 Black Chicks. So Lala's there, but she's really in the background.

Has she done any reviews?

No. She's going to start, though, because there's talk of a book. And we need to get more reviews on the site so we can put them into the book. So she's going to pick up some slack on the weekends when she can.

Right now, the site isn't making any money. We're hoping that when the site starts making some money we can start doing reviews of books, CDs and so on.

Do you make any money from the ads?

No, that's just Link Exchange. We've probably made about $300 on the site. We're hoping some big fish will notice us and want to advertise on the site.

Which do you prefer — critics-only screenings or those public screenings where there are all these people who won tickets from a radio station?

Public. I always go to the promotionals. Every now and then I'll catch a press screening, but I really prefer the promotionals.

Why is that?

Because I get a good feel for what the audience is thinking. I like to write my review for an audience. I write them as if I'm talking to my best girlfriend, rather than trying to figure out what the director was thinking and talking about the cinematography and whatnot. So with the audience you get a better feeling. Plus I like to see the reactions to the trailers so I can get a good feeling for how the movie's going to do. At a press screening you usually don't get trailers.

You usually don't get reactions either.

I saw a press screening of The World Is Not Enough, and there were no ooohs, no ahhs, just the sound of paper flipping. I just saw Gladiator, at a promo screening, and everybody was clapping and cheering — it was great.

Do you think there are some movies — comedies and horror movies for example — that are better to see with a black audience than with a white audience?

I think the type of movie is what matters. If it's a black movie, it's better to see it with a black audience. Consequently, a lot of the mainstream comedies just don't have a big black audience.

With horror movies, it's better sometimes. Like with Scream III. Or I can go even further back than that. You remember when The Blob came out in 1987 or so? I saw The Blob with all my friends. There were about 40 black people in the audience and it was so much fun! I think we scared the white people out because we were making so much noise. And that was a lot more enjoyable.

It was the same thing with the Elm Street movies, where white people would kind of sit still for the flimsy "How can we kill Freddy" storylines, but black people recognized Freddy as the only character worth cheering for.

On the flipside, sometimes seeing a movie with a black audience can be a hindrance, because there are some movies you just don't need to talk through. Sometimes we don't quite grasp that.

You were pro-Blair Witch Project because it didn't have any gore.

I'm only opposed to onscreeen violence when there are children in the audience. And I just thought it was time to have the kind of thriller like they had in the sixties, where you're scared either because of the music or because of what might happen.

I was happy to see you give a tentative thumbs up to Mystery Men, the most underrated film of 1999.

Absolutely, it cracked me up. And I like it that they tailored the humor and the violence to a younger audience.

I saw that movie late in its run, and it seemed to me there was a Mystery Men cult building, with some kids in the audience having memorized the script so well that they could do Rocky Horror-type call and response. And here's another wrinkle on the black audience/white audience theme: The white kids all seemed to know Pee Wee Herman's lines and the black kids knew Kel Mitchell's lines. So there was a dialogue among the viewers.

Wow, I wish I had seen that at the end of the run then. I don't know if that's a cult of the movie so much as a cult of the actors. We still see Pee Wee Herman on TV all the time. And Kel is on Nick At Nite. So I think that may be people following the actors.

You say you have no tolerance for bad films. But sometimes, when you think of how many people put so much work into a movie, and then you see some critic just give it some really mean, abrupt, offhand snipe, don't you feel sort of bad?

No. What makes me feel bad is when I really rip somebody personally. I feel bad that I ripped Patricia Arquette's teeth. But as for the movies, here: I'll tell you three movies that I've ripped: The 13th Warrior, Universal Soldier: The Return, and Felicia's Journey. All three of those movies, but particularly 13th Warrior and Universal Soldier, the studios knew were bad. They didn't hold press screenings, they kept changing the release dates. Nobody was doing press junkets. Same thing with that thing with Sean Connery and Uma Thurman.

Ah, The Avengers! Everybody wanted that movie to go away.

Exactly. So I don't feel bad at all.

But The 13th Warrior is a perfect example. Definitely, it's a bad movie. But it's also pretty clear that they really tried. Many people put a lot of effort into making that a decent movie, but it just wasn't working. I mean nobody sets out to make a piece of shit. And when you consider how much time they spent on it, isn't it regrettable when a critic just writes a 30-second zinger demolishing the whole project?

Well, you know what? You have to be prepared for that. I get hate mail constantly. At first, I would cry, like "Oh! Nobody likes me!" But you know, when you put yourself out there you have to put yourself out there with a thick skin.

We get nothing but hate mail. It still makes me cry.

There you go.

A lot of our hate mail comes from people who are just disappointed that we're not a porn site.

Oh, hello, talk about porn sites. Can I please tell you how many people think our site's a porn site? You should see the search results. I track where people are coming from and what they're searching for: "big black ladies," "fat, nasty black chicks."

You've just got to brazen out the name.

Well I appreciate your seeking us out. People are becoming aware of us. The studios know about us. I see their hits on the site all the time.

You praised The Matrix for avoiding the infamous Brother Rule, which states that black guys — particularly in supporting roles — always die in movies. But don't you think the really ingenious thing about The Matrix was that it played against the Brother Rule? Like, as soon as Morpheus gets captured you're thinking, "Oh, there goes the brother!" But then they faked you out! Don't you think they were aware that we'd have the Brother Rule in mind while we were watching it?

Oh absolutely. And then beyond that, the only people of Zion that we see are black. Oh yeah, they knew the rule. And that is so cool. They pulled something you didn't expect at all.

OK, but you gave a really enthusiastic review to The Green Mile, and come on — that's the Brother Rule all the way.

Well, yes and no. The Brother Rule is more in effect for action and science fiction movies — Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix — those kinds of movies. But even if we were going to apply the Brother Rule to The Green Mile, in my opinion The Green Mile was such an excellent film that the Brother Rule doesn't even matter.

There you go. Some things are more important than rules.

It transcended the rule!

And your one beef with Gladiator was that it violated the Sister Rule. Wasn't that incredibly strange, having this black woman getting chopped up in the ring? Were they just trying to be post-modern?

You know, I've gotten a lot of feedback on that from both sides. From what people are telling me the Romans at that time saw Africans as the ultimate warriors. So to them, she was a warrior and not a woman, and that was a compliment to her.

Hmm.

That's what people are telling me. I'm like, Hmm, all right, she's laying in pieces on the ground...

And how about the fact that Djimon Hounsou doesn't get to kick one white guy's ass the whole movie? Did you notice that?

I did, but I was expecting him to die, actually. I was expecting him to take a spear for the white guy, because that's how the Brother Rule works.

Yeah, but I suspect the Brother Rule may actually be in decline. We seem to be seeing the last days of it. Then again, you never know. This country's disappointed us before.

You never know. Mark my words: Allen Payne is in The Perfect Storm, and he's the only black guy on the ship. So he's getting washed overboard real quick.

Well you are now on record as predicting that. You came up with the all-time greatest exception to the rule: The fact that Keith David survives at the end of John Carpenter's The Thing. Which of course was the most underrated motion picture of the 1980s.

That is my favorite horror movie of all time. The 20th anniversary of The Thing is coming up, and I'm really hoping they'll re-release it. Because that movie was so underrated when it came out. Critics just ripped that movie.

See? When you rip a movie don't you ever worry about having to eat your words later? Or is that just the bullet you've got to take?

That's the bullet you've got to take.

What about "Spoiler Alert!" Isn't the whole concept of the "Spoiler Alert" kind of irritating? Who are we all protecting? It's like we all have to carry water for the movie industry, and be on our toes so we won't give away their precious secrets.

For me it's not to please and appease the studios. It's really for the people who read the reviews and say "Well I didn't want to know that. You told me stuff I didn't want to know." I took heat for Sleepy Hollow because I told that Christopher Walken was the Headless Horseman.

Which you find out like 15 minutes into the movie.

Right. And people ripped me to shreds for that. Excuse me: He went on Leno saying that; it was in the commercial; it was on the website. Get over yourself. So we keep the alert up so people won't email us saying "Oh, you gave away a big secret."

You have a traffic-light rating system, which allows for three different ratings. Is that designed to break the binary tyranny of the thumbs-up/thumbs-down system?

We just brainstormed on that. We didn't want to use anything that anybody else was using. The thumb system is played out. And even the three-tiered system is limiting. We're trying to come up with a system where we can have five. Because some movies are really in between a green and a yellow or a red and a yellow.

 

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If it's difficult to understand why the United States is getting nervous about the dangers of a peacekeeping mission in tiny Sierra Leone that doesn't involve a single American soldier (yet), consider this: Many Americans love to hike and camp in Sierra Leone, and this area is the host of several important national parks. And Sierra Leone's "Spaghetti Westerns" of the 1960s are perennial favorites. Or at least we may have heard something like that in some history class. History has all kinds of lessons to teach, and that's the problem: History has all kinds of lessons to teach. Generally, they turn out to be either 1.) meaningless or 2.) the wrong lesson. And frequently they contradict some other apparent lesson. Recent African history alone offers a nicely paired Catch 22: The deaths of U.S. Army Rangers in Mogadishu in 1993 taught us, for example, that we shouldn't get involved in the miserably dangerous and largely thankless job of fighting to control internal conflicts in politically treacherous nations. Then the next year, the genocidal Rwandan bloodshed organized by the Hutu Power movement taught us ... well, something else. While we try to figure out what's going on, of course, decisions have a way of making themselves. In this case, the job of peacekeeping is occuring in a particularly bass-ackward manner. British forces sent to evacuate their own nationals now may be staying for the long haul, and yesterday's fight in a town with the propicious name of Waterloo looks to be shaping up as an epic Battle of Freetown. It's usually at this point that we start hearing correspondents with vaguely British accents complaining that the United States refuses to get involved, while officials with folksy midwestern drawls counter that there are no American interests at stake. In this here interconnected world, everybody has to pitch in when there's trouble. But as tempting as it is to see every African problem as some kind of natural disaster, in this case one of the biggest forces of nature is called De Beers, which buys the black market diamonds that fund freelance amputationist Foday Sankoh (this week's designated villain) while publicly lamenting "the tragedy in Sierra Leone." So it's fair to ask: Why can't the diamantaires of death provide the damn peacekeepers? It's times like these that we're thankful the wheels of government grind so slowly, and that the model of the modern American diplomat is Richard Holbrooke, whom the New York Times describes this way: "Last week he was in Congo with United Nations colleagues trying to assess whether it is peaceful enough to send in the peacekeepers."

 

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But why are we worried about Sierra Leone when all the trouble seems to be coming from The Phillipines? In addition to spawning global panic, painful flashbacks of Disney live action films of the seventies, timeless lectures on the sinfulness of sending attached files, some fantastically Symbolist Time cover art by Arthur Hochstein, and a suggestion from one Suck writer that an enterprising lawyer might want to classify Outlook as an attractive nuisance and drag Microsoft back into court, last week's Love Bug outbreak inspired the now-requisite discussion of how many ILOVEYOU mails you got, and what this says about your popularity. Not surprisingly, the Sucksters turn out to be as friendless as we are snooty, so most of the discussion in the newsroom turned on how few of these messages we received, and how most of those seemed to come from PR flacks, PAC organizers and other stone-dumb morons. Nevertheless, we did get a couple ILOVEYOU messages from you, the Fabulous Little People (unopened, we regret to report). We prefer to look on the bright side, and comment on the little-noted body of the Love Bug message (written in the kind of bent-but-not-quite-broken English only a foreigner could love). When we realize that some of you are lonely enough to open a file that bears the teaser "Open the attached loveletter coming from me," we feel a little better about keeping you company five days a week.

 

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By way of Federal Express, Humberto Moreira writes to us from Old Mexico. He is creative, fairly witty, refreshingly self-deprecating, and better versed in Suck lore than any of the actual Sucksters; and he clearly knows his way around Power Point. Mr. Moreira's seven-part fan letter — vaguely tied to Polly Esther's recent Filler jubilee and printed on mysteriously sticky, unrecycleable glossy paper — contains equal parts kremlinology, wistful reflections, unctuous praise, repurposed cartoons, shoutouts to individual members of the Suck family, and deft page layout. We only wish our scans could do his printed pages justice. We suspect Mr. Moreira is 11 years old, and that our publication of his letter violates several child labor ordinances and a few NAFTA regulations we don't know about. But his labor of love deserves a wider audience; people with portfolios half this impressive have gotten jobs paying twice as much as what you're making right now. So we hope you'll read the Moreira files. And we hope somebody out there will hire this very promising young man.

 
courtesy of theSucksters