Judge Bill Gibron usually defends the intentions of even the most mediocre short films, but he's more than happy to S.L.A.M. this collection of urban underachievement.
Could also stand for Sloppy, Lame, And Mediocre
Short films are constantly disrespected and, more times than not, the reasons behind the slight are incredibly out of place. As an art form, the mini-movie is just as valid as its full-length feature brethren, the only differences being running time and the potential for problems. You see, instead of being an easier creative nut to crack, the short format is rife with pitfalls. There's the inadequate space for necessary cinematic developments like characterization, narrative clarity, and scope, as well as the self-imposed notions of narrow focus and insular environs. Let's face it, you aren't about to make an epic in eight minutes, yet some filmmakers still fall into the trap of thinking larger than their allotted time frame. Artistry dismantled by ambitions is part of the problem with a new DVD release entitled Urban S.L.A.M. (an acronym for "Short Live Action Movies") Offered as a compendium to "the new Black cinema," it is really nothing more than an example of aspirations addled by limitations. Instead of discussing the overall effectiveness of the collection (especially since none exists), we will look at each effort individually. Hopefully, after suffering through this octet of offal, you'll see why some short films deserve their devalued fate. Let's begin with:
Plot: A black man interrogates a criminal over the actions that have landed him in his current incarcerated state.
Review: Notable for introducing model-turned-actor Tyson Beckford to the silver screen, Gully is all gimmick and no insight. You can tell where this unfocused mess is going from the minute Beckford appears onscreen. He is talking to someone (unseen) and his flashback recollections feature a murderous drug dealer (again, unseen). By the time the guns start blazing and bodies are lying in pools of overly red stage blood, you've long since figured out the ID of the unknown assailant. It's a twist that adds literally nothing to our understanding of this narrative. Stereotypical and borderline offensive (the good guys are purposely positioned like fellow "thugz"), this slight short is sadly the shape of things to come.
The Box Preacher
Plot: A street preacher gets his calling comeuppance when, after an accident, a mysterious man questions his motivations.
Review: While not the worst offering on this DVD, the storyline here is so pat that it begs to be belittled. The opening is effective, since the interaction between the annoying man of God and the clientele in and around the strip-club locale seems genuine and authentic. Once the car crash occurs and our fake Jehovah shows up to undermine his servant's faith, we lose all interest. The message is obvious and delivered with a Matthew 7:1 sledgehammer. We could really care less if, via seeing the liberating light, our pastor has become more centered in his belief. Jesus wept over the way this excuse for entertainment got there.
Plot: A well-to-do doctor and his aging wife prepare to defend their home against a marauding band of lynch-happy white people.
Review: Though the plot has its particulars in the real-life events that occurred during the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, director Jan Johnson and screenwriter Ed Shockley do absolutely nothing with such rich historical fodder. Instead, we get a two-person drama containing a couple so illogical that Virginia Woolf's George and Martha seem positively even keeled. At first, they want to defend their home, then they flee. Then they return after being attacked. Then they think about their grown daughter several states away. They then decided to survive. They decide to hide. Then they decide to have dinner (?). Then one of them decides to commit suicide. How nauseatingly noble, but nonsensical. There is a much better story to be told about the incidents in Oklahoma during the Summer of '21. This movie apparently wants no part of it.
Plot: A gangster offers a young athlete $25K if he can sink five baskets while his blindfolded hitman fires an equal number of bullets at him.
Review: All bravado and very little payoff, Shootout is so transparent in its intentions (hey, let's mix sports with violence and cover all the urban cultural bases) that when the last-minute twist arrives, it's just more of the same mindless missive. The direction is highly erratic, with the threat posed by the gunman never established or suggested. Instead, it's all fancy cuts and frantic framing. With acting so overdone that scenery chewing barely even suggests its level of laughability, we have little more than a mixed-up metaphor poorly executed. Instead of a slam-dunk, this is a complete air ball.
All You Can Eat
Plot: A hungry homeless man asks a passing individual for some of his food. The man gives him a Bible instead. Somehow, it leads to a place of rice and beans.
Review: Like a bad joke told by a bored religious comic, our second straight message movie also fails to get its readily apparent point across. While there is nothing inherently wrong with blatant Bible thumping, the reveal seems to reject everything the set-up was saying. Such last-shot surprises fail to work when the ideas at play are noticeable and forced. You'll starve waiting for this serving of the sacred to pay off.
Plot: A young black women gets depressed over her role as a homewrecker and decides to solve her problems by—you guessed it, wrecking more homes.
Review: Wow—talk about your really bad ideas. How, pray tell, is the world supposed to sympathize with a woman who flaunts her body, steals the husbands of pregnant wives, cures her depression with random booty calls, and sleeps her way into a kind of guilt-free coma over her entire slutty lifestyle? Apparently, someone thinks we will empathize, spending far too many minutes trying to get us to care about this perfumed pariah. The truth is, we want this bimbo deader than disco, instantly recognizing her lack of value as a member of the human race. She deserves everything she gets—except the constant attention from clueless men. Morons.
Storyline: A pair of blind dates go goofy when a lady and her "of the evening" counterpart get confused by a pair of possible paramours.
Review: Oh, ho! I'm laughing now. A Christian gentleman and a ghetto player are sitting in a restaurant, waiting for their respective companions. In walks a hooker and a honey. Guess who ends up with whom? Are you bent over in sidesplitting snickers yet? No? Well, that's understandable. This topical trifle wants desperately to be a meditation on that whole judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing, but it comes across as awkward and unimaginative.
The Engagement Party
Plot: How do you handle the news that your betrothed is actually a hypersexual skank? Why, if you're an important investment banker, you go out and have a ménage a trois.
Review: Nothing is more laughable than softcore slammin' that barely manages a "mediocre" on the erotica meter. This dull, unimpressive pseudo-porn makes little or no sense, especially when given the supposed emotional dynamic at play. Love and lust are so misconstrued and completely confused here that you expect to be handed a primer on passion, just to get a handle on the half-baked ideas being fostered. Like The Date, this is also taken from something called The G-Spot Chronicles, a series that obviously uses sex as a selfish solution to life's problems. How insightful.
All of the films here have different tech specs and issues. The transfers range from non-anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 images, to the typical full-frame 1.33:1 presentation. The prints are clean, the colors correct, and the details easily discernible. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is middling at best. It's full speaker spectacular whenever the overmodulated hip-hop comes to the fore but, otherwise, the dialogue is flat and the ambiance is unexceptional. From a DVD standpoint, the films can be watched separately or with added bumper material focusing on interviews, production featurettes, and statements of cinematic purpose. They add very little to the main presentation.
As for the rest of the added content, almost all of it supplements the subpar Engagement Party. The actual behind the scene documentary is longer than the short film itself. Add in a bunch of EPK elements, an alternative ending to The Box Preacher (nothing special), and a preview of upcoming efforts from Clarendon Entertainment (the main production company involved in this effort), and you've got much ado about nothing. In fact, nothing about this entire package is the least bit meaningful and memorable.
Hackneyed, lackluster, and wildly out of step with the standard of major motion-picture making, Urban S.L.A.M. is a complete waste of time. There is nothing new about this incredibly dull assortment. It's the same old amateurish awfulness.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Clarendon Entertainment
• "Making of" Documentary
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