Thursday, June 25, 2009

AB Goes To The Movies - Men II Boys.

I've been at this amateur movie reviewer thing for a minute now, and as a result, I tend to get a lot of Black themed indy releases sent my way. Sometimes these movies are just okay. Sometimes they are just freakin' awful. And every now and then, you get a movie like What Black Men Think.

WBMT was the first documentary of DC-area director Janks Morton, and as expected, provided an in-depth portrait of the trials and travails of the typical brother trying to find upward mobility, love, and significance in a world that's seldom welcoming. The film has a few minor flaws, but otherwise it was a nuanced, entertaining way to spend a few hours, and definitely was a conversation starter. Seizing the momentum and success of that film (Morton was featured on CNN's disastrous "Black In America" last Summer), Morton follows up with Men II Boys, a film aimed at younger black males.

[Full Disclosure: After reviewing WBMT, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Morton, as was asked to participate in this project, but scheduling conflicts prevented this. Still, I promised Mr. Morton a fair, and unbiased review of his movie.]

Like WBMT, Men II Boys (thankfully spelled with an "S", not a "Z") is shot in Baltimore and suburban Prince Georges County, with street level interviews of Black people of all ages and walks of life. If you're from the DMV, you'll undoubtedly recognize lots of the background scenery, and probably a few of the faces.

Unlike Morton's first movie, which seemed overloaded with big name pontificators, this one seems a bit more focused. Instead, they put out a casting call for regular, average, everyday brothers to come down and give their best advice to the next generation on camera. Morton expected about 50 men to show up, instead they got several times that number. Familiar faces like BET's Jeff Johnson, and Congressman Elijah Cummings round out the cast and talk very openly about their experiences, both good and bad, as sons and as fathers.

Each man dispenses a few pieces of invaluable advice for young black men. Things like "Show Me Your Friends, I'll Show You Your Future", "If You Never Try, You Can Never Fail", "It's Never Too Late To Do The Right Thing", and "If You Dress Like A Convict, You Will Be Convicted" are wisely expounded upon. Perhaps most impressive is the short story of Baltimore Raven Daniel Wilcox. The NFL standout talks about the painful process of reaching out to, and reconnecting with the father he'd never met, whom he now considers his best friend. In a sea of harrowing tales about black father abandonment, it's the sort of reconciliation we seldom hear about.

I give Morton lots of credit for taking the mild criticism of his first movie to heart and improving his craft. The production quality immediately jumps out at you. Not that What Black Men Think wasn't good, but the documentary style hi-def cinematography of M2B is on another level. Unlike WBMT, which dragged on about 20 minutes too long, Men II Boys is focused, and well paced at just 44 minutes running time. Additionally, street level interviews, a radio interview with Morton, spoken word poetry, and short vignettes are used to advance the discussion. Morton's growth as a director is evident.

Much like his first movie, there isn't much to dislike about Men II Boys, and I strongly recommend it to anyone with teen aged sons, mentees, or relatives.

Men II Boys [Official Movie Website]

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