West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 7/14/23

Throughout the week, I posted to social media that I was in the middle of crafting a thematic trilogy: Part 1 was last week’s WWE post, while Part 2 was the WBW40 post from earlier this week. Part 3, however, is NOT this. No, the trilogy will actually wrap up with a VERY special post on Monday. So, just consider this “Part 2.5”, if you will. Now, on to the show!

Yeah, everyone’s on strike in Hollywood right now, but maybe I’ll talk about that next time. Rather, today I need to talk about a film I saw last weekend, known as The Blackening. This is dicey for me, as I’ve got thoughts. Lots of them. Yet, the Internet doesn’t always get *nuance*, and I don’t know if I want to just put it all out there. But we’ll see.

The Blackening is a horror comedy, written by television writing vets Dewayne Perkins & Tracy Oliver, and directed by Tim Story. In the film, a group of college friends reconnect to celebrate Juneteenth at a cabin in the woods. Once they arrive to the house, they are pulled into playing a board game, called The Blackening, in order to save the lives of both, their missing friends, as well as themselves. The game itself is geared to test one’s “Blackness”, or rather their…let’s call it “Racial Authenticity”. The questions start out goofy enough, such as “What does ‘NAACP’ stand for?” I’d say this yielded the funniest line in the film, when one of the friends answered “Negroes At Applebee’s Cooking Pasta?” So, you get the gist. The questions were based around the kind of things you’d commonly see as trending topics on “Black Twitter”, like Friends vs Living Single, or the Dark Aunt Viv/Lightskinned Aunt Viv discourse. Not very hard-hitting, but it’s a comedy, so that’s the point. Once the game gets derailed, however, people start dying, and the friends have to confront various horror movie tropes (for example, Don’t Split Up!) in order to survive.

The film was entertaining enough, but it’s tonally uneven. At times, it doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be satire or a farce. This leaves it often feeling like a weaker Chappelle’s Show sketch that has gone on WAY too long – not a great thing for a movie that’s only an hour and thirty-six minutes long.

Every character is a stereotype which, had it committed fully to being satire, might have been a great opportunity to deconstruct certain common tropes in entertainment, especially pertaining to race. But it didn’t do that. Still, outside of the racial aspect, there are familiar roles, such as Badass Final Girl, present. The cast is good, comprised of mostly up and coming Black actors (The ones you’re most likely to recognize don’t stick around long, as I guess the budget couldn’t really afford them). That’s pretty much all you need to know at this point, as I’m entering SPOILER territory (Yes, the film has made $17 million by now, so if you were gonna see it, you’d have done so by now!).

First off, the movie really thinks its audience isn’t very smart, as the big mystery hinges on the assumption that the viewer can’t count. Let me explain: As the bulk of the group is traveling to the cabin, we are told that there will be 8 people present for the weekend. After everyone is – mostly – accounted for, a sharp eye realizes that there are 9 people at the cabin. Now, the film sort of masks this by the fact that you never see everyone onscreen at the same time. However, given the presence of an additional guest, it’s sort of obvious that the killer is one of the guests.

My next issue concerns the character of Clifton. Everyone either knows, or IS, a Clifton. He’s the guy who’s “not Black enough”, based on socially decided upon metrics, such as Can’t Dance, Has No Game, Might Be Republican, and – most importantly here – Can’t Play Spades. Now, this trope, while based in some sense of reality, is tired because all of the jokes are low-hanging fruit. It all boils down to “Haha! This dude is corny!” As you can imagine, the character is the butt of most jokes, and the audience isn’t really supposed to see anything redeemable about him. Now, I typically wouldn’t care, but the movie really drives home the notion of the potential for redemption, especially in terms of its male characters. There’s King, who used to be the hood of the group, always “packing heat”, who’s now mellowed out, and practices yoga with his White wife. There’s Nnamdi, the serial womanizer of the group – who once cheated on fellow group member, Lisa – who’s finally settling down to be a Good Man, to a Good Woman (who turns out to be Lisa). Finally, there’s Dewayne, who’s always been the shoulder on which Lisa cried whenever men, including Nnamdi, hurt her. Throughout the film, he discovers that both he and Lisa might have contributed some toxic aspects to their friendship. It’s all about Black Men’s Growth! Until you get to Clifton.

I laughed at the film’s jokes, and stayed with it but, in the back of my mind, I thought, “The only way this is justified is if Clifton turns out to be the killer.”

Well, guess what!


Turns out, back in college, he had played the group in a game of Spades, and got DESTROYED because he didn’t understand the game. They proceeded to mock him, along the lines of “Anybody who knows Spades would have known not to make that move!” They all proceeded to roast him and, ultimately, they challenged his Blackness. He had gotten drunk, left the party, and ended up killing a woman with his car. He went to jail for 4 years, and when he got out, he wanted to get revenge on the people who not only made him question himself, but also made him lose 4 years of his life. So, um, that’s his justification.

Had the movie been satire, there could have been a discussion of how arbitrary the social metrics of Blackness are, and how, like most aspects of identity, there is a spectrum. The characters might have looked inward, thinking “Man, that was kind fucked up of us. We weren’t trying to ruin your life.” They might have all grown from it. But that’s not the path the film took. By that point, it was full-on farce, and when Clifton is defeated, it’s basically “good riddance” instead of any semblance of him having been a sympathetic character.

Yeah, I guess you could say this movie “made me feel some type of way”. If you’re over there, saying “Get over it, Carlton!”, then you’re probably part of the problem. As far as I’m concerned, they got what they deserved! Anyway, that’s enough online therapy for today. Watch it. Laugh at it. It’s just a movie. It ain’t that deep…

Trailer Park

Wonka (Theaters, December 15th)

Have the chuds gotten mad yet that there are Black people in this thing?

I’m torn on this one, because I don’t feel it’s a story that needs to be told. Is it a chance to make some money? Sure. Might it be good? Possibly. That said, you don’t need to know any more about Willy Wonka than what we’re told in the books. He didn’t need an Origin Story. I don’t really do “whimsy”, and this thing’s got it in spades. Plus, I really don’t like that Chalamet boy. I know he’s being groomed to be the next “Actor’s Actor”, but I simply don’t like the cut of his jib.

Still, there are some great actors in this thing, besides Chalamet, and I’m also a big fan of the worlds of Roald Dahl. So, I might see it, but it doesn’t mean I have to be excited about it.

The Retirement Plan (Theaters, August 25th)

I don’t know if this will be good, per se, but you had me at “Ernie Hudson”. Speaking of which, I know “Black Don’t Crack”, but Hudson is 77 and appears to be playing the best friend of 69 year old Cage. What I’m saying is I almost wish they could have found someone actually older instead of having Cage play older. Still, he’s a trained thespian, so he knows what he’s doing.

I’m a sucker for the White Guy Is A Secret Killing Machine trope, so this doesn’t have to do much heavy lifting for me to be entertained. I hope this ends up being one of those Regal Mystery Movies, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

Corner Office (Theaters, August 4th)

It’s kind of amazing the damage that a bad mustache can do to a good face. I mean, they didn’t even have to bring in Charlize Theron’s makeup team from Monster to “ugly” Hamm up. They were just like “Grow a ‘stache, and then show up to set when it’s ready.” Now, this trailer. Huh. Ya know, I can almost see how this movie was written. Walk with me here – Imagine someone did mushrooms, and then had an epiphany: What if Mad Men was just a fever dream of some milquetoast loser? There’s a guy who’s pretty average, and not really winning at life, who – through some kind of psychological break – creates a world in which he’s the confident Top Dog. Because when I saw the titular corner office, I immediately thought “Wait, is that a Mad Men set?” This film could serve as the “unofficial” true origin of Don Draper. Now you kinda want see it, don’t you? I know I do!

Napoleon (Theaters, November 22nd)

First Oppenheimer and now Napoleon – 2023 is shaping up to be a terrific film year for White guys over 50! I always appreciate efforts to make historical recollections sexier than they probably actually were. Even so, this still doesn’t really interest me other than a few moments in the trailer. As far as pop culture goes, Napoleon was a weird little French man, whose inferiority complex fueled his quest for power. Oh, and I think he supposedly had a weird penis? So, other than that, I don’t know much about the man. I will say, however, that it’s odd that they didn’t even affect accents in this thing. I mean, I don’t expect the movie to be in French, but at least try to sound, I dunno, vaguely “European”? Anyway, this ain’t for me.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • Former girlfriend of Jonah Hill announces to the world that he was an asshole during their relationship. The world, meanwhile, responded, “AND?” Seriously, I feel like she was the last one to find out, bless her heart!
  • McDonald’s has announced that it is phasing out the remaining baked goods on their McCafé menu, including the Blueberry Muffin, Apple Fritter, and Cinnamon Roll with Cream Cheese Icing. Meanwhile, there’s now a very disappointed little girl at Casa West!
  • James Gunn delighted exactly 27 DC Comics fans by announcing new casting for Superman: Legacy, including Nathan Fillion (YAY!) as Green Lantern…Guy Gardner (BOO!). I actually love Guy, but that’s like announcing you’re gonna have the cast of The Dukes of Hazzard at your convention, and you get there to find Coy & Vance. Meanwhile, the Dora the Explorer chick is playing *yawn* Hawkgirl, and we’re also getting Metamorpho, while the dude who played Darwin in X-Men: First Class will be Mr. Terrific. See? Gunn’s just filling this thing with important, marquee DC heroes…
  • During a guest spot on Bill Maher’s podcast, Dwight Schrute himself, Rainn Wilson, revealed that there was a period during The Office when he was upset that he wasn’t a big movie star. I mean, I get it, but as my favorite quote from Caddyshack goes, “The world needs ditchdiggers, too.”
  • NBC’s The Blacklist ended its 10-season run last night, with the final scene showing protagonist Red Reddington stepping through the Stargate one last time.
  • This week marked the 10th anniversary of the untimely death of Glee star Cory Monteith, which means it’s also the 10th anniversary of the worst handling of a cast member’s death I’ve ever witnessed on television (though Suddenly Susan is a close second).
  • After 2 decades playing the character, Hugh Jackman finally suited up in a pseudo-comic accurate Wolverine costume for his appearance in Deadpool 3.

We’re doing something different this week. Ya see, this was a special week for me because my good friend Mike (also known in these parts as “Special Forces”) got married! I’ve known Mike over 15 years, as we met when we were both working at Toys “R” Us. A friendship blossomed, which carried over to outside of TRU. Once we had both left Geoffrey and Co behind, we moved on to our next adventure: yard sales. In the years before I had my first daughter, Mike and I spent most Saturday mornings combing the state of Maryland (and sometimes Northern Virginia) for unspeakable treasures. This was before everyone became a reseller, so there was still gold to be found! For those of you who’ve been with me for years, and remember Thrift Justice, well there would have been no Thrift Justice without Mike. That was a very special era in my life.

Like all things, life came along, and the yard saling stopped. An engineer by trade, Mike went back to school and became “official”. I always asked him why he went back to school, seeing as how he already had what most would call a “good job”, and the attainment of such a thing is really the only reason people go to college. He’d cut out the middleman, so why waste the money?! See, I was always imparting brotherly wisdom in things that weren’t my business! In any case, I’m glad he didn’t listen to me, as I knew it was important to him, and he graduated last year. I was so proud of him, though I don’t know if he knew it.

College degree, good job, what’s missing? Well, that question was answered in the form of Cathy, who kind of appeared out of nowhere. They started dating, and I could see my boy becoming a man! Now, don’t get me wrong – he’s younger than me, by about 7 years, but he’s always been more mature. He’s been my own personal Ron Swanson, coming by to do the Man Stuff at my house that I can’t manage. Yet, I could still see an evolution of sorts happening. So, when he told me he and Cathy got engaged, it just felt like the natural progression of things.

His wedding was this week, and he had asked me to be his witness – only to discover the morning of that a witness wasn’t necessary in Maryland. Still, I was honored that he had asked ME, of all people. I mean, he’s got family and his high school friends and all that, but ME. So, I didn’t care if he didn’t need a witness, he was getting one anyway!

I’d never been to a civil wedding, and I actually came up with a great reality TV pitch from it. Normally, I say things like that, and I’m joking. This time, however, I mean it. There’s a strike going on, and reality is again the belle of the ball! I need to make some connections… Anyway, it was so special, like I had my own little private wedding going on in front of me. I was so happy to be a part of it.

So, that’s where we are now. Gone are the days of unloading Lash Tamaron boxes and making enemies of obvious resellers. Now, instead, there’s kids and yardwork and early bedtimes. But we’ll always have Geoffrey (or, at least, the memories)… You know what we do at this point in the show, so I’m here to say that “Special Forces” had the West Week Ever. I love ya, you big lug!


Be sure to come back Monday, July 17th for a very special post where I look back at TWENTY YEARS of blogging!