Thursday, August 23, 2012

Top 50 Films of the 00's, Part 9 (6-3)

6. Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)

Everyone I know who saw Battle Royale had the same reaction, including me.  We didn't go into it expecting to be impressed.  The general impression one got reading the description was that this was a movie that existed for shock value, an attempt to be outrageous and violent.  And maybe that set us up to be blown away all the more by one of the best examples of genre filmmaking of the last decade.

The basic plot: an entire high school class is taken to an island, given weapons and told to kill each other.  (Yes, it's remarkably similar to the plot of a recent young adult bestseller/blockbuster film.)  Some of them take to it reluctantly.  For others, it seems like the purpose they've been waiting for.  As the action unfolds, it's as tightly paced and harrowing as any action film you can think of.  But there's something more to it, that little touch that turns it to a masterpiece: regardless of their situation, the kids never stop acting like teenagers.  They confess their crushes, act out their aggressions, and deal with their situations as if they were in The Breakfast Club.  As satisfying as the action and violence is, it can be touching, too.

At one point near the beginning, one of the students asks why they have been given this fate.  Their teacher, played by Takeshi Kitano as the sort of teacher that's just sick of these damn kids, tells them it's because they are a disrespectful and ungrateful generation.  I love that.  It's so Old Testament, and yet somehow uniquely Japanese at the same time.  After seeing it, I was excited to find out more about this hotshot young director.  I looked him up, only to discover that he was 70 years old when he directed Battle Royale (which would be his last film), and already had 65 films under his belt, including The Green Slime, The Black Lizard and the brutal Yakuza saga that began with Battles Without Honor or Humanity.

5. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

One of the most interesting trends of the 00's is the rise of the zombie.  When I was a snot-nosed adolescent in the 80's, I was obsessed with the few zombie movies that existed: Romero's trilogy, Return of the Living Dead, the few Lucio Fulci films that might turn up at the video store, and (my favorite) the Evil Dead movies (of which there was only one for a good chunk of this time).  I was maybe a little naive about their popularity.  Pre-internet, I kinda thought that I and my little group of friends were the only people that knew about the greatness of Raimi's Evil Dead films.  The cult turned out to be much larger than I would have guessed, but still well below the mainstream.  Now, of course, you have zombie movies all over the place.  You even have a zombie T.V. show, and it's a huge hit!  When I look at a movie like Zombieland, if that movie had come out in the 90's, I would have thought it was the greatest movie ever made!  Now?  I think it's pretty good.

Zombies have become the generic for "undead."  They've replaced vampires in that sense.  For instance, going back to the 80's again, I never thought of Re-Animator as a zombie movie.  It always seemed more like a riff on Frankenstein.  Now, it's taken for granted that Re-Animator is a zombie film, but it's possible that some people would even identify Frankenstein's monster as a zombie.  I do have a reference book called The Book of the Vampire, that includes an entry on Frankenstein.  Consider this news story from last year, about the discovery of burial rituals in ancient Ireland that suggest a fear of corpses coming back to life to cause trouble.  In all the coverage of this story, the word "zombie" is used.  But if this story had come out in the mid-90's, who doubts that they would have been referred to as "vampires?"

I'm not sure what caused this sea change.  My guess is that it had to do with video games, where zombies make convenient targets for first-person shooters (See, mom?  We're not shooting PEOPLE, just zombies!), but since I know jack fuck about video games, I'll leave that to someone else to expand on.  When I moved to L.A. in the late 90's, I met a lot of people who were "working on a script about zombies."  It was just sort of a default mode for geek culture.  And, in the early 00's, a few of those scrips were making it to completed films.  Most of them were aiming to be cult movies, discovered on the racks of video stores.  That's surely the level that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and their crew were aiming for.  They couldn't have known what would happen between that first "Action!" and the film hitting screens.  In that period, there were TWO zombie films that came out from big studios and became mainstream hits.  First, another English film, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (not technically a zombie film, because the "monsters" aren't actually undead, but in structure it's unmistakeably of the Romero lineage), then Zach Schneider's remake of Dawn of the Dead.  So Shaun of the Dead emerged into the world as a parody of a mainstream genre/hot trend.  It even had a joke about 28 Days Later buried in it!

So, OK, let's talk about the actual movie for a minute.  I just described it as a "parody," but I don't think that's exactly right. I mean, it is a parody in the sense that it's a comedy based on an established genre, featuring many gags riffing on the conventions of said genre, but I feel like that's not really the point of the movie.  It's more of a buddy comedy, like the "bromances" that the Apatow factory cranked out through the decade, and I feel like this is the aspect of the film that has really helped it endure and resonate more than many of the lesser zombie comedies of the 00's.  It's also a spectacularly cinematic film.  Edgar Wright has a style that is so visually dynamic that even a scene of a character crossing the street looks exciting, and I can think of few scenes in film history that are as joyously choreographed as the melee set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now."  Jokes and references are buried in the script and the shots so densely that you can still be discovering things on the 10th viewing.

4. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)

When I saw Pan's Labyrinth at the Los Angeles International Film Festival, Guillermo Del Toro was on hand to introduce the film.  He talked a lot about fairy tales, and how the stories we tell children have been sanitized and kid-proofed over the years.  Did you know that the original ending of Cinderella has the little birds that help her with her chores pecking the eyes out of the wicked stepsisters' heads?  His point was that these stories lose a lot of their power as the horrors are swept under the rug.  Scary stories fulfill an important function in helping children deal with the horrors of life.  Pan's Labyrinth is a pretty gruesome fairy tale.  At the same time, it's also a story that demonstrates how fantasy helps children deal with reality.  Ofelia, the young protagonist, is in a horrific situation, but the fantasy world she escapes to isn't lollipops and rainbows.  It's as hard and brutal as real life, but it also has clear rules and goals that she can navigate.

Suggested Double Feature: Tideland (Terry Gilliam, 2006).  OK, almost nobody liked this movie, and I can understand why, but it's really an interesting film that should be watched.  Watching it back-to-back with Pan's might be the easiest way in, as the two films overlap quite a bit (see my review of Tideland at the link above).  

3. Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003/2004)

It's as if, after a lifetime of watching exploitation films, Quentin Tarantino hooked a hose up to his head and let the images that had been building up come pouring out until they filled up four hours of celluloid.  It's easy to fault Kill Bill for being a shallow piece of stitched-together eye candy (almost as easy as mixing metaphors!), but why would you want to when the movie is this entertaining?  I'm not sure what's so different about the way Kill Bill steals dozens of elements from different movies and the way Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark do the same thing.  Lucas got to Frankenstein his own mix of Republic serials, B-westerns and Samurai movies, Quentin did the same with Shaw Bros. kung fu, spaghetti westerns, samurai movies, blaxploitation and whatever else you can find in there.  I'm not the first to make the comparison, but Kill Bill is the Paul's Boutique of cinema. 

But again, making these kind of arguments misses everything that's great about Kill Bill.  It's not some film school exercise in homage.  It's a goddamn fun time at the movies.  I can't for the life of me fathom the mind of a person who DOESN"T like Kill Bill.  How can you say no to the combinations of sounds and images it throws at you: Elle's hair whipping in the wind, a reflection of the Firebird painted on her car hood, while Jon Lord-esque organ music swirls around her; the barely-perceptible look of pride on Pei Mei's face when the Bride forces herself to eat with chopsticks; the visible "whimper" escaping from the lips of young O-Ren Ishii as she cowers under the bed; or my favorite moment, the silence that suddenly fills the House of Blue Leaves when the Bride yells out "O-REN ISHII!  WE HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS," as Morricone's incredibly tense "Death Rides a Horse" theme rises on the soundtrack.

The thing about biting all these elements from other movies is that, when you're done, they all have to look like a unified whole.  And I think Kill Bill does that.  Even down to the music: notice how the melody of "The Twisted Nerve" (the whistling theme from when Elle is going to kill the Bride in the hospital) is echoed in the 1,2,3,4's performance of "Woo-Hoo."  Or how comfortably the Zamfir flute song fits in with the Morricone themes, especially the one that plays when the Bride escapes her coffin.

You understand the world this story takes place in.  There's nothing that needs explanation.  You understand the characters motivations, because you've seen similar characters in dozens of movies.   They are superbeings, just like the Shao Lin monks, wandering Ronin and impossibly accurate gunslingers that populate their respective genres.  Superbeings have their own codes and motives.  Other non-super beings are unimportant to them (which is why we don't see the Bride hunting down Bud's diminutive accomplice--if he was there when she came back for Bud, she'd kill him, but she's not gonna go to the trouble of hunting down a mortal).  But revenge against another super-being who has wronged them is unavoidable and non-negotiable.  Bill knows very well that the Bride is eventually going to kill him.  He's not going to sit back and let it happen, but he's made peace with it, because he understands the inevitability of it.  It's just how it's done. 

I could write about Kill Bill for hours.  I might, at some point in the future, do a more detailed examination of it here, but it seems inappropriate for this list thing I'm doing now.  So this seems like a good place to leave off for now, with the movie that I've probably watched more times than any other over the last decade.  The top two films on my list are just as perfect, but they come from further off in the left field. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Psychedelicatessen Radio, Episode 3.5: Jonathan Rowell and Joseph Larkin

Download it here!

In this episode, we talk to a couple youngins, Jonathan Rowell and Joseph Larkin.  This one is heavy on the funny.  Bobbie, Jonathan and Joseph are all heavily enmeshed in Twitter culture, so that ended up being a major element of the conversation.  I'm not on Twitter, so I was a bit lost in some of this.  I also screwed up the levels, and had to "normalize" them in post, so some of it might sound a bit wonky.  Anyway, enjoy the podcast, we'll be making a new one next week.

Oh yeah, did I mention that we are on iTunes now?  Seriously, search for us!  I think I even have the feed working now.

Monday, August 20, 2012


You have doubtless heard that Russian riot grrrl punk band/performance activists Pussy Riot have been sentenced by Russian courts to 2 years of hard labor for "hooliganism motivated by  religious hatred."  There crime was bumrushing the altar in a Russian Orthodox Church and conducting a 40-second prayer to the Virgin to remove Putin from power.  Some of the language coming out of the case is almost startling in its blend of authoritarianism, patriarchy and religious fundamentalism.  Head Patriarch Kirill (God, does that sound like a villain in some science fiction movie or what?) commented that "We have no future if we allow mocking in front of great shrines, and if some see such mocking as some sort of valour, as an expression of political protest, as an acceptable action or a harmless joke.”  One of the prosecuting lawyers sated that “Lurching behind [Pussy Riot] are the real enemies of our state and of the Orthodox Christianity; those who instigated this multipurpose provocation are hiding behind Tolokonnikova’s group, and [there are also others] hiding behind those who are hiding behind them.”  He went on to assert that the incident could “soon escalate into events comparable to the explosion of the twin towers on September 11th in America… It was proven that the act had been committed not by the American government or by the C.I.A. but by forces above them. For instance, all the employees of the shopping center”—the lawyer referred to the W.T.C. as torgovy tsentr, the Russian for “mall”—had been informed through secret masonic channels that they should not report to work on September 11th.” When the interviewer asked, “Do you mean that the Pussy Riot act and the terrorist attack in the U.S. were organized by the same people?,” the lawyers responded, “In the first instance it was a satanic group, and in the second it was the global government. But at the highest level both are connected—by Satan.”
So Pussy Riot are getting a lot of coverage in the international media, which is a very good thing.  I'm sure that part of the reason for their viral exposure is that they just have a great name that people love to say, and that conjures exactly what the band is about.  They also have a great look, all wearing colorful, hand-knitted ski masks.  And there's just a lot about this particular case that pushes peoples buttons in America, as the quotes in the previous paragraph demonstrate.  But as long as the spotlight is on them, let's spread that spotlight out a bit.

Russia isn't the only place in the world where it's shitty to be a politically outspoken musician (or writer, artist or activist).  In fact, there are plenty of places where it's much worse.  Iran, for instance, where rapper Shahin Najafi has had a fatwa declared on him for writing a "blasphemous" rap (I use the quotes because, if you listen to the story, the lyrics in question are so mild that it seems unbelievable), and singer Mohsen Namjoo can't return to the country for fear of a jail sentence for making modern, rock-influenced versions of Islamic spiritual songs. (Both of the linked stories are from the Global Hit part of PRI's The World, where musicians facing political oppression is a recurring theme).  Or Iraq, where heavy metal fans and musicians meet in an underground network to attack religious fanaticism with music, despite being hunted by both government and terrorists. In Azerbaijan (no, I've never heard of it either), a musician was arrested, beaten, and is currently being held without access to lawyer or loved ones for trash-talking the President's mama.  Throughout the Muslim world, from Morocco to Turkey, musicians are repressed.  But it doesn't stop there. You got to go deep underground to hear rock music in Cuba.  And you sure need to watch your mouth in TibetYou can find a lot more of these stories on the Freemuse website.

Anyway, can't hurt to go to Amnesty's website and take some action for the Pussy Riot girls.  But let's also remember that this is not an isolated incident. And here's Pussy Riot's hot new single!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama, by Elijah Wald

Elijah Wald says his inspiration for writing this book was the idea of a link between blues and rap: a stream of African American folklore that fed into popular music at different junctures along the years.  The main supply here is a tradition known as "the dozens."  But what is the dozens?  At it's most specific, it's a formal game where two opponents face off in front of an informal audience trading rhymed insults, usually about their opponents relatives, and especially their opponent's mama.  First one to lose his or her cool and throw a punch loses.  Beyond that, things get a bit difficult.  Does the term also include formal battles that don't use rhymed couplets (apparently much more common)?  Blues or jazz songs that incorporate the insult rhymes?  Informal trash talking between two friends?  What about the tradition known as toasting, the epic off-color rhyme stories like "The Signifying Monkey?"  For that matter, how common are the formal, rhymed battles?  And if they do happen, did they inspire minstrel comedians' routines, or is it the other way around?  Identifying what is and isn't "the dozens" (let's not even get into trying to figure out the difference between "playing the dozens" and "putting someone in the dozens") is...well, exactly as impossible as making a definitive statement about what is or isn't punk rock, or film noir, or cubism.
We know the practice dates back to the early 20th Century, although most scholars believe it dates back to slave days and was likely brought over from Africa (Wald and the researchers he cites are perplexed about why the common West African practice of greeting a friend by saying "Your mother's cunt" didn't make it to the States).  But of course, everything before the early 20th Century is obscured by the clouds of time.  There is no record of it, as nobody really believed African American folklore to be something worth preserving or studying.  And the early accounts of the practice are further obscured by the perspectives and agendas of those recording them.  Wald takes an  inquisitive, scholarly approach to his material, which may seem a bit dry compared to the more sensationalist writing of certain authors I've recently read, but ends up being more satisfying and, ultimately,  interesting.
The dozens feeds into popular entertainment from an early date.  Jellyroll Morton talks about hearing a song in Chicago sometime around 1908 called "The Dirty Dozens."  Played on piano, it's a long song with improvised insult verses and a refrain of "Your mama don't wear no draws."  In  minstrel shows, dozens insults are incorporated into the routines of black (and probably white blackface) comedians, and possibly musical routines.  This serves as a good demonstration of why it's futile to try to distinguish "authentic" folklore from commercial pop: it's entirely possible that, by the time anyone began making any record of the dozens, the practice had already been influenced by the commercial performance version of this art form.  In 1929, Speckled Red recorded a song called "The Dirty Dozen," a bowdlerized version of a song he used to perform at work camp barrellhouses, probably a descendent of the song Jelly Roll Morton had heard.  The original version he had performed live was, of course, unrecordable at the time, but years later he would play it for a field recording session.  But the "clean" version became a hit, and the dozens meshed with the blues forever, just as they would eventually mesh with hip hop.
I'm not going to say much more about the book, but if you want a new take on blues, rap or black comedy, this is a rich book that takes you down some interesting paths.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Psychedelicatessen Radio, Episode 3.5: Rosie Tran and Mary Basmadjian

Download it here!

We're back at the tiki bar, and joined by two very funny comics, Rosie Tran and Mary Basmadjian.  I know we've talked A LOT about sexism in the comedy world in recent weeks, but...well, there's a lot to say.  So yes,  we cover that territory some more here, but it is not a rehash of what you've heard before.  Before the show, I pledged that we should not mention the Chick-Fil-A "issue," but we ended up talking about that as well, and I think there were some insights that are different from the bickering you've been reading on Facebook over the last couple weeks.  This is a jam-packed episode, and there's a lot of hilarious, angry material.

Also, check out Rosie's recent blog posts (mentioned on the show) on the Tosh thing and the Carolla thing.  They're really good.

Rosie Tran:

Mary Basmadjian:

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz, 1949)

I caught this one off of TCM.  The summary blurb caught my attention: "A small town Florida sheriff frames his political pawn's dancer girlfriend for prostitution."  The blurb doesn't even cover it: the dancer arrives in town as part of a traveling carnival!  My mind was dancing with visions of a sleazy, sweat-drenched low budget noir about crime and corruption in rural Florida.  Well, I was a little off.  The presence of Joan Crawford, at a time when she was still a huge star, should have tipped me off, and the fact that this was directed by Michael Curtiz, just a few years after they had collaborated on Mildred Pierce pretty much cements it.  Flamingo Road is more in line with Mildred Pierce, a hybrid of purist noir and high melodrama, complete with surging, melodramatic score.  The thing I found most interesting was Sidney Greenstreet.  Greenstreet plays a corrupt political boss (think Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazard).  Physically, he does a great job.  Looks just like this character should look, moves just like this character should move, sweats just like this character should sweat.  But he doesn't even make an attempt at the Southern accent.  He delivers all his lines--many of which are clearly written in Southern vernacular--as Sidney Greenstreet.  It's a little weird, but hey, I always like watching Sidney Greenstreet.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

Well, the short version: I liked it.  It's my least favorite of the three, mostly because it feels the least superheroic, but it fits nicely in the trilogy, as sort of a summation (and escalation) of the themes introduced in the first two films.  And, like the first two films, it had a lot that just irritated me. I'll get into some details here, and of course, there will be spoilers.

Supervillain as Terrorist
This is the central idea of the Nolan movies.  9/11 really gave us a context in which supervillains make sense.  In the past, there always seemed to be difficulty in making any logical sense out of the motives of supervillains.  Occasionally they would come up with some needlessly elaborate plot to rob Fort Knox or something, but usually they just seemed to have some kind of grudge against society that they followed through with flamboyant acts of terrorism.  And sometimes it wasn't even that.  I remember one episode of the old 60's Spider-Man cartoon, where there was this giant robot that was basically a huge furnace on wheels, with two tentacles grabbing stuff and putting it in it's "mouth" as it rampaged through New York.  There was no explanation of who made it, or what they possibly hoped to gain by it.  It was just this thing that Spider-Man had to deal with.  Which is kind of cool, but even as a kid I remember thinking "why would someone do that?"

9/11 changed that, because 9/11 was totally a supervillain plot.  A bunch of henchmen committing this violent, showy crime for a criminal mastermind.  And this is the model for the Batman movies.  Bane, The Joker and Ras Al-Ghul are all Osama Bin Laden-type terrorists.  So orient everything around that idea: they are striking terror in the hearts of the good folk of Gotham (which gives you that nice resonance with Batman, who (according to comic lore) chose the bat outfit because it's silhouette produced fear in the criminal element).  Increasingly through the trilogy, the villains are primarily concerned with watching everyone get scared, watching society break down, and knowing that they caused it. 

The Best Catwoman
I'm sure this won't be a popular opinion, but I really thought Anne Hathaway was the best Catwoman ever.  It's just a fantastic physical performance.  She moves like you'd expect Catwoman to move.  And goddamn, can she rock a pair of heels (my choice of image above betrays my sympathies!).  My favorite image in the whole movie was of Selena disarming a cop with her heel.  I noticed that they never showed a wide shot of what was happening in this scene, probably because it was completely physically illogical, but it made perfect sense in comic book logic.  Speaking of which...

This Shit Don't Make No Sense
Logic has always been the hurdle that these films stumbled on, and this one is maybe the worst offender.  Almost everything having to do with the bomb was nonsense.  And yes, I'm going to get into spoilers here.  First of all, it's a reactor, but we are told that it's core will eventually become unstable and it will blow up.  OK, I'll buy that.  But that doesn't seem like the kind of thing that you could time down to the second, much less have an actual timer!  So the bomb is about to go off.  And I mean, this is a fucking nuke.  It's a serious situation.  The clock is ticking.  But before he can get rid of it, Batman has to kiss Catwoman, then he has to make this big inspiring speech (which nobody can understand in his fucking Batvoice anyway).  I couldn't hold myself back from yelling at the screen: "Worry about the fucking bomb!"

So then, OK, that busload of kids is on the Gotham bridge, and Batman takes the bomb 20 miles out and it blows up over the ocean, and everyone's happy.  Hello, that's going to produce a fucking tsunami that's going to wipe those kids out!

Oh, and the way the doctor fixes Bruce Wayne's back. What kind of magical doctor bullshit is that?

The funny thing is, there are probably more things in The Avengers that don't make sense.  Hell, NOTHING in The Avengers makes any goddamn sense.  But you don't notice it, because The Avengers is right up front about the fact that it exists in a comic book world.  Nolan's attempts to place Batman in the real world require us to notice these lapses in logic.

This is the Most Right Wing Comic Book Movie Ever Made
Even more so than The Dark Knight, or Iron Man 2, or even 300!  The Occupy Movement (and I realize that they began making this movie before such a thing existed, or at least before it had a name) is here portrayed as a mob, a new incarnation of the Reign of Terror, pulling rich people out of their houses to be executed.  And of course, they're all being manipulated by an outside agitator whose real goal is to destroy the American way of life.  At one point, someone actually uses the world "appeasement."  During the reign of Bane, Gotham suddenly begins to resemble the Soviet Union, with tanks patrolling snow-covered streets.  And the only line of defense is the benevolent millionaire and the loyal cops.  As I've said before, I'm OK with this.  Batman is an inherently right wing character, so if you're going to explore "deep" political themes through the character, they're going to be viewed through a right wing lens whether you intend them to be or not.

I Hate the Vehicles
This is just a personal pet peeve, but I never liked the vehicles and hardware in these films.  Another by-product of the "realistic" approach, they make more sense for the urban combat of these films, but they just don't have the slick, black Bat-aesthetic that makes Batman cool.  (I always thought the bulky body armor didn't really fit the character either, and prevented him from really moving like Batman.)

Specific Things I Hated
Everything that happens after the funeral.  The whole backstory of Bane's origin and the prison and the twists involved in piecing that together.  I know Nolan likes the puzzles, but none of this made Bane more interesting.  It was just a waste of time. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sherman Hemsley, 1938-2012

Sherman Hemsley, best known as TV's George Jefferson, has died.  Here's a great obituary detailing his love of far-out prog rock and LSD.

I didn't write anything about Andy Griffith when he died, because The Andy Griffith Show always bored the piss out of me.  But I loved The Jeffersons when I was growing up.  (I was really addicted to sitcoms in the 70's and 80's, and I've long considered writing a long, rambling post about which ones I loved and which ones I hated, but for now you are being spared.)  As I grew up, and my taste in comedy became more sophisticated, a lot of those shows I loved when I was 10 or 12 ended up seeming pretty corny by the time I was 18, and The Jeffersons certainly falls in that category.  I mean, the comedy on this show is incredibly lame.  But I still think it's an interesting show, because George Jefferson is such an interesting character.  He's short-tempered, ambitious, vain, thin-skinned, big-mouthed and racist.  And he's a successful-yet-struggling entrepreneur.

Think about this: you often hear people talk about the paucity of realistic role models for black kids.  That the only successful black people you ever see on TV are athletes and entertainers, whose success is not really a realistic model for the average kid.  And you could say the same about the sitcom landscape.  On the one hand, you have ghetto comedies like Good Times and Sanford and Son portraying inner city poverty, and then later you have The Cosby Show, about a family of successful professionals living in an almost-suburban neighborhood.  I like that George Jefferson doesn't fit into either of those categories.  He's a model of what digging your way out of poverty in a capitalist system looks like.

George isn't rich, but he owns his own business.  He worked hard for it, opening a chain of laundromats in the city (if I remember correctly, he owns at least two locations, might have been three).  He made enough money to move out of the projects and into a...well, you all know the song.  He's got a good life, but it's not easy.  And that's what I think makes it such an interesting show.  You can see George struggling, hustling all the time.  Part of this is because he's an ambitious guy, but mostly it's because he really can't afford to be complacent.  He's got a business to run.  There's a recurring plot element about a rich banker who works in the building.  George wants to meet and network with him, convinced that this will give him access to investments that can boost his business.  This is what success in the world of business looks like.  It ain't boat drinks.  And I started out talking about black kids, but you know, for everyone who grew up watching this show, it's a good look at what being an entrepreneur means.