Sunday, November 17, 2019

Undercover Brother 2 Review: Unfunky and Unfunny AF

Before 90% of internet traffic went to only four sites, before the dark times, before the empires of Facebook and Google, the early internet was a funky place, full of ideas and creativity. Among the many creative videos the early internet spawned was the pre-YouTube series Undercover Brother, written by John Ridley - the same John Ridley who wrote "12 Years a Slave", The Wanda Sykes Show, and Barbershop.

Ridley's Urban Entertainment sold the rights for the Undercover Brother series to Universal in 2000. According to reports, it was the first Internet-based project to get picked up by a major film studio.

In 2002, comedian Eddie Griffin starred in Hollywood's version of the popular web series. Directed by Spike Lee's cousin, Malcolm Lee, Griffin's movie captured the spirit of comedic rebellion. It was witty, quotable, and light, but still carried a strong socio-political theme. It was a Parliament-Funkadelic album on the big screen. It had a fight-the-power message you could laugh with. It had songs by Snoop Dogg and Bootsy Collins and a cameo by James Brown. It could not be any funkier.

Undercover Brother was a classic.

Fast-forward to 2019. 16 years after Undercover Brother dueled Mr. Feather and The Man, Hollywood green-lighted Undercover Brother 2. Written by comedian Ian Edwards and Stephen Mazur and directed by Leslie Small, the movie went straight to DVD/Netflix without passing go and without collecting $41 million in the theater.

That should be a warning.

The best way for me to sum up Undercover Brother 2 is to say that it's existence is a plan by The Man to diminish the legacy of the first movie.

It is bad. It is not as bad as Joe Dirt 2How High 2, or the Shaq-Fu video game, but it is close. After you read this review, my suggestion is to forget Undercover Brother 2 existed.

But because I bought Undercover Brother 2 on DVD, I am going to cover what I liked, what I didn't like, and where those responsible for this travesty dropped the ball.

(Spoiler Alerts Ahead, if you care not to have this rotten movie spoiled.)

What I liked:

New supporting agents: Sarcastic Brother and Harvard Brother were decent replacements for Conspiracy Brother and Smart Brother - on paper. In the movie, however, nothing can equal Dave Chappelle's litanies against The Man. Conspiracy Brother fueled the concept of The Man as intangible bugaboo that controls everything. The jokes for Sarcastic Brother were not written half as well. If written better, these new agents had a chance to equal the original.

(I wonder if Undercover Brother 2 could have done another Conspiracy Brother being that conspiracy theories are now all 4Chan/QAnon/Illuminati conservatives who believe the all-powerful Deep State is trying to drive America into a One World Government.)

What I didn't like: 

Casting: Michael Jai White is awesome in action movies. He is also well-known as Black Dynamite, another socio-political classic about fighting The Man. Why was he cast as Undercover Brother? This is like casting Robert Downey Jr as Superman. Robert Downey Jr will always be Iron Man and Michael Jai White will always be Black Dynamite.

While Michael Jai White did have a few martial arts scenes, which is a great use of his abilities, there was not enough to make casting him worth the confusion. There are probably many African-American comics who could have fit the role better.

Personification of The Man: In the original Undercover Brother, the director made sure never to show who The Man was. Viewers saw his hands, but there was always a shade on his face. That effect enforced the idea that The Man was an omnipotent, all-powerful entity. It was brilliant.

Undercover Brother 2 not only gave The Man a face, they misused the character completely. They made The Man a person, not a thing to fight. By making The Man a person, they evened the roles of antagonist and protagonist. There was a reason Mr. Feather took the fall in the first Undercover Brother movie. Undercover Brother could fight Mr. Feather but he could never topple The Man. That was the point of The Man. The forces of good are always defending against The Man, yet they can never defeat him. And what would Undercover Brother do if he topple The Man?

My last complaint with Undercover Brother 2's misuse of The Man is that The Man is pigeonholed as an old racist American white man. As a concept, The Man is far more than that. My recent book, The Man Makes You Work: How the Rich and Powerful Hold Down Everyone, explores the fact that The Man is an omnipotent eternal global negative force that prevents people from reaching their goals. In my book, The Man keeps his mystery and power.

Concluding with Undercover Brother's new night club: Horrible. After foiling The Man, Undercover Brother could have been like Black Panther and opened up a cultural learning center. Instead, Undercover Brother and his brother open a place that does not contribute to their neighborhood at all. Where is the positivity and social growth there?

Undercover Brother's brother's relationship with the Chief: While it was great that the BROTHERHOOD had a female chief, the affair between the Chief and Undercover Brother's brother was useless. It was awkward and made no sense. There was no reason for it. If anything, it diminished the Chief's role as leader for her to engage in a relationship with one of her agents.

Manson: As a character, The Man's son was completely unbelievable. He had no goals. There was also no point in his random gun shooting or drug addiction.

Missed Opportunities:

Russian Woke AF: When the original Woke drug is destroyed, Manson (Son of The Man) creates a plan to import more social dividing drugs from the Russians. Given the presence of Russian disinformation in our current politics and Russian goals of dividing people in nations all over the world, this was an awesome idea. It could have made a Vladimir Putin-type character an agent of The Man and made the movie international, moving it beyond holding down American minority groups. Instead, the idea was tossed away in 5 minutes and nothing came of it. Frustrating.

Not using breweries: The antagonist in Undercover Brother 2 uses coffee shops to distribute his Woke drug to cities. This echoed the fried chicken gimmick in the original Undercover Brother. But to make plot more realistic in gentrified areas, the antagonist could have also distributed the Woke drug through breweries, possibly specifically using IPAs as the distribution device. While that would have been similar to Black Dynamite's use of malt liquor to poison the populace, it would have expanded The Man's reach of his drug to urban populations.

College infiltration: Colleges are supposedly where people are the most socially conscious. Not playing up the idea that political correctness of college campuses has run amok missed a huge opportunity. Perhaps Undercover Brother could have used a historically black college marching band (FAMU, Bethune-Cookman, Howard, etc) to funk up a campus of arguing students. This idea could have also led to a great George Clinton or Bootsy Collins cameo.

"Shaquille O'Neal" punches: One of the funniest parts of the original Undercover Brother was how Eddie Griffith shouted names when he connected a punch or kick. Nowhere in Undercover Brother 2 was that done. That should have been an easy carry over joke.

Overall, Undercover Brother 2 was very underwhelming. It was the result of many bad decisions. And I made a bad decision in buying it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deadspin is Dead Long Live Bloggers

For all intents and purposes, died earlier this month. After corporate orders restricting content to only sports, the site's writers and editors walked out in protest.

Since 2005, was a bastion for against the grain views. When the mainstream media, especially sports media, was grasping with how to handle their growing online audience, Deadspin was at the forefront of the sports blog "revolution". Bloggers were influencing how the online audience thought, and their views were vastly different from the TV-viewing audience.

Many sports blogs wrote from a fan-based perspective not seen in the "ivory tower" of established journalism. To the internet-savvy fan, newspapers were a relic of a slower past. This infuriated more traditional media representatives such as Bob Costas and Buzz Bissinger.

Check out this video of Bob Costas's interview with Deadspin founder Will Leitch in 2008. Costas begins by calling the blogosphere the "wild west of the internet" where "anyone can post anything".

(The best part is Costas decrying the "potshots and mean spirited abuse" abundant online. As more people got online and as the internet became more of our daily lives and media went from easy to "social", the mean spiritedness only got worse. If only we had to worry about a few sarcastic comment sections. But that's a social commentary for another day. Maybe another blog post.)

Simply put, the breaking of the publishing barriers and the ease of blogging allowed readers to read, learn, or laugh about sports in ways that circumvented traditional media. Blogs and stat sites were the underground. Blogging was a cool kids club similar to hackers or other online groups that the mainstream didn't understand.

During the time of Deadspin's rise, I wrote frequently on this site and my work and my words were quoted on Deadspin a few times.

In September 2008, for example, then-editor Rick Chandler and I had a small back-and-forth when Chandler insulted the Tampa Bay Rays. First, Chandler posted a letter I wrote to the editor on his post entitled "Mock The Mohawk At Your Own Peril":
On Tuesday, I received this email: Rick I always thought Deadspin was the place for the underdog. I don't know your sports affiliations, but you definitely came off as siding with the Red Sox in your post on last night's Rays vs. Red Sox game, particularly your shot at the Rays attendance (the majority were of course pro-Red Sox). I'll be at tonight's game and I'll definitely be able to determine if the majority of fans are pro-Rays, as they normally are, or pro-Boston. If you are there too, please let me know. I'll say hi. You know, I never thought Deadspin would be pro-Evil Empire; I thought that was ESPN's job. Things definitely have changed since Will Leitch left. Jordi Scrubbings
That night, I wrote a post documenting different types of Rays fans, which Chandler then quoted the next day on Deadspin.
Secondly, there was a sellout crowd of 36,048. And as my pal Jordi Scrubbings points out, most, evidently, were Rays fans. Scrubbings has taken me to task for claiming that Rays fans are uninspired and rarely present, so he took the time to document his claims to the contrary. Included in his thesis is this example of the Rays Mohawk:
You had to roll with the punches. If you had a sense of humor, the blogosphere was fun.

I also wrote a post for Deadspin in 2009. I was picked to preview Florida State basketball in the NCAA Tournament. I had to send them a sample of my writing and in return, they provided me with a bit of exposure.

Besides being quoted and writing for Deadspin, writing about Deadspin was also a thing. Yes, it was naval gazing, but many sports bloggers knew they were part of something new. Again, it was similar to the early hackers who knew the internet was going to be big and they were on the cusp of a movement. Sports bloggers knew there were going to be changes to how people ingested their sports. We knew something was happening at the crossroads of technology and media.

(Unfortunately, like the early hackers, early bloggers couldn't control what happened to online sports media, they could only write about it. But that too is a possible post for another day.)

My favorite naval gazing post was written when original editor Will Leitch left Deadspin in 2008. This post entitled "Hey, Wait, I'm Blogging Sports Complaints" used Leitch's love for Nirvana as a basis for discussing the blogging "revolution".

Ironically, at the end of the article, I attempted to predict the future of Deadspin.
"Will the mantra Leitch promoted be marginalized by the very consumerist machine that sparked its conception?"
Although editors who followed Leitch continued his philosophy of speaking truth to power, the inside powers that be - venture capitalists who eventually purchased Deadspin as part of an online journalism conglomerate - killed the site.

Admittedly, I haven't been a regular reader of Deadspin for several years. I have no idea how much of their posts were sports versus partly sports versus completely non-sports. But that is not the point. The point is that a website that was once the pinnacle of the underground was eventually forced to lose its voice.

While I am disappointed Deadspin is dead, I do not share in the thought that all is lost. Writers will still write. Writers who were previously employed by Deadspin will surface again. They will continue to put words on screens and click publish buttons. Before the days of Deadspin and other corporate forums, many writers were underground. If need be, the former voices of Deadspin will publish underground again - be it on sites such as wordpress or blogspot, or on their own websites.

And when the former voices of Deadspin do write again, they have the power of social media (particularly twitter) to market their works. That built-in audience is an advantage that the early blogosphere did not have.

Unfortunately, independent blogging rarely pays. This is why so many writers flocked to corporate owned platforms over the past 10 years. Perhaps many of the former Deadspin writers will find paid gigs - if so, more power to them. I fear some will not.

But if I could make one media suggestion before I conclude this ode, it is that the internet needs better aggregation sites. We need sites that list the best writing from independent writers and bloggers and lets readers discover new voices. In the early blogging days, sites such as Deadspin, The Big Lead, and others always had a "link dump" of the best articles they found that week. For a small, independent blogger having an article listed on a major site meant hundreds, if not thousands of new views to your work.

Unfortunately, aggregation posts don't get many ad clicks and page views. Few people share aggregation posts - they more likely share the articles the aggregation posts link to. Aggregation posts have to either be vanity pages or they have to be on sites such as Reddit.

In conclusion, this has become quite the long ode. But this is my site and no venture capitalist is going to tell me to wrap it up.

Long live Deadspin - a site that helped me not only gain exposure and confidence in my writing but also taught me about blogging to power - something I have done often on my Tampa Bay Baseball Market website. There, I don't have access, favor, or discretion and sure enough, several of Tampa's mainstream sports writers don't like my voice or opinions. Oh well.

Hard to believe I have been writing online for over 13 years. The writing world is a lot different these days. But even though time passes, and we know lives and businesses come and go, it is still sad to see the home of a revolution strangled by the hands of corporate greed.

RIP Deadspin.