Cinerama: Life

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama


By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

Byron woke up and found himself lying on the rocky cliffs of an arid mountain. Wandering where he was, with a sudden jerk he rose to his feet, shouting with all his might: “Is this Elijah’s Fifth Mountain or Hans’s Magic Mountain?”

None answered and all he heard was a fading echo; so with his mind set on finding an answer, he marched right into the engulfing mist that reeked of death.

After a short trip through a narrow precipice and climbing a flight of steps carved in stone over a bottomless gorge, he finally reached the zenith where a coarse green marble was embossed in earth.

On that rock a fair skinned youth with golden locks slightly curtaining his handsome features was fastened with straps and fetters of gold tarnished with what appeared to be blood. Bearing a weary visage, Byron recognized the distressed youth; it was Prometheus, and unlike what Shelley told him, he was still bound suffering the same torment time after time, until eternity.

Suddenly, a shrill coming from afar resonated and the sky turned gray, for it was time; the eagle has arrived and all that Byron could do was watch in tears as it punched through Prometheus’ flesh.

At that moment, I woke up realizing I was running late for work. Governed by a piece of plastic, I—like a lot of people in the world—have to punch in and out of work on every weekday.

This bizarre dream, and the plastic punch-card, reminded me of the sentence “25 for life” that was sung in the opening shot of the 1999 film “Life”. Directed by Ted Demme, the movie was about two Afro-American odd couple, who are incarcerated for life after being convicted for a murder they did not commit.

With Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence double-teaming opposite funny actors—like Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson (I), Barry Shabaka Henley, Brent Jennings, Nick Cassavetes and Obba Babatundé as Willie Long—an unavoidable result was bound to happen: a hilarious film with a tragic twist.

“Life” is a mixture of sharp witted comedy, provided by Murphy’s razor-point tongue and Lawrence’s vibrant performance, with a strong sense of tragedy.

What starts off as a recounting of a tale from the past by a very old Willie Long (Babatundé), during the burial of two bodies, supposedly of Rayford Gibson (Murphy) and Claude Banks (Lawrence), would take us back to relive events from 1932.

At this very instant, the viewer is led to believe that this is how the film will end; with both protagonist six feet under, dead to the bone at the age of 90. So some might wonder, why bother watching a film with such a gloomy end?

Well, the moment you meet with smug hustler Rayford Gibson as he knocks on the door of the liquor joint, and you see how he ends up with Claude Banks, who has all life waiting for him with a job as a bank teller, you will be hooked to the movie.

Owing money to some gangster, they either bootleg 36 cases of Mississippi’s finest, or bite the dust—if you ask me, they should have chosen to bite the dust, saving themselves forty years of trouble.

After ending up in a hard labor camp run by Sergeant Dillard (Cassavetes), who with the help of trigger happy Hoppin’ Bob (Jennings) adds a new meaning for the term ‘life imprisonment’, Ray and Claude’s life couldn’t get any worse.

One of the heart touching scenes in the film is when Ray tells the inmates about his “Boom Boom Room,” an extraordinary night club that he wants to establish one of those days.

Except for Claude, who keeps on mocking Ray for this impossible dream, the inmates become really excited from the way Ray speaks of the club—and, suddenly, they are all there, enjoying their time and making fun of Claude the waiter, in a day dream.

Along with the Ray and Claude, the place is filled with funny characters, like the pensive Willie Long, the narrator of the story; or Cookie (Anthony Anderson (I)), who thanked Ray for fighting over his corn bread; and not to forget Jangle Leg (Mac), who in a hilarious way made a pass on Claude. In this film a person is offered the bitter sweet taste of life through Ray and Claude’s own hard experience starting from their numerous escape attempts; the gradual death of everyone they knew in prison; and most of all, them being stuck together until the moment they stood face to face with the man that was responsible for their incarceration in the first place.

This touching story of a friendship gained through hardship shows us how life can easily wither and waste in a split second of a wrong choice with consequences that will torment you until the end of your life, like the picking beak of an eagle.

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