Our America (2002)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating ?
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 91:34
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ernest R. Dickerson
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Josh Charles
Brandon Hammond
Serena Lee
Roderick Pannell
Irma P. Hall
Peter Paige
Vanessa Williams
Mykelti Williamson
Case ?
RPI Rental Music Patrice Rushen


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

      How would it feel to live in a war zone? To be trapped in a world of poverty and oblivion, where your own life is regarded as meaningless and cheap and your voice is unheard. For 13 year old LeAlan Jones and 14 year old Lloyd Newman their life within the ghettos of the south side of Chicago was exactly that. Despite their tender ages, these two street savvy kids were hardened foot soldiers in the war that was openly played out around them. Alcoholism, desperate poverty, drug addiction and violence were just a way of life for these boys in 1993 when New York radio producer David Isay discovered them in a talent scouting and assisted them in producing a half hour radio program, Ghetto Life 101. For a week the boys toted microphones about with them as they went about their lives, speaking with friends and family and commentating with extraordinary wit on the dramas that they witnessed on the streets of the Ida B Wells projects.

      When the program was aired on National Public Radio it attracted widespread acclaim, winning almost every broadcasting award it was eligible for, and even collecting the Prix Italia - radio's equivalent to an Oscar. But it was not without its detractors, notably individuals within the projects who doubted that the boys could have presented such a piece without extensive intervention by Isay, and accusing the producer and the boys of delivering a stereotypically bleak picture of poor black America. Perhaps for that reason, or simply through lack of opportunity, the boys hung up their microphones, and that may have been that, had not a tragic event occurred a year later when, in October of 1994, a little 5 year old boy, Eric Morse, was thrown from a window on the 14th floor of a Wells tenement by 2 other children, aged 10 and 11. A feeding frenzy erupted in the national media - everyone wanted to report or comment on the sensational story. But, LeAlan and Lloyd observed, no one wanted to ask the real questions - what kind of environment creates such a monstrous act? Who were the players involved? What were the repercussions within the community when such a sickening event occurs?

      And so, once more with the assistance of Isay, they produced another half hour show, Remorse, which gave voice to the families most closely affected, and featured the only interview ever given by Morse's mother. This program won even further praise for the articulate and sensitive pair of commentators, garnering the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Grand Prize and a Peabody Award. In 1998, Jones and Newman went on to write a book that collated both radio programs and continued with observations by these two maturing insiders. That successful book was called Our America and hence we come to the title of the film.

      The film is directed by Spike Lee's favoured cinematographer, Ernest R. Dickerson, and the Lee influence is in evidence with some of the devices employed in the photography. The story covers the boys' first foray into broadcasting, their lives in its wake, and their making of Remorse.

      Whilst it may be historically faithful to the events, the plot line is somewhat confused, and the cinematic contrivances are a little self-conscious, as are most of the performances. Without a strong conclusive thread pulling the story along, the result is somewhat aimless and adrift, failing to fully enthral or engage the audience.

      The two actual radio programs, Ghetto Life 101 and Remorse are available to listen to at http://www.soundportraits.org/on-air and they are truly worth a listen.

      The last word should go to LeAlan Jones himself when, as a thirteen year old boy he said:

"Me and my friend Lloyd Newman just did a description of our life for a week, and we want to give you kids in America a message: Don't look at ghetto kids as different. You might not want to invite us to your parties, you might think we'll rob you blind when you got your back turned. But don't look at us like that. Don't look at us like we're an alien or an android or an animal or something. We have a hard life, but we're sensitive. Ghetto kids are not a different breed - we're human.

Some people might say, 'That boy don't know what he's talking about!' But I know what I'm talking about. I'm dealing from the heart because I've been dealing with this for thirteen years. These are my final words, but you'll be hearing from me again, 'cause I'm an up-and-rising activist. Peace out. "

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, Full Screen.

     The quality is actually very good with a pin sharp presentation and very sharp and crisp rendering.

     The colours are quite acceptable and exhibit an extensive palette and range.

     Aside from the most minor of aliasing, the presentation is relatively artefact free.

     This is a single sided, single layered disc with no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

      The soundtrack is offered in English Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0.

      The dialogue is a little difficult to discern at times, and strangely, there are no available English subtitles, though if you're Danish, Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish you've got it made, as there are clean, clear subtitles available in those languages. There are no significant audio sync problems.

     The music is somewhat sparse, but appropriate.

      There is no real subwoofer activity, but the two audio channels do provide some amount of directivity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

     The menu is static and silent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      In terms of features, the R1 version is identical to the R4, so I'm going for the PAL R4.

Summary

     Whilst this film tries very hard to be faithful and worthy to its true origins, it tends to get in its own way somewhat. Its intentions are noble, but its execution is a little clumsy.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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