Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Cinnamon Chronicles, Episode 1, or, So We Got a New Dog...

Thursday was a special day for Shaundra and I... at least it started out that way.

For the longest, Shaundra's wanted to get a dog. She's never had one, and was very much looking forward to the experience. I've had a dog before, but Felicia was an "outside dog." Seeing as how we live in an apartment, of course this new addition was going to be inside with us - which was going to require a huge adjustment on my part.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with inside dogs, it's just that I wasn't used to it. I had absolutely no knowledge of how to housebreak a dog and, because of how I was raised, had some issues with sanitation (long story). But that's what my baby wanted and I wanted her to be happy. If it was up to her, we would've had a dog a long time ago. But the reason we hadn't was because she respected how I felt. How could I not love her for that?

It still took some gentle working over, but in the end, Shaundra prevailed, and I said we could get a dog (I had previously said we could get a dog when we got a house, but tomorrow's promised to no one and sometimes, you have to step out on faith). To her extreme credit, Shaundra did her research, and one day, while I was working on Jillted, she came to the office door and said she had something she had to show me. It was a picture of this cute Dachshund puppy named Cinnamon. She was in love, and asked me what I thought. I said let's go for it and a short time later, Cinnamon was officially ours.

Which brings me back to Thursday. After driving nearly 3 hours round trip to pick Cinnamon up from a breeder in Brenham, TX, we returned home, ready to start our new life with our Dachshund. But things quickly turned sour. Shaundra went upstairs to the bathroom and to get the kick-ass pooper scooper we'd bought the day before at the pet store while I set Cinnamon on a patch of grass intended to be her rest area. We had already put her collar on and attached the leash, but the collar was too big (we figured we'd go back to the store later to get the proper size). She was so cute. She took a few tentative steps, squatted, and did 2, just as I wanted her to. It looked like she might accidentally step in her own handiwork, so I reached for her hind quarters to gently usher her to safety...

And that's when the little bitch got her own ideas. This pint-sized runt, who'd acted so well on the ride back, went all Cujo on me, snarling and pulling away, slipping her head out of her oversized collar and taking smooth the fuck off. Now, I've been going to the gym regularly since February, and I've added a good deal of muscle to my already muscular frame, but at 5'9" and 244 lbs., I've also got a ton of fat that I have to burn. Long story short, I'm not the guy who needs to be running after dogs.

Yet here I was, chasing this little thing all over the parking lot (peeing the whole way) and into the grass and along a fence at the edge of the apartment complex. I'd get close enough to catch Cinnamon, but because I didn't want to accidentally step on her tiny ass, I had to stagger my steps which, combined with her freaky cutting ability, led to her avoiding my grasp. At one point she hid behind a car and I knelt down to spot her. But of course, since I'm in the gym Monday-Friday and that morning happened to be my leg workout, I caught a cramp in my left hamstring.

Cinnamon must've somehow known this, 'cause that's when her diminutive backside went scooting along the fence line away from me. I tried to follow, but with my blown hammy, it wasn't working. I'd close in on her, only for the damned thing to cut and go the other direction. This happened a few times before the cramp in my leg now combined with my tightening bronchial tubes (it was cold and I used to suffer from exercised-induced asthma - guess it was trying to make a reappearance) to hinder me even more. I was calling for Shaundra to hurry the fuck up - though it wasn't loud enough for anyone to hear and more motivated out of anger at my own sorry cardiovascular shape and the horror was watching $400 literally running away from me.

Cinnamon had me beat and was making a break for the end of the fence, which connected to another fence. One with metal bars instead of wooden planks. If she hopped though the bars she would be free and clear onto Richmond Avenue - and right into the path of traffic. To my relief, Shaundra emerged from the staircase, and after growling at her (which I had to apologize for later. She understood) she took up the chase.

Now Shaundra isn't built for running, either. But somehow she chased Cinnamon down and managed to cut her off from escaping the property. Cinnamon made a cut, and in her desperation to end the chase, Shaundra did something I've never seen her do - throwing herself to the ground to grab Cinnamon. But as luck and little legs would have it, Cinnamon evaded Shaundra and made a beeline for some bushes. I had finally hobbled my ass down to where they were at this point, and was able to seal off Cinnamon's escape. Fast, but not terribly smart, she ran right up to my leg, and I reached down to scoop her up...

And the bitch snapped at me! I get that this whole episode was motivated by fear and stress, but that's just something you don't do. I avoided her teeth and snatched her up by the hips, but she tried again so I reacted with the natural response - I dropped her. Luckily, she landed on top of some bushes and I was able to grab her (again being snapped at) and yank her to my face, where I laid into her something terrible. I know she can't understand my words, but she knew I wasn't happy. And that's when I looked down and realized I had bits of dog shit on my wrist, jacket sleeve and shirt. Cinnamon had bits of it on her, too. Shaundra, panting (she has asthma, too, and I was hoping she wasn't about to have an attack. But she was okay), rejoined us and after catching our breaths, the three of us headed upstairs together for the first time.

Not the best first impression.

On top of that, the first night we had her, Cinnamon didn't eat or drink, and suffered from diarrhea with bits of blood in the stool. A quick trip to the vet revealed that Cinnamon's large intestine was bloated with bacteria that thrives and multiplies when the host is under stress. We were given the proper medications to get things under control.

Today, things are better. Cinnamon actually likes us, and she's showing curiosity about her new digs, but she's still terrified of EVERYTHING. She's taking to potty training like a champ, and even though... shit... I gotta go...

She just pissed on the carpet.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on the Morning After...

I'm still in total amazement.

The United States of America has just elected Barack Obama as its first Black President. And Michelle Obama is now our new first lady.

This is such an extraordinary moment and to be honest, I don't know how I made it through the night and to this point without bursting into tears, 'because this is really something I thought I'd never see – and I'm only 31. My mind is simply blown.

The world feels different today. I can't really put my finger on it, but this day just doesn't seem like the last. In the past, I've tried to describe this feeling as saying "my atmosphere is off," the same feeling I get when a major holiday falls in the middle of the week and you find yourself forgetting that it is indeed Wednesday and not Saturday, 'cause everyone being off and the pomp and circumstance makes it feel like a weekend. I have that feeling now – like today is something other than what it is. I don't know; maybe it's… Maybe it's…

Maybe it's CHANGE.

I have a renewed hope for America and her people. Even the ones who voted for McCain and those racist bigots who dislike Obama because of the color of his skin (never mind that Obama is, technically, half white). I just have a feeling that the good guys won, and that all can be right. And to see the reaction of the world, people from different countries and representing all types of backgrounds, dancing, cheering, singing, gives me pause because for the first time in a long time, it seems the world loves America again…

And you know what? It feels great to be loved.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

REPOST: Reflections on White Anti-Intellectualism

I received this commentary from a high school classmate (Thanks, M!). I didn't write it, but I'm damn sure somebody did. And before anybody gets started, the author is white. Maybe that will get some folks to pay attention who wouldn't otherwise. - KS

Reflections on White Anti-Intellectualism
(Or, What'cha Want With all That Book Learnin'?)

By Tim Wise
September 14, 2008

To hear an awful lot of white folks tell it, the problem with black people is that they just don't want to work hard enough in school. They act up and refuse to study or get good grades, because they don't want to be put down for "acting white." In other words, the African American community is beset by a culture of anti-intellectualism, contrasted, one supposes with our own white culture of studiousness and academic achievement.

When making this argument, and knowing that it might sound a bit disparaging, even racist, we white folks love to refer to the high-profile black folks who agree with us. So we point to Bill Cosby, for instance, who said this same thing a few years ago and hasn't stopped saying it yet. The fact that a dozen or so studies have found that there actually is no unique peer pressure or ostracism that black kids experience for doing well in school (over and above that which all kids who are viewed as brainy often face) fails to move them. The fact that longitudinal data actually shows that black students are the most likely to believe in the importance of getting a good education, the least likely to cheat and the least likely to skip class appears to matter not.

But what I have always found interesting about the anti-intellectualism charge coming from whites and pointed at persons in the black community, is how readily it emanates from a group of people (white adults) who seem to actually revel in anti-intellectualism, as evidenced by our voting behavior and political sensibilities, made especially clear during the current political campaign.

What else but a deep contempt for education (or book learnin' as we sometimes jokingly refer to it in the South) could explain why Barack Obama's Harvard Law School education can be mocked as elitist and out of touch, while John McCain's bottom-feeder academic record and Sarah Palin's four colleges in six years and degree from the University of Idaho, makes them ready to lead, and more like "normal people?" (And please, don't tell me how it isn't his education that poses the problem, but rather his comments about rural folks clinging to God and guns when times are tight, since a week after he made that comment, Dick Cheney implied that West Virginians were all a bunch of inbreds, and rural whites didn't seem to care, since at least he isn't an uppity black guy).

What else but a deep contempt for education could render Obama's time as a law professor, teaching constitutional law at one of the nation's finest law schools, all but irrelevant in the eyes of millions? To hear a lot of people tell it, his time in the classroom doesn't count, and doesn't indicate anything about his fitness to be president (even though, ya know, being an expert on the Constitution is intuitively a good thing for the president to be, or one would think), but having been a prisoner of war, or a hunter and hockey mom, and "just like the neighbor next door," makes you fit for the nation's highest offices.

What else but a deep contempt for education could explain the free pass given to George W. Bush for bragging at a Yale commencement a few years ago that he had been a C student, but that was OK, because even with a mediocre academic record you could go on to be president? If a black person told students that, they'd be viewed as downgrading achievement, but not Bush.

Is it the accent? Is that all it takes to make people think you're one of them? A bubba drawl and the spinning of downhome homilies? Or the fact that you like to shoot guns? If this is the love for learning, and the intelligence that white folks seem to think blacks inadequately value, can I suggest that perhaps such intelligence isn't all it's cracked up to be?

What else but a deep-seated anti-intellectual streak could explain why so many white voters in 2000 and 2004 regularly mentioned how they preferred Bush because he was the "kind of guy you feel you could have a beer with" (as if that had anything to do with being the leader of the so-called free world), and how they disdained the intellectual certitude of Gore and Kerry, whose command of policy details made them feel like they were being talked down to?

What else but a commitment to the long-term abdication of critical thinking could explain why millions of whites take so quickly to Rush Limbaugh: a guy whose motto for years was that he would "tell you what to think" and whose fans call themselves "ditto" heads (as in, "same as above," which is nearly the perfect metaphor for people who follow someone else like sheep).

In fact, the white love of anti-intellectualism in politics goes back quite a ways further than that. So when Ronald Reagan decided to skip out on a policy briefing during an important overseas trip, all so he could watch The Sound of Music on television, or when he regularly failed to know the names of foreign leaders, most white folks still loved him and considered him a great leader.

Perhaps it was because he had a ranch, liked to wear cowboy hats, and had that folksy aw-shucks grin?

As a white person, and as one with plenty of anti-racist and critical-thinking white friends, I realize that not all whites fall into this anti-intellectual trap. Perhaps most don't. But it appears that enough do to make a difference in elections. And surely, the embrace of anti-intellectualism is at least as severe in the white community as it is in the black community, where we constantly hear talk of it, coming from the very white folks who then turn around and tell us that the Earth was created only 5000 years ago, and that despite having no scientific training, they are sure that global warming is a myth, but that Obama really is a Muslim, or maybe the anti-Christ (as once-upon-a-time celebrity, Victoria Jackson claims on her website).

In short, when it comes to "acting white," if the term means paying no attention to policy details, but rather voting for the person who you'd most like to hang out with at a sports bar, then perhaps we need not only black and brown folks to forswear such lunacy, but for those of us who are white to turn on whiteness too. To not do so would be to confirm that whiteness is inversely related to mental acumen. I for one, would like to think we were capable of better. But as for evidence to support my hope? Well, I'm still waiting for that.

REPOST: This is Your Nation on White Priviledge

I received this commentary from a high school classmate (Thanks, M!). I didn't write it, but I'm damn sure somebody did. And before anybody gets started, the author is white. Maybe that will get some folks to pay attention who wouldn't otherwise. - KS

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

By Tim Wise
9/13/08

For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives close to Russia, you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because suddenly your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36 minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you "uppity," and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that's OK, and you're cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you "dangerously naive and immature."

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review - THE INCREDIBLE HULK

First of all, to anyone who cares, the reason I didn't do a review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is simple. I just found the movie kinda "meh." Any movie claiming to be and Indy flick without copious use of the hero's trademark whip just isn't worth my time.

So there. And no, I won't be getting it on DVD.

Now, on to more pressing matters. What did I think of Marvel's latest offering, The Incredible Hulk? Well again, this review will be really short...

GO SEE THE INCREDIBLE HULK. IT'S AN AWESOME FUCKING MOVIE.

Seriously. I can't think of anything I didn't like (Liv Tyler annoyed me at first, but she seemed to settle in as Betty. And I loved her getting pissed with the cab driver). Everything you want from a Hulk movie is in here, and then some. Great acting from the lead? Check. Great, exciting action? Check. Stan Lee cameo? Check. Setting up characters for future installments? Oh yeah, baby.

I'm proud as heel to declare that Marvel's 2 for2. I don't know which project is up next, but trust I'll be there. Let's see if The Dark Knight can top this.

Sad to say, I have a feeling it won't.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Review - IRON MAN

Well, after a lengthy absence, I've finally resurfaced to offer my thoughts on the latest Hollywood has to offer. For those who're interested, care, or for the uninitiated, I've been off trying to balance finding a way to make money and developing my first feature film. That's coming okay, and I'm gaining more and more confidence in myself as the weeks progress.

But that's not why you came here, and that's for another blog on another page. Now, on to Iron Man.

I'd been following this film since it was first announced. Me, being an out and confirmed comics geek (who's never bought a comic, mind you, save for a few graphic novels, but has vast comic knowledge beyond that of mere mortals), I was excited to see what Marvel, in their first self-financed feature, would do with a character that is definitely top tier as far as storytelling potential, but doesn't have the overall notoriety of Spider-Man, Hulk, or even Captain America. Once I heard Jon Favreau was not only directing, but a fan of the material, I was stoked. I firmly believe that the best superhero films come from directors who are fans of the characters. They seem to care more and put more into the movies. Then came the first promo shot of the Iron Man armor. I was in geek heaven. "At least they cared enough to make Iron Man look like Iron Man," was my thought. "Maybe they'll hit this out of the park. For God's sake, I hope they do."

Well, true believers, THEY DID. Iron Man is everything a comics fan, an action fan, or just a fan of plain ol' good storytelling could want in a summer flick. Funny, well paced and exciting, Favreau (my new favorite director of the moment) delivers the goods in heaps. The film's got the action that the X-Men films lacked, the humor that Hulk was sorely missing, and the character development sans pulpy over-sentimentalism that over took the Spider-Man trilogy. My previous favorite superhero film was a practical dead heat between X2 and Batman Begins. I think I now have a new 1. It's that damn good (BTW, you might want to stay until the end of the credits for an additional scene featuring a VERY SPECIAL CAMEO. If you don't understand the implications of what's said in this short bit, ask somebody who does. Trust me, it's HUGE).

Let's talk acting. There's not a single weak performance in the film. I had always respected Robert Downey Jr.'s ability, but I couldn't say he was one of my favorite actors. His whole history with drug addiction was a big turn-off for me. But Hera help us, the man is Tony Stark. The quick wit, arrogant swagger, womanizing ways and the ever-present alcoholic drink are all there, as it should be. But also there is Stark's deep-down goodness. I was wondering how Stark's transformation from smug weapons designer and entrepreneur to savior of lives would be handled in the film, but Downey makes you feel every beat, every thought as a man who's had his "eyes opened" to his legacy of dealing death masqueraded as defense. When Stark makes the decision to stand against those using the weapons he designed for purposes he never did, you just know some major ass is about to be kicked. Between this, and the previews for Tropic Thunder, featuring Downey playing an actor so into his role as a Black man he undergoes medical treatments to actually become one, this man's firmly entrenched himself on my favorite actors list.

But a hero is only as good as his villain. Enter Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Stark's business partner, who's none too interested in Stark's desire to get out of the weapons game. I've never thought of Bridges as a badass, but that's changed after this film. I loved his character, from the slimy backroom dealing to his imposing appearance, the man just exuded power. If Lex Luthor in the Superman movies was more like "Obi" Stane, maybe those movies would be better. Yeah, I said it.

I'll admit, I wasn't in love with Terrance Howard's first scene as James Rhodes, Stark's good friend and a future hero in his own right. I got a sense of softness from him, which I attribute to his voice. It's just not very heavy or possessing of authority, which his character wields. But as the movie went on, he really settled in, and that amazing acting ability I've seen time and time again came through. He made the most of his scenes and is a great foil to Stark, and his offhand comment to a certain unmanned suit of armor in Stark's lab reeks of promise for the inevitable sequel(s).

And finally, Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's long-suffering personal assistant, Pepper Potts. I was SO glad to finally have a female character in one of these films, a non-hero, who didn't annoy the stuffing out of me. No, dear reader, there's no Rachel Dawes type of chicanery here. Pepper is strong, smart, and capable of holding her own in a match of wits, even with her boss Stark. Without her around, he wouldn't even remember his own Social Security number. Literally. And she's more than just a supremely-organized multi-tasker; without her help (directly or indirectly) in at least three key moments of the film, Stark would not be the last armored man standing.

The visuals are amazing, the action on point, the humor spot on - Iron Man is an all-around fun time at the theater. And, in the tradition of fellow Marvel offerings X-Men and Spider-Man, Iron Man leaves hints to where it can go in future installments, including subtle hints at the existence of Stark's arch nemesis, The Mandarin. The highest compliment I can pay the film is that it doesn't feel as long as its 2 hour, 6 minute running time. When the climax was upon us, I was like "Already? No! I want more!"

If the $60,429,393 one-day worldwide gross is any indicator, it won't be long before I get it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008 Academy Award Nominations

Well, the nominees for the 2008 Academy Awards have been announced. First of all, I don't even know if there will be an Oscar ceremony, at least not in the traditional sense, due to the ongoing Writers Guild strike. But nonetheless, the names have been called, so here's my take...

This, to me is a boring year in the Best Picture category. For the past few years, I've tried to make it a point to see the films nominated for the top prize, so if nothing else, I could draw my own conclusions. I seriously doubt that I'll be doing that this year. The only nominated film that I've seen is No Country For Old Men, and if you're a faithful reader of my blog, you'll know exactly how much I hated that movie. I just don't get it, or the love for it. And folks are already awarding the Supporting Actor Oscar to Javier Bardem, talking about how great and chilling his performance was. Yeah, I thought it was solid, but Oscar worthy? No.

I remember being in the theater and seeing the trailer for Atonement - and I remember being nearly bored to death from it. Outside of the slightest professional interest, I have no desire to see this movie whatsoever. I dunno - I'm not a huge period piece/war/sweeping romantic love story kinda guy. Little did I know when I saw that trailer that I'd be seeing it again come awards season...

Then we have Michael Clayton. A couple of friends of mine do a film-related podcast called "What to Think." I haven't checked out all their shows, but the one I did catch talked about this movie when it first came out. Of the two regular hosts, one really liked it while the other was not smitten. He said the movie, in essence, didn't fully flesh out some of the themes and ideas it presented. Their sit-in guest didn't seem to love it either. It sounded boring to me, but I must admit, I love Clooney and I've read a few things about this movie, so I'm willing to check this one out and see how I feel about it myself.

Call me whatever you want, but every time I hear the title There Will Be Blood, I think of the marketing campaign for one of the Saw movies. And I have a feeling I'd enjoy that film more. I don't doubt that Daniel Day-Lewis is extremely talented, but again, this is one of those movies where I saw the trailer and just wasn't moved. I didn't even really grasp what the story is about. To me, it looks like a dude comes to a town, realizes its oil-bearing potential, uses underhanded methods to gain access to the oil while bilking others out of the potential profits, all while having beef with some young religious guy who thinks he's a healer. Serious, that's what I got. Long story short, there may not be blood, but there won't be any chance of me watching it, either.

And now, my personal favorite (to loathe), Juno. I'm quite sick of hearing about this damn movie. You know, the one written by a blogger by way of stripper that's getting all this attention and looks to be this year's Little Miss Sunshine. I know a great deal of my spite is based in jealousy (the first-time screenwriter, Diablo Cody, also got nominated for Best Original Screenplay her first time out. I've been writing scripts for eight years and have gotten no love. And something tells me her stuff's not all that - please excuse the rant), but I get the feeling this is just another one of those "quirky" movies where you have a "precocious" young protagonist who speaks overly-clever "hipster" dialogue while being so much smarter than everyone else, including the don't-have-a-clue adults. It's one of those "cute" movies that do so well at festivals. But you know what? I'm gonna check it out. I want to see if it's worth the hype. Who knows, maybe I'm sleeping on it. If my opinion changes, you'll read it here.

Just a few more quick notes. I was surprised that Ruby Dee was nominated in the Supporting Actress Category. I get the feeling this is one of those "quota" nominations, or one of those "body of work" type deals that the Academy likes to bestow on older actors/actresses they've failed to recognize before. I'm not taking anything away from Ms. Dee's performance; I think the woman is a national treasure. I just didn't think there was enough of her in American Gangster to warrant this particular nomination. But what was there was great. The best compliment that I could give is that I would've loved to see more. But hey, if William Hurt can be nominated for Supporting Actor for A History of Violence when he had less than 10 minutes of screen time, then Ruby Dee can be as well. I was also surprised that Denzel Washington got no love (again, making me think Ms. Dee was a token nomination). Here's a man who turned in two powerhouse performances in the heat of "Oscar consideration season" and came up with nothing. I unfortunately expected The Great Debaters to get overlooked, but I didn't think the Academy would ignore him in American Gangster as well. And of course, there's Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the stellar Talk to Me, which no one talked about (thank God for the NAACP Image Awards)... But I am happy that Johnny Depp received a nomination for Sweeney Todd.

With so much dullness amongst the nominations, I'm not as excited for the Oscars like I want to be. I'll no doubt check out the show, but I hope I can find something interesting on at the same time, in case I need to flip to something to stay awake.

Hit me back with your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

I'd been really looking forward to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for some time. Ever since I saw the first pic of Johnny Depp as Todd I was sold. Every time Depp and director Tim Burton join forces, something magical happens. At least, in my estimation. For your consideration: Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, and Ed Wood (the latter two I haven't seen yet, to be honest). Even if you don't share my opinion, you have to admit, when these two hook up, the moviegoer at the very least is going to get something interesting.

This movie is no different. Full of dreary, desaturated tones (there must be, like, 1,000 different shades of gray in this movie), the cinematography is typical Burton, but as always, it underscores the themes of the movie perfectly. And I can't help but love Depp's Todd. Playing a family man barber wrongfully accused of a crime and sent away while his wife and young daughter fall prey to an evil, corrupt judge (Alan Rickman in his slimy best), Depp imbues Todd with a persistent rage borne of forced heartbreak; Todd is tunnel-visioned in his quest for retribution, his means less than gentle. Or legal (but dammit if he doesn't look like he's having fun doing it).

Shortly after meeting hapless meat pie maker Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who's business goes unpatronized less the dozens of roaches crawling about the prep table, and missing his first chance to slay the villainous judge, Todd and Lovett form an insidious pact: he murders victims to satisfy his blood lust, she grinds up the bodies into her meet pies. All goes well until Mrs. Lovett's young helper, Toby (left alone as the result of Sweeney's blade), becomes privy to the true source of the pies' meat, and a misinformed slash of Todd's razor ends in the final loss of someone he already thought was gone. The resulting end is inevitable, yet none less tragic.

In fact, it's that ending that has me on the fence as far as getting the DVD when it comes out. Again, the way the story wraps up is inevitable; Todd is, basically, a good man gone serial killer. But Depp is just so good and enjoyable and downright likable... I just wished something else could've happened, even though the conventions of the story (not to mention the history of the Broadway musical it's based on) say it can't.

I didn't even have a problem with the much-vaunted gore factor, and I can be as big a wuss as they come when it pertains to people getting sliced onscreen. Still, I wouldn't take young kids to see it (like the idiots in front of us did. And they wonder why the world's so messed up).

Bottom line, great story (the plot is simple, yet effective), great visuals and great acting. And the singing wasn't bad, either (though at the beginning the music was too loud to discern what was being said, but the story was still easy to follow). It definitely made for a fun night at the movies. But I must admit...

I'm gonna look twice at my barber the next time he picks up a straight edge.

Review - THE GREAT DEBATERS

My friends and I went to see The Great Debaters on Christmas night. It's getting to be something of a tradition; we hooked up last year to check out Dreamgirls Christmas night. Nevertheless, we were all looking forward to it, especially my friend Anthony, who, as a PROUD alum of Prairie View A&M University, was on the edge of his seat waiting for any mention of his school (Prairie View and Wiley College have history together during the time period the film covers). I'm honored to say we weren't the least bit disappointed.

It's rare that I watch a film and have absolutely no problem with it, but such was the case here. In fact, watching the credits at the end, I couldn't help but think "Denzel needs to direct more." From the beautiful and rich cinematography to the development and nuance each actor brings to his/her role, the movie was amazing - full of integrity, intelligence, and inspiration, with a light seasoning of comedy and even a bit of romance to sweeten the deal.

Every now and then a lucky moviegoer is treated to the experience of watching a star being made on the screen. In The Great Debaters, we get that moment three-fold. Nate Parker tears it up as Henry Lowe, a young man equally adept in the classroom as he is in the streets. He also has a mind for challenging authority when he sees fit; even Melvin Tolson (Washington), his level-headed mentor, isn't off limits. He's joined by Jurnee Smollett as Samantha Booke (with an "E", lol), the first woman ever on Wiley's debate team, and the actor with the most ironic name in the world today, Denzel Whitaker (both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker are in the movie), as James Farmer, Jr., son of a preacher. Each actor is brilliant in their role, full of depth and poignancy beyond their years. Ms. Smollett has impressed me in the past, both with her turns in Eve's Bayou (if you haven't seen it, RUN, don't walk to the video store) and Roll Bounce. This just adds to her budding greatness.

The plot itself, based on a true story, is simple: a small debate team from Marshall TX's Wiley College, a Black college, rises to prominence as the premier negro debate team. After a few tries, they are invited to debate the team from Harvard, the reigning national champs. Many online have complained about the movie's "racism," saying that the film unfairly depicts whites, most of whom in the movie are very anti-Black. They fail to realize this story is set in the 1930s in the South. There weren't exactly a slew of whites sympathetic to Blacks then. I found the movie to be fair and accurate - an unfortunate reflection of the time period and, to a lesser extent, the time we live in now (don't act like the recent resurgence of nooses, the Jena 6 incident, and Genarlow Wilson's unfair sentence mean nothing).

I HIGHLY recommend this movie. The best compliment I can give is that it got its messages across without brow-beating you with them (ahem, Tyler Perry). In fact, I was so inspired by The Great Debaters that I came home and finally completed rewriting a screenplay of my own. With any luck and a ton of planning, it'll go before the camera later this year. Who knows...

Maybe next year someone will be writing a piece about MY movie.