Monday, December 31, 2007

Cho the Mighty!

To about 90% of the folks kind of enough to read this blog, the following won't mean a whole lot. But to the other 10%, you'll definitely get it. Thus far, I've been writing about movies and music, two of my favorite pasttimes. Now, my attention turns to comic books.

If you aren't into comics by now, you likely won't ever get into them, which is ok. I've been a comic book fan since I was a kid, and it's been interesting to watch how the industry has changed over the decades, some things for the better, some things, the less said the better (Spider-Man clone anyone?). Over the last few years, I've come to know quite a few comic book creators as friends, which increases my appreciation for their work even more. I started collecting original art from a number of these artists a few years ago and I'm really pleased with the way it's been developing.

From time to time as I get new pieces, I'm going to post them on the blog for anyone who's interested to check out. The first post comes from Frank Cho, one of the most exciting artists on the scene today. Frank blends a classic line with modern camera angles and excellent anatomical construction. As you'll be able to see from these two pages, from Mighty Avengers #2, Frank has a specific appreciation for the delicate design of the female form. He generally doesn't let much of his art get out of his hands, but every eclipse I can badger him out of a piece or two. For more Cho-isms, check out his website,

On the music front, I'm bringing in the new year tonight at Genghis Cohen, a restaurant/club. My buddy Vinx is performing and a great time will be had by all. You can check Vinx's music out at

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

WONDER-ful music!

I just got a bunch of dvds in the mail of various concerts, including several Stevie Wonder shows. One of the shows was a tribute that BET did for Stevie in 2002. I popped it in and started watching. A lot of great artists paid tribute to the Detroit native, but the one that caught me off guard was the late Gerald Levert, performing an inspired version of 'All I Do'. Gerald's father Eddie, lead singer of the O'Jays, sung background with Michael Jackson on the original recording, on Stevie's classic 'Hotter Than July' album from 1980.

'All I Do' has always been one of my favorite songs, and it made me think about other favorite songs, so here's an all time (for the time being) top 20 list. I always catch hell from my friends for being all over the place musically. Here's an opportunity to see what they're talking about. No particular order, by the way, I just jotted them down as they popped in my head.

1. All I Do- Stevie Wonder
2. Try A Little Tenderness- Otis Redding
3. Sara Smile- Daryl Hall & John Oates
4. Call Me- Al Green
5. Side By Side- Earth Wind & Fire
6. Girl You Need A Change of Mind- Eddie Kendricks
7. As- Stevie Wonder
8. Say A Little Prayer- Aretha Franklin
9. Love Me- Elvis Presley
10. For You to Love- Luther Vandross
11. Jesus Is Waiting- Al Green
12. Memory Lane- Minnie Riperton
13. Blue Skies- Ella Fitzgerald
14. So What- Miles Davis
15. Song- Lewis Taylor
16. There Was A Time- James Brown
17. I Want Your Love- Chic
18. My Funny Valentine- Johnny Mathis
19. The Best Is Yet To Come- Frank Sinatra
20. Where or When- Frank Sinatra

I know there'll be songs you can't believe I included or left off, but this was a top of mind experiment. Looking over the list, I'm surprised there aren't more women listed, but that's what came to mind. Also, fight the reflex and don't hate on Elvis!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Denzel Times Two

I just saw Denzel Washington's second directorial effort, "The Great Debaters". I've read a few reviews that take Denzel to task for not having more of a 'style' as a director. I contend that efficiency and clarity in storytelling carries substance over style.
This film, based on a historic Texas college of Black debaters in the 30s who debate and defeat Harvard University is a continuation of Washington's examination of Black life in America that manages to transcend the obvious racial component and illustrate the commonality of all Americans. Like "Antoine Fisher", Washington's first film as a director, "The Great Debaters" isn't hampered by the reality of Black life, instead it's enhanced by his vision and inclusive point of view.

Production values are top notch, the music a bit too obvious at times, but the opening juke joint sequence captures the energy, sex and danger of backwood parties in the south. Casting is where I believe Washington operates at a particularly high level. In "Antoine Fisher", Derek Luke made the most of his starring shot, and in "The Great Debaters", Washington enlists a cadre of outstanding young talent, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett and especially Denzel Whitaker, are the heart of the film and it really beats.

It's also fun to watch the veterans Washington and Forrest Whitaker, share a couple of scenes. Stylistically different, but equally robust. Hopefully this won't be the last time these Oscar winners work together.

There are very few Black actors who have the clout to get movies made, let alone movies that aren't obvious popcorn events. To be clear, I'm not knocking those. I dug that Will Smith was able to make something like "I Am Legend", but also make "The Pursuit of Happyness". While Denzel will purport to make films that interest him and not necessarily 'Black' films, the proof is in the pudding and every time he can win with "Fisher" or "Debaters", the spectrum of Black life on film expands beyond "Soul Plane" and, well, you fill in the blank.

For whatever reason, I felt like watching another Denzel flick, so I browsed my library and pulled out the overlooked "Out of Time", directed by one of my favorite directors, Carl Franklin. Franklin also directed Washington, "Devil In A Blue Dress", from author Walter Mosely's best selling series of books featuring private detective Easy Rawlins.

Franklin is particularly adept at crime dramas and shades of gray. "Out of Time" stars Washington as a Floridian Chief of Police investigating the murder of a woman he was secretly seeing. This isn't "LA Confidential" or "Mystic River", but it's a solid, twisting, turning thriller with quite a bit of humor and Washington at his charismatic best. The cast is saucy too, with Eva Mendes and Sanaa Lathan starring as the two women in Denzel's life. If you haven't seen it, it's a good way to spend a couple of hours. If you have seen it before, it stands up to repeated viewings.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Movies of the Year

I saw quite a few films this year, which is pretty standard for me, but I'm surprised at the amount of really fine films that came out this year. Here's my top 10 in no particular order:

1. Gone Baby Gone- The resurrection of Ben Affleck, which started last year with his convincing portrayal of 'Superman' George Reeves in Wonderland, is completed with his directorial debut. Set in his hometown of Boston, starring his young brother Casey,
Affleck shows a sure hand, not flashy, not rushed, but totally serving the material. Based on a best selling novel, Gone Baby Gone boasts a literate, compassionate screenplay, co-written by the elder Affleck. Not a false note in the film.

2. No Country for Old Men- Listened to the audiobook and was scared to death. Still didn't prepare me for Javier Bardem, the best villain since Hannibal Lector. Ably assisted by Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, The Coen Brothers return to form in a big way. A lot of people were upset with the ending of the film, but the key to it is the title of the film.

3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford- A long troubled production, that had a consistent champion in Brad Pitt. More McCabe and Mrs. Miller than Tombstone, a meditation on celebrity with the right guy in the starring role and another strong performance from Casey Affleck. The cinematography is not to be believed.

4. Talk to Me- Director Kasi Lemmons, delivers a funny, moving and heartfelt look at black radio in Washington DC in the 70s. Don Cheadle outdoes himself as the outrageous Petey Greene, an ex-con who was one of the first radio "shock jocks". Matching him beat for beat is Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the station manager who hires, supports and chastises Greene. Two of the best performances of the year that will probably be overlooked come award time.

5. Michael Clayton- George Clooney delivers once again in a film that he originally refused to do, not wanting to work with a first time director. Fortunately, he reconsidered and may find himself in the Oscar race. As a corporate lawyer going beyond the call of duty, Clooney has the weight of the world on his shoulders and you feel the weight too. The final showdown with Tilda Swinton may be Clooney's finest moment onscreen yet.

6. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead- I saw this two days after seeing No Country for Old Men. I walked out thinking, this was as good as No Country! 83 year old Sidney Lumet pulled this crime drama out of nowhere, with great performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei. Hoffman and Hawke are two brothers that conspire to rob their parents' jewelry store. It all goes wrong and turns out worse than you'd imagine. Masterful filmmaking.

7. The Bourne Ultimatum- Anything I'd say about this film would be redundant. I'll just say if you haven't seen it, do it immediately!.

8. Sicko- Michael Moore's on the case again, this time regarding the unfunny joke that is America's health care system. Well done, essentially non political, Moore puts a spotlight on an important issue that hopefully will help make resolving this travesty a priority for the next administration.

9. Superbad- Saw the trailer and didn't expect to like this at all. Saw the film and had just the opposite response. I literally started laughing during the opening credits. A raunchy, hilarious but observant coming of age film that will be the "Porky's" of it's day.

10. Live Free or Die Hard (thanks Reggie!)- Another case of the trailer being lousy, but the film was big, big fun! Even with the slightly watered down PG13 rating, it's still an action packed thrill ride, leagues better than the other two sequels. Bruce Willis is still a bad man!

Here are a few other films that I enjoyed:
I Am Legend
Curse of the Golden Flower
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The Notorious Bettie Page
Eastern Promises

And a few that were promising, but came up just a bit short:
American Gangster
3:10 to Yuma
Mr. Brooks
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I started to do a list of the films that were popular that I just didn't get, but I may work with these guys someday, so no point burning bridges!

Merry Christmas!

Still the Man

I recently took a drive out to Monterey Park, which is 15 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles.  Largely an Asian area, it houses dozens of great restaurants and a spectacular dvd shop called Five Star Laser.  I used to go in there all the time, during the rise of Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat and Jet Li.  Once major studios like Sony and Miramax started carrying a lot of the original Hong Kong flicks, there wasn't much of a reason for me to continue to drive out there.
Since it had been a long time and I didn't have anything in particular to do, I rolled out to see if anything would catch my eye.  I wound up finding a couple of current HK flicks, "The Detective" and "Invisible Target", as well as a Japanese flick (The Beast to Die), starring the late Yusaku Matsuda, best known in the U.S. for his role as the stylish henchman in Ridley Scott's "Black Rain" starring Michael Douglas.  Matsuda died of cancer at the age of 39 shortly before "Black Rain" was released.  In Japan, he shares the rarified air of Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen, iconic superstars gone much too soon.
The last film I bought was an old 1972 Kung Fu flick called "The Duel", starring Ti Lung and David Chiang.  This was the first martial arts film I ever saw, way back in the day at the Hippodrome theater in Cleveland, Ohio.  Totally shot on a studio lot, it's a typical revenge flick, with great martial arts and gallons of red paint doubling as blood.
I was surprised how well the film held up.  However, it made me realize that it had been quite awhile since I watched the ultimate Kung Fu flick, Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon".
Tonight I popped in the hi definition BluRay version of the film and was immediately taken back to the Scrumpy Dump (real name!) movie theater in Cleveland on Euclid near E. 105th street.  The power and charisma of Bruce Lee still burns through the screen.  
It's been over 30 years since Lee died of a brain enema (July 20, 1973), but his legend has only grown with the passage of time, culminating with Time magazine naming him one of the most important people of the past 100 years.  Aside from his physical ability, Lee was a very progressive thinker in the area of human rights, individual expression and philosophy.

Nice to know that some things just get better with time.