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Archive for the ‘california’ Category

Love & Basketball (2000) is a Hollywood film, a love story starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan. It was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (I will do a post on her). Lathan and Epps grow up next door to each other in the 1980s in Crenshaw, a black part of Los Angeles. They both love basketball – and, even when they do not want to admit it, each other. Basketball brings them together – and tears them apart.

This was the film that made Sanaa Lathan’s name and got Boris Kodjoe noticed (he takes her to the spring dance). Tyra Banks got a bit part but was already world-famous as a supermodel.

Gabrielle Union is in it too, then also pretty much unknown. She tried out for the lead but lost out to Lathan. Instead she got a part as one of Epps’s girlfriends. Union was to make her name that same year by starring in “Bring it On”, a cheerleader film.

Supporting characters: Debbi Morgan and Dennis Haysbert play Epps’s parents, Alfre Woodard plays Lathan’s mother.  In addition to the love story and the basetketball, the film shows Lathan’s relationship with her mother and Epps’s with his father. Debbi Morgan was great as a woman past her prime in a failing marriage.

The best scene except for the end was at the the spring dance: Lathan is dancing with Kodjoe and Epps is dancing with Union and they are playing Zapp and Roger’s “I Want to Be Your Man” (1987). Not only do I love that song but Lathan looked absolutely beautiful in that scene.

It is one of those movies I kept hearing about but never saw – till the other day. At the time it came out I had no reason to see it: I did not know Lathan then and my wife is no fan of Epps (too short?). I like Alfre Woodard but she is no big Hollywood star so I never know if she is in something until I am already watching it: “Hey, look, Alfre Woodard!”

It was a sweet story – though, truth be told, I would have probably watched it if it was just two hours of Sanaa Lathan breathing or waiting for a bus. If Halle Berry is bread, Sanaa Lathan is cake. With icing.

Lathan had played basketball only twice in her life before she got the part. They had to shoot the basketball scenes so you could not tell – partly by shooting the action from her point of view.

All the basketball players wear Nike shoes: because Nike had enough shoes from the 1980s for a period film. Prince-Bythewood, the director, tried to stay as in period as possible – though right in the opening scene set in 1981 she plays a song from 1983 (“Candy Girl” by New Edition). In the director’s commentary I found out that she knew that – she was just about the same age as the main characters in 1981 – but thought the song was too good to pass up.

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“Alice in Wonderful” (2010) is the second Disney film of that name, this one directed by Tim Burton, who did “Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter. Unlike the first Alice film by Disney in 1951, which used straight animation, this one uses live actors with computers drawing in the background and even parts of the characters. It also features an older Alice, 19 (played by Mia Wasikowska) who is faced with a Wonderland that has become dark and evil.

I loved the Alice books and I loved “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, so I was looking forward to this film. I thought it could be a masterpiece. Sadly, it is not. While the acting, the sets, the special effects and the costumes were all great the plot was not.

The plot was tired. It is the very same plot you see in Star Wars, the Hobbit and the Wizard of Oz: our hero is an ordinary person who finds himself fighting against some great, terrible evil power. On his way to face said evil power he gathers an odd set of companions and a bit of magic power.

So in place of Chewbacca or the Scarecrow you have the Mad Hatter. In place of the Force or ruby slippers or a ring you have a vorpal sword. In place of Darth Vader and the Death Star you have the Queen of Hearts and the Jabberwocky. Blah blah blah.

A plot like that has plenty of built-in suspense, but I was never in suspense. I blame the writers for that.

So the plot seemed weak and tired and not-again. I felt like I was watching cable television on a large screen. It would make great late-night television. Sorry to say, but it should have gone straight to DVD.

I saw it in 3-D: they give you special glasses for that. That was a waste too – the film did not gain much by being in 3-D. I am glad I did not pay even more to see it at an IMAX theatre.

It is a shame because Tim Burton certainly has the imagination and the right spirit to make a great Alice film. It being Tim Burton I expected a dark Alice but I also expected to be surprised and wowed, like I was with “Nightmare Before Christmas”.

Johnny Depp was good. I particularly liked Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. She was always holding up her hands and had this wide-eyed stare and kept telling us she took a vow not to use violence – even as she let her subjects do their worst to the forces of the Red Queen.

The closing scene was a nice touch – reminding you that the earth itself is a wonderland.

You also get to see a bandersnatch. I do not remember Tenniel ever drawing one for the Alice books. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were played by the same actor, by the way, not by twins.

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“Shaft” (1971) was Hollywood’s first blaxpoitation film to become a hit. It starred the then unknown Richard Roundtree. It is most famous for the Isaac Hayes song that opens the film:

Who’s the black private dick
That’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
(SHAFT!)
You’re damn right

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother-
(Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft
(Then we can dig it)

The parts in parentheses were sung by Stax singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, who later became the Dawn of Tony Orlando & Dawn.

The opening scene shows John Shaft, a black New York City detective in a long brown leather coat, walking through Times Square as the song plays. A wonderful opening but then it  becomes like a late-night movie. Shaft tries to save the daughter of a Harlem crime lord to prevent all-out war with the Mafia. It only gets good again towards the end.

Blaxpoitation films were made by Hollywood in the 1970s for black audiences. They were mostly crime dramas with black leads. Pam Grier made her name starring in them. They pushed stereotypes of blacks as oversexed, badass and violent. Shaft himself is a good example of all three.

Civil rights leaders condemned it but black audiences loved it: back then almost no film had a hero who was unashamedly black.

“Shaft” had a black director, Gordon Parks, and two white screenwriters. One of them, Ernest Tidyman, created the character as a sort of black James Bond, writing seven books about him. Tidyman is one of the few whites to win an NAACP Image Award.

Sex machine to all the chicks: He has a main chick, Dina, who wears a wedding ring, another one on the side, Ellie, and, to put the “all” in “all the chicks”, he picks up a white chick at a bar for a one-night stand and has a shower scene with her.

Ellie: I love you
Shaft: Yeah, I know. Take it easy.

Shaft lives in a huge, well-furnished apartment and always takes the taxi – like he is made of money. He reads Essence magazine and uses what seems like too much slang. He likes to say “Right on!” and holds up his fist, like some bad stereotype of the 1970s.  Everyone is cat, dude or baby. That slang, I later found out, was put in over the protests of Tidyman.  But in the end it did not matter: the language was picked up by black teenagers. So was Shaft’s habit of crossing the street without looking.

In the opening scene, at the newsstand, you can see Naomi Sims on the cover of Essence.

It is amazing how much New York looks the same nearly 40 years later.

The film cost $500,000 (370,000 crowns) to make but brought in $13 million! Two sequels and a short-lived television series dutifully followed. In 2000 John Singleton brought it to the next generation with Samuel L. Jackson playing John Shaft’s nephew.

– Abagond, 2010, 2016.

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Paul Newman

Paul Newman (1925-2008) was a Hollywood actor and sex symbol, from the 1960s and early 1970s. He was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years.

On this blog at the end of 2009 he was voted the eighth most gorgeous man in the world – over a year after he died at age 83!

His best films (those receiving an IMDb rating of at least 8.0):

  • 1958: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • 1961: The Hustler
  • 1967: Cool Hand Luke
  • 1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • 1973: The Sting

The first he did with Elizabeth Taylor, the last two with Robert Redford, both Hollywood sex symbols in their own right. He is known for playing anti-heroes. He was acting almost right up to the end of his life.

His name was put up for an Oscar for best actor eight times, but only won once, for “The Color of Money” in 1987. Some say his acting got better with age – the Oscar nominations seem to bear that out.

He was born the son of a Cleveland shopkeeper. Both sides of his family come from Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland). Like his father but unlike his mother he is Jewish.

In the Second World War he wanted to be a pilot and fly planes but his colour blindness prevented him. He almost fought in the battle of Okinawa but the pilot of his plane got an ear infection and they stayed back. Everyone else in their detail died in battle.

After the war he went into acting, at first on Broadway and television and then in Hollywood films. He did terribly in his first film, “The Silver Chalice” (1954), but then did well two years later in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) – a part he got through the death of James Dean. Soon he was starring opposite Elizabeth Taylor. His acting was not as good as, say, Marlon Brando’s, but his good looks made up for it.

In 1958 he starred with Joanne Woodward in “The Long Hot Summer”. That year he divorced his first wife of nine years and married Woodward. He has three children by each wife. In 1960 he and Woodward moved to Connecticut.

In 1978 his only son died of a drug overdose at age 28.

Newman was a race car driver. He came in second at Le Mans in 1979.

He used to make salad dressing as a Christmas gift. It caught on and in 1982 he started selling it under the brand name Newman’s Own. He later branched out into spaghetti sauce and popcorn. Since Newman was not interested in getting rich, he gave the profits to charity – education, health, the environment, disaster relief, etc. He joked that Newman’s Own brought in more money than his acting ever did (true).

In 1988 he started the Hole in the Wall Gang, a free summer camp in Connecticut, between New York and Boston, for children who are dying or who have spent a long time in the hospital.

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Angela Bassett in “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) in her most iconic scene.

 

Angela Bassett (1958- ), an American actress, is perhaps the best black female actress alive in Hollywood. She is both more beautiful and far more talented than Halle Berry, the only black woman so far to win an Oscar for best actress. Bassett has played Tina Turner, the wife of Malcolm X (twice) and the mother of Biggie Smalls.

Some of her films:

  • 1991: Boyz N the Hood
  • 1992: Malcolm X
  • 1993: What’s Love Got to Do with It
  • 1995: Waiting to Exhale (pictured above)
  • 1995: Strange Days
  • 1998: How Stella Got Her Groove Back
  • 2006: Akeelah and the Bee
  • 2008: Meet the Browns
  • 2009: Notorious

I already knew who she was by the time she appeared in “Malcolm X” but apparently it was playing Tina Turner a year later in “What’s Love Got to Do with It” that made her name with mainstream American audiences.

She lost the lead in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999) to Halle Berry. She turned down the lead in “Monster’s Ball” (2001) because of how it shows black women – and because she does not do nude scenes. Halle Berry took that part and went on to win an Oscar for best actress.

Angela Bassett was born on the very same day as Madonna: August 16th 1958. She was born in Harlem but her mother soon moved to St Petersburg, Florida, where she grew up in public housing.

In 1974 she saw James Earl Jones in “Of Mice and Men” on a school trip to Washington, DC:

I just sat there after the play, boo-hoo crying, weeping. I couldn’t move, and I remember thinking, “My gosh, if I could make somebody feel the way I feel right now!”

From that moment she began to think about becoming an actress.

She got a scholarship to Yale. After getting her degree in African American Studies, she studied acting at the Yale School of Drama. She had to unlearn her Southern accent. There she met Courtney B. Vance, whom she would one day marry.

After Yale she acted in some television ads, the soap opera “Guiding Light” and two August Wilson plays. Then her friend Larry Fishburne helped her to land a part in “Boyz N the Hood”. She played the mother of the main character – but to her she was playing her own mother. That got her noticed as a serious actress in Hollywood.

In 1993 she starred opposite Fishburne in “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, with her cast as Tina to his Ike. She broke her hand during shooting – but that only helped her to play Tina Turner even better. Tina Turner did her make-up and taught her the dance moves. One reviewer said that Bassett, “captures the erotic youthquake that was Tina Turner in the ’60s and early ’70s”.

In 1997 she married actor Courtney B. Vance. He played her husband when she appeared in the last season of “ER” (2008-2009). They have a boy and a girl: Slater and Bronwyn, both born in 2006 by means of a surrogate mother (Bassett was 47 at the time of their birth).

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MitriceRichardson
mitricemugshot

Mitrice Richardson (c. 1985- ),  a 24-year-old secretary from South Los Angeles, has been missing for two weeks.

  • Height; 5 foot 5 (1.65 m)
  • Weight: 135 lbs (59 kg)
  • Tattoos: on the back of her neck and lower abdomen
  • Wearing: a black top and blue jeans
  • Last seen: at 1:25 am on Thursday September 17th 2009 leaving the Malibu/Lost Hills police station in Calabasas, California.
  • Reward: $10,000.

If you see her call the Los Angeles police. But please call her mother or father too because the police have been bad at following up on this:

  • Her mother, Latice Sutton, at (909) 282-9134
  • Her father, Michael Richardson, at (310) 283-4717

mitrice-richardson450Unlike most missing black women, Richardson has made the news nationwide: both NBC and CNN have carried the story. But apart from her race she is like most of their missing persons: young, female, middle-class and pretty.

Her mother says she is manic-depressive (bipolar) and that on the night she disappeared she was in the manic stage, meaning she was not quite in her right mind. Signs of that:

  1. That afternoon she sent “erratic” text messages to her friends;
  2. She went to a very nice restaurant (Geoffrey’s Malibu) looking like the second picture (the police photo from that night), having her 1990 Honda Civic parked by a valet;
  3. According to workers at the restaurant she said she was from Mars and was there to avenge the death of Michael Jackson. She started talking in a made-up language (but that was after she was caught short on money and could not pay the $89.21 bill);
  4. She walked out into the night from the police station (after being arrested for failing to pay her bill) with no money, no car, no mobile phone and not even her ID. No buses run there in the middle of the night and the nearest shops were 20 minutes away on foot. (They kept her car because they found some marijuana in it.)

Her mother called the police station and said she would pick her up. She was led to believe they would hold her overnight till the morning. They did not (they later lied and said they did not have room). They did not even tell Richardson that her mother was coming.

Her father on seeing the police photo:

She looked like a demon had come inside her. That was not my daughter. It ran chills up my spine. I’ve never seen my daughter look like that.

And in that state they let her walk out into the night with nothing.

Five hours after she left a man called and said a woman was sleeping on his porch. She fit the description. The police took three hours to show up. By then the woman was gone.

The police have searched for her, but they have not followed up on all leads: at least one woman who reported seeing her was not called back.

Some of the roads nearby are very dangerous for walking as they go through canyon country – the kind that twist and turn and have a huge drop on one side.

Postscript: Her skeletal remains were found in Malibu Canyon on August 9th 2010, nearly a year after she disappeared. More at CNN.

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DanyelSmithDanyel Smith (1965- ) is an American writer, best known as the former editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine. Yesterday she started work as executive editor of theroot.com. She has written two books: “More Like Wrestling” (2002) and “Bliss” (2005). She is married to Elliott Wilson, former editor-in-chief of XXL magazine!

I know I have read her stuff because her name is familiar, but I could not tell you what. She has written for Vibe, the New York Times, The Rolling Stone, Spin, The New Yorker, the San Francisco Guardian and others, writing mostly about music, particularly hip hop.

She was born in Oakland, California. At seven she started writing. At ten her family moved to Los Angeles, There she went to an all-black Catholic high school for girls. She got into Berkeley and went there for a few years but then dropped out without telling her parents.

She lived with her sister in Oakland and started writing. This was the 1980s when hip hop was something new:

When I first heard hip-hop, there’s no way to describe how it affected my life . It was such a great conversation, and no one was writing about it. I was happy to.

Then her stepfather appeared, driving up from Los Angeles, and asked what was going on. He took her to the offices of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and made her show her work to someone who could gainfully employ her. She met Tommy Tompkins: “Danyel was a remarkable individual, strong-willed, interesting, and cantankerous.”  He saw her talent and hired her. His advice to her about writing: “Just tell the truth. Tell your truth and you will be fine.”

Her articles started appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe and others. In 1993 she took an offer to work for Billboard in New York. That did not work out but soon she landed at Vibe. In 1997 she became its first black editor-in-chief. Then in 1999 she left.

Over the next three years she wrote “More Like Wrestling” about two sisters living in Oakland in the 1980s in the age of crack. It is one of the first novels by and about black Oakland.

One editor saw the book and told her that she had to make a decision whether or not she was writing for black people or white people. And that she needed to have clearer heroes and heroines in the book.

The New York Times said her prose was “lyrical if sometimes rocky”. Michael Eric Dyson said it was “a work of beauty and moral complexity about love in its resplendent and damaging incarnations.”

The writers she looks to are Zora Neale Hurston, Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Joan Didion, Cristina Garcia, Sister Souljah and Ernest Hemingway.

“Bliss”, came out in 2005. It gives an inside view of the music industry. She says it is about “living with pain – not about forgiving or forgetting it”.

In 2006 she returned to Vibe. It was troubled and under new owners. In 2009 it went broke.  Now she is at The Root.

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