New Woody Allen Film “Midnight In Paris” is a Refreshing Story with Little Filler

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Woddy Allen

“Simple but not simpler,” to paraphrase an Einstein thought. That is the feeling I had after walking out of  Woody Allen‘s latest film, “Midnight In Paris.” This is to say, I felt a little bit of relief after having seen 2 consecutive superhero movies on the big screen and fearing that Captain America was going to be next on the list.

This movie is set in Paris. A city that by all accounts is charming for it’s simplicity even amidst all the details. There are no big Broadway lights, 8 lane highways, monolithic billboards. Just street lights and … the street.

And this is where the movie takes us – to the street. To the old notion of, “where does that old sidewalk lead to”. Paris is a city that has been around long enough and windy enough to inspire those thoughts.

Walking around New York one has a sense that no matter where they turn they’ll be somewhere. Or even my beloved Philadelphia is so perfectly graphed out it’s difficult to get lost in the Center City area. Now, Sao Paulo where I live currently is maze-like, but it’s best to stay on the lighted path.

Paris, it seems, asks for you to make wrong turns and end up where you thought you would never go. This was what Allen was able to transmit through his lens – for we know that always in a movie by the director, the city where he films is less a stage than it is a character.

The story is quiet basic and linear – which is strange to say about a movie that deals with time travel.  And though I much prefer the schizophrenic Allen to the love-lust one – the film is charming in it’s way.

In a nutshell: a Hollywood writer is in France with his fiance and feels as if he missed out on life. That he shouldn’t even be living in the same time he is. And by happenstance he is transported back to the roaring twenties – the Golden Age of Paris.

There in the 20s he is met by every famous artist, poet and writer one can imagine. It becomes almost silly. And by the time Salvador Dali makes an appearance one sort of begins laughing along and taking the movie for what it is. Simple but lovely. There isn’t any very deep conversation (as a matter a fact, I felt the famous personalities from the 20s where written rather like caricatures than characters: they are more there to help the film move along than to offer any real insight), or tricky cinematography (the films looks like a moving postcard for the city – a rather gorgeous one at that), or even any usual Allen-isms (the quips, the one-liners are missing – the dialogue is straight and to the point). The movie simply strolls along as the main character Gil discovers what it is that brings him to take these journeys every midnight in the City of Lights.

Walking The Streets of Paris

The most appealing thing about the movie is knowing that Woody Allen – perhaps the most prolific of our directors – is still alive and imagining. He had been making some terrible films after regaining popularity with “Scoop”, but though his new films have been getting good reviews I wasn’t much interested in seeing them. I did try to sit through “Vicky Christina Barcelona” but felt it was too heavy handed.

The last fun and zany movie I remember watching by Allen was “Deconstructing Harry” and that was in 1997!  So though he does keep it low key in this film – it is Paris after all where extravagance is an ugly American notion – and though he has used the motif of time travel before (probably most famously in “The Purple Rose of Cairo”), this movie satisfies in an easy manner that should make one leave the theatre simply breathing lightly and saying to themselves: Perhaps love can truly overcome all … and instead of trying to find a place far from “the now” to be happy we should simply jump into what is directly ahead.  Here’s hoping there is more great Woddy Allen films ahead, because even at his worst he is better than most everyone else working out there in the business today.

Categories: Arts

Wake Up Black Brothers and Sisters: Barak Obama is not Your Friend!

May 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Barak "The Second Coming of" Obama

To all my black brothers and sisters who dogged me when I stood firmly against Barak Obama and his eloquent rhetoric during the presidential campaign in 2008, I ask bluntly, “how you like the brother now?”.  In the nearly 3 years Mr. Obama has been in power he has proved to be just another puppet politician – another version of Bush but with a larger lexicon, greater charisma and course Oprah’s undying love.  And although his poll numbers amongst blacks has declined by about 7% … “Once monolithic, blacks’ support for the first African American president is still…immense. But for unclear reasons it’s declined about 7% from well above 90% to 85% in March.” … it’s amazing to me that black America still judges this man based on the colour of his skin and not the content of his character.

Mr. Obama’s presidency, much like Bush’s, began very much under the radar – surely there were Mr. Obama’s slipping poll numbers that began to reflect a growing unease with his Administration, but that was always explained away as being the fault of the non-support from the “racist” majority-white Republican party.  But then we had the BP Gulf Oil crisis which should have given us the full picture of Mr. Obama’s complete lack of assertiveness and leadership in difficult circumstances – and it did for most people except for the majority of my aforementioned brethren.  Instead of using all the possible resources to combat the oil spill – be it from the proper nation or anyone else willing to help,  he waited until BP itself found a solution for the problem.

While oil spilt over the Florida shoreline and through most of the Gulf of Mexico, I felt as if I was watching “Bush vs Katrina Part 2: The longer more cumbersome sequel with not as many on screen casualties so as to widen the audience margin” – who wants to see more dead bodies floating in the water anyway?  Can anyone recall one important presidential moment from that escapade?  Was it his “firm” speech directed towards BP – which sounded more like an old mother telling her delinquent son to not hang out with those riff raff’s from down the way, knowing that he was going to go anyway?  Or was it his trip to the Florida waters to take a swim – in an area that relies more on fishing than the Miami Beach crowd.

After months of grueling reportage things slipped back to the usual – complaining about the economy – song and dance.  Until of  course there arose a new global crisis for our “Global President”: a deadly earthquake in Japan caused an accident in the nuclear plants located in Fukushima which subsequently began to emit radiation.  And like any good old American in March, instead of adressing the issue, Mr. Obama was giving talks on NCAA picks and traveling to Brasil (you missed Carnival by a few weeks my friend, but I’m sure you can still find a few parties to go to!)  Our fearless leader did manage to keep things from straying too far off the Presidential track before his trip though as he made sure to start an illegal war against Lybia (well “Kinetic Military Action” to be true to the Administration’s definition – and so as to not confuse with Un-Kinetic Action of any sort). Which was then followed by a threat to Syria.

It’s unimaginable to say after the 8 years of horror at the hands of Bush, but we can at least credit him for attempting to go to Congress (as the U.S. Constitution commands section 8 clause 11) before beginning his personal war with Saddam.  He even went further and stood before the UN – albeit with what turned out to be dubious evidence.  Mr. Obama on the other hand made it quite clear that his campaign slogan wasn’t made up of just words thrown in the air: “yes We can!”  I just worry that the “we” in the famous phrase refers not to his supporters and himself but rather to him and his political clan.

All this begs the question: “What have we learned from the Obama presidency so far?”  Well, for one he really likes basketball – inviting all the big boys from the NBA for a game  at the White House was headline news.  He’s also okay with gays – adios “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  He’s proved to be an incompetent negotiator – unable to pass health care legislation even when his party was in the majority.  This is a man who is also afraid to take any firm stand which might hurt any one’s feelings: his wishy-washy treatment concerning the Ground Zero Mosque is a testament to that and so is his hazy opinion on immigration reform.  He is like the mercurial guys we remember from High School who didn’t want to offend anyone so as to become every one’s friends.  I sometimes wonder what became of those guys after the real world came crashing about them and they realized the spinelessness may win you a temporary drinking buddy but it doesn’t built respect nor does it garner real friendships of valour.  Maybe these guys folded, or maybe they became men of integrity and opinion, or maybe they became politicians.

Since Obama has been in power nothing that Bush had implemented or done has been cleared.  We still have a Patriot Act (Obama just recently signed on for it’s extension), we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (even with the “death” of Bin Laden it seems like the occupation now has no end in sight), a prison in Guantanamo Bay and much more. For sure we will soon have expanded Kinetic Military Action in Lybia which is rapidly leading to Humanitarian Ground troops so as to not call it an illegal war – did I mention Obama had a larger lexicon?  Syria is next and threats already have been made against Pakistan.  Furthermore. since the Bush years, the economy hasn’t bettered and neither has the unemployment rate.  There’s isn’t any raw evidence that the country is any safer from terrorists – unless you want to consider the “Spy on your Neighbors” adverts in Wal-Marts, cameras everywhere and TSA naked body scans and body gropes at airports “safer”.

With more chaos and Kinetic Actions at hand, Nobel Peace Prize winning President Barak Hussein Obama will have his right place next to Bush and nearly every other President before them, as another nail in the coffin of what was once the greatest nation on earth.  Even with it’s flaws America was once a dream trying to built itself into a reality, a respectful idea that even the most disparaged of it’s inhabitant could at least fight to defend and integrate himself into, but who can be proud to wave the flag anymore?

I started this text calling out my black brothers and sisters because it was principally they who were more moonstruck than anyone by Mr. “Second-Coming of Christ” Obama.  I hadn’t seen this sort of blindness to the obvious based solely of race since the O.J. Simpson trial – and I was too young to truly understand the breadth and scope of what that truly meant and stood for when it was happening.  This phenomenon isn’t only unsettling due to it’s sheer ignorance, but also because it gives us a definitive marker of how divided America still is by race relations.

So I ask you my brothers and sisters, “are you willing to look past the colour and see the man?”  Your freedom and well-being is at stake.  Your mind is still yours.  And freedom is still a right not endowed by any government of by any man, but by the Almighty Creator himself.  Use it!

Categories: Society

Gil Scott-Heron Dies

May 29, 2011 Leave a comment

A voice dared to speak – to shout! – of injustice and man’s destruction of life, of spirit … of man.  This voice was warm but stern, poetic yet flat – able to communicate without question that which is undeniable … the truth!  Truth that is intangible yet able to touch each one’s heart as a sharp knife upon soft skin.  Truth which vibrated from the minds of men from the beginning of time and will continue till the last human breath is taken.  Truth which is love and compassion.  This voice emitted from a man – Gil Scott-Heron.  And this man has no beginning and therefore no end – for he was his art and his art was his soul.  There was no division, there was no visible line.

On the 27th of March of 2011 the man left us (or what we recognize as the man – for his material legacy) but the voice has not: and the voice is what matters.  Though mortal coil is left to dissipate into dust, the energy that was the mobilizing force within the body of the man, Gil Scott Heron, continues to be with us. Therefore sadness does not fill my heart, because I remember every bit of Mr. Heron as if he had never been apart from me.  As if he knew me before I heard his voice, and as if his voice continued to call long after I had forgotten where to find it.

I remember the first time that I heard Gil, on a late night on Temple Public Radio’s, “The Bridge”, talking about some revolution, and later on WDAS murmuring about some bottle, and later, on my own, about some Winter … and more and more and more.  Each time was new, was revolutionary, was real – hard to define – the way I usually like life to be.  As a poet he was hard yet subtle – being the offspring of a generation of writers and imaginers from Harlem’s renaissance (his great influence being Langston Hughes) and the Beats which followed. But by the time the chaotic 60s and 70s came along the word – or be it, the world – transformed and with it so did the message.  Not that there wasn’t a call for justice, for liberation, that rung through the mouths of many poets before him but Gil came to us in the era of television, of record machines, of radios … where now each phrase could be heard and repeated endlessly in a loop and became what was your life or what you thought may be your life had you been born but a few blocks away on the dark end of your same neighborhood.  He understood the responsibility that came with this great power and never misused it and never misguided.  He was a master of his art for his art was him and their union was perfect.

Mr. Heron is always credited for his influence on modern rap, even being called the Godfather of Rap, but he didn’t rap … he breathed … he swung.  “They need to study music…” he said of the rappers, “… There’s a big difference between putting words over some music, and blending those same words into the music … They use a lot of slang and colloquialisms, and you don’t really see inside the person. Instead, you just get a lot of posturing.”  And it was this that Gil wanted us to do – look inside.  What do you see?  Is it pretty or ugly?  Is it life-affirming or does it make you want to die where you stand?  He was art.  It flourished through him because as a man he was like all of us – flawed.  So the art became one with his heart and his heart chose to become one with our own, and once it joined ours it asked for ours to meld with that of another – and endless stream of vibration, art and love.  “The revolution will not be televised” he famously said.  That is because he understood better than anyone that it was going to begin and end right here inside you and I.  You might just find this out yourself if you just stop and listen.  Just listen to the man.

Categories: Arts

Brazil Wins It’s Second World Cup Match With a Show of Beauty and Force

June 22, 2010 3 comments

Order and Progress ... Dunga's Line

Brazil won its second World Cup match yesterday 3-1 in convincing fashion against the Ivory Coast. Fans that had been complaining about an ugly game from Brazil could rest their minds at least for the moment – for the only ugliness came from the part of the judges and the opposing team.

Two of Brazil goals came from forward Luis Fabiano. The first was a precision shot from short range after some tricky passing between him, midfielder/forward Robinho and midfielder Kaká on the way to the penalty area. It shot up at just the right angle to rise over the hands of the Ivory Coast goalie Barry.

The second goal Fabiano scored was artful though controversial. He kicked over two defender’s heads and controlled the ball on his shoulder before kicking it into the goal. The ball in avertedly touched part of his arm amidst the acrobatics (harkening back to Maradona’s “Hand Of God” goal) but it was quickly enough and so clearly not intended to be ruled inconsequential to the final resulting goal – and even the referee who saw it plainly smiled it off.

Elano the midfielder also made his second World Cup goal in as many games. His was a soft controlled shot in front of the net from a perfectly fed ball from Kaká – who played much better this game than he did the last.

From then on things took a turn for the worst. The Ivory Coast players appeared irritated by the Brazilian dribbling antics and compensated by playing rougher. The referee didn’t make a big deal of it and it only led to the attacks becoming even harder – with eventual grim consequences: when Elano slid to try to strip the ball from the Ivory Coast player Tioté the player went over the ball and rammed his foot into the Brazilian’s shin upwards near the knee. There was no foul given.

Elano was carried off the field looking as if he had fractured a bone and the hard play mixed with terrible officiating continued – finally culminating in Kaká being thrown out of the game (and receiving a suspension from the next game against Portugal) for what was essentially a non-foul – the player Keita bumped into him and performed a perfect flop, looking as if he had been elbowed hard.

Even after this expulsion the violent play went on until the very end, but what stood out more is that Brazil did not lose its focus. The Ivory Coast did manage a goal, but it looked to have been as much as a surprise to them as it was to the Brazilians and so carried no weight behind it.

At the end of the match Brazil and its fans rejoiced – there was the “beautiful game” we had been waiting to see. Dunga looked vindicated (at least for a day) and the country classified for the next phase of the Cup. Kaká will sit out, as will Elano most likely, which will give both men enough time to rest, recuperate and train during a game against Portugal that matters but is not a game changer as far as classification goes even if Brazil looses. As I mentioned at an earlier time: things can only get better.

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Categories: Sports

Kobe Bryant, Is He The Best Ever or Just the Best We Have?

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Two Greats ... But Who Is The Greatest?

In winning it all this year, the Lakers did what looked improbable given their lackluster performance in the time leading up to the NBA Finals and the beating they received from the Boston Celtics before returning back to LA.  Leading the charge was Mr. Kobe Bryant who for many year has been in the in the conversation of who is the greatest player of all time.   What has kept Kobe from the top spot, it seems, was his lack of NBA Finals hardware to prove him muster and moreover the shadow of Shaquille O’niel: the Finals MVP for Kobe’s first three title conquests.

Mr. Bryant has now won two titles on his own and two MVP awards to go with it – one against a clearly weaker and inexperienced opponent: the Orlando Magic, and another in a series against the Boston Celtics where statistically he did not give his best performance, 29.2 PPG.  This being said, he is currently the proud owner of literally a handful of rings (one for each finger) – and as he so noted, “one more than Shaq”.  Still, as immense as Mr. Oniel’s shadow is, there is a larger player’s shadow which lurks in basketball – it overspreads all that came before, during and after he played – that is Michael Jordan.

One for each Finger!

The hurdle that Kobe has to jump to surpass Mr. Jordan is a monumental one, because his predecessor defined greatness not simply in terms of winning but in terms of the raw passion that he had for the game, that one could feel pouring from his heart every night he touched the ball.  Michael Jordan didn’t just play basketball – he bled it and wanted us all to bleed along with him regardless of our team affiliation through every difficult game, improbable end or unbelievable shot.

Kobe, sadly, never has been able to convey this universal charm and most non-Laker fans do not like him.  This could be for a few reasons.  Some think he is arrogant, other think he is cocky: as if he is self-aware of his greatness and doesn’t do much to hide it.  Only Muhammad Ali was creative enough to know how to turn such hubris into a positive for himself.

Sports fans love a great athlete, but not as much as they love a humble one who looks just as surprised and enthralled when he makes a clutch shot, as the people at home and in the stands.  In order for Kobe to be considered the greatest he must somehow relay this in his play.  People need to care about him and love him.  Greatness is funny in that for it to be achieved it doesn’t just require statistical prowess, but an ability to show that you are sweating out there to make it all happen.  Greatness is built by the record books as well as in the psyche of the spectators.  Look at tennis great Roger Federer, an athlete who only truly solidified his, “Greatest Of All Time” status over Pete Sampras in most tennis fans’ minds, not after breaking his predecessors’ records, but when he got his own personal Andre Agassi in Rafael Nadal, who came along and gave him a challenge – made him look human.

For Mr. Bryant, being the greatest ever may not be the main objective- he would probably much rather be the best that Kobe Bryant can be.  Yet, I doubt that anyone who goes into a sport, or really any sort of competitive activity, doesn’t have that desire to better their predecessors.

Going For the Top

Michael Jordan left a large legacy, but is it impossible to overcome?  Federer did so with Sampras as we see, Tiger Woods most likely will do so with Nicklaus (if he hasn’t already).  But it will take more than just winning to solidify this notion with the fans and Kobe unfortunately may not ever achieve it based solely on his perceived arrogance.  Still, as he gets older and the shots get harder, and the competition stiffens, and he is perhaps more humbled by this but still able to perform miracles on the court, his journey to the top might become a reality.  It may or may not happen.  Who truly knows?  I can only imagine that it will be probably be a great ride.


Categories: Sports, Uncategorized

Brazil Wins World Cup Opener Without Much Style

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Brazil: Where Soccer is the National Language

Brazil wins its first game 2-1 against North Korea.  It wasn’t a beautiful game, for that one should have been watching Germany dominate Australia for 90 minutes, nor was it a completely underwhelming performance.  Maicon’s goal at the beginning of  the 2nd period from an absurd angle proves that Brazil is still capable of creating what looks to be impossible offence, and Robinho’s pass to Elano for his World Cup goal was a reminder that in Brazil soccer is still an art form.  What worries this observer is the lack of firm belief that this group of players has been able to instill in the heart of the fan.

This is Brazilian coach Dunga’s “Anti All-Star team” – almost as if he wants to prove that Brazil can win the World Cup on its soccer merit and disciplined play and not its Ronaldo, Pelé, Ronadinho star power.  Much like the 2004 Baskeball Olympic team that was full of talent but no cohesion, Dunga feels that the last World Cups were marked by more individual ego than team work, which led to ultimate failure.  But can he prove that teamwork, players with good moral character and defense can win championships as opposed to big name players that get along but aren’t neccessarily best of buds, questionable off-field behaviour but oustanding on-field behaviour and a relentless attack on the goal – as if each game needed to be won by 5 points or more.  If he can prove the latter he will be heralded as a genius – if he doesn’t … well, they do say the summers are lovely in Portugal and he already speaks the language.

Dunga's strategy is meticulously thought out but will it play out as planned.

It’s still early in the competition and although Brazil wasn’t stellar against a much weaker opponent, no team has truly shined with the exception of Germany, though their loss to Serbia was shocking.  It’s safe to say that Brazil can only get better.  Yes, this is the team that kept it close with the US in the Confederations Cup Finals, and played less the convincingly in their final games leading up to the Cup – yet, in all that hankering of the lack of the “beautiful game” one thing remained true – everyone of those matches ended in a victory.   For those of us who want both victory and show, we may have to wait until 2014 when the likes of Neymar, Ganso  and the other new stars of Brazilian national soccer teams- who play with style as well as proficiency- get their chance to put their foot on the ball.

Categories: Sports

Michael Jackson is Alive! His Story continues in the tragedy of the Media Culture

June 15, 2010 Leave a comment
The Magic Man

A year has passed since Michael Jackson was pronounced dead last June 25th, but it doesn’t feel like it.  Perhaps it’s because of the release of his documentary film, This is It in October and the subsequent DVD release; or the continuing news stories and interviews with family members; or even the new ads for the Cirque Du Soleil show in 2011 which make it appear as if he’s more active in the media now than ever.  Then again it could simply be because the years before his death were lived so privately simply releasing some new Michael Jackson music compilation package that his actual physical absence doesn’t feel like such a sharp contrast.

After a year though, we can reflect on issues that should resonate even for those that weren’t the biggest MJ fans.  The first is the power of the media.

For most of his late career, Michael Jackson was maltreated, scandalized, turned into a joke and viciously attacked by the media.  Mr. Jackson’s name sold newspapers – his name tied with some off the wall story, sold more.  Yet, this same media that defamed and tried with earnest to destroy the legacy of the legendary artist was the same that with one fell swoop was able to turn him into a glowing superstar once more.  So quick was the media’s turnaround that it should make one wonder where they and their celebrity cohorts were when Mr. Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges In June 0f 2005.

The second point, and more frightening than the media’s ability to manipulate, is the public’s willingness to be manipulated.  Gangs of people who were quick to call Mr. Jackson a child molesting freak flocked to their TVs to watch the memorial services , packed their music stores to make him the number one artist of 2009 and ran to the theaters to make This Is It the biggest grossing concert film of all time.

If it’s this easy to sway public opinion on something that was pretty much set in stone, “Michael is Wack Job” – one should begin to question where else these nifty sleight of hand tactics are used.

We See Hear and Say Nothing

In the end I don’t know who has had the last laugh.  On one side there are a fervent group of people who believe Michael Jackson faked his own death and played the media back on itself by redeeming his image , Conversely, if he truly died then it’s the media, with their ability to change positions as effortlessly as Jackson moonwalked who wins out by effectively pressing delete on years of negative reporting and ultimately portraying themselves as Jackson’s number one fans from day one.

Easier is the question of who doesn’t laugh: the public, who are (knowingly or unknowingly) toyed with in and endless cycle of Good News, Bad News, What to Think, What not Think etc.  Michael Jackson is just a small example of the many facets of news which are fed to us in whatever light the media decides to present it.  Some of these stories are more important than others, but this does not make the Michael Jackson media spin any less instructive and perilous than the 9/11 media spin, the Bush media spin, the Obama media spin and so on.  This chain can only be broken when good people begin to choose for themselves, think for themselves, conclude for themselves.  As one of the lyrics of a Jackson classic states, “look at yourself and make a change.”


Categories: Arts