Friday, April 13, 2012

Alice Smith, Rams Head Tavern, Annapolis, MD, 4-10-2012

I went to this concert on my birthday. Took these with my point-and-shoot which they allow as long as you don't use flash. 1/60th at f2.8 at ISO 1600. All photos (c) Incorrigible Curmudgeon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The King's Speech

I've always said that I love movies too much to be a critic so these film snippets are merely my observations and opinions.

I saw "The King's Speech" recently and it is indeed one of the top 5 films of the year, a sure Oscar contender for best picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper, best known for his superb HBO mini-series John Adams ), Best actor (Colin Firth as King George VI.), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush as the King's speech therapist) and probably Best Supporting Actor, female (Helena Bonham Carter as the King's wife). [as I said earlier, I tend to avoid the diminutive term 'actress,' as all are actors]

I'm not an Anglophile or a fan of the British royals nor do I care much about them either way. That said, two of my favorite recent movies, The Queen (about QE2) and The King's Speech (about QE2's father), have been about the royals. This is one of the things I love about movies, the way they open a window onto worlds outside our immediate experience and in the best of them make us care.

Geoffrey Rush, the great Australian actor (who first came to my attention in Quills and whom I also enjoyed in Elizabeth, Frida, and the Pirates of the Caribbean) is great as the Australian speech therapist to the man untimely thrust onto the throne. Colin Firth (best known for Bridget Jone's Diary, Love Actually, and the Single Man) is also stellar as the younger son of the dying King George V. He's the brother of the Duke of Windsor, the heir to the throne, who famously abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, thrusting Colin Firth's Duke of York onto the throne despite a debilitating speech impediment, a stammer.

The drama comes out of the importance of the newly crowned King George VI., with his stammer and his paralyzing fear of public speaking (I can relate) rallying his subjects in a single nationally broadcast speech as Britain declares war against Hitler's Germany. Helena Bonham Carter ( I first remember her in Lady Jane, as the Queen who served for 19 days before her beheading) is moving as the wife of the Duke turned King, the one who contacts Geoffrey Rush after countless failed attempts to find a cure for the Duke's stammer.

Ultimately, this is a love story: the love of wife & husband, the love of King for commoner (the speech therapist, his first non-royal friend), and the love of King for Country.

As a historian I am struck by the extraordinary resemblance of the actors to their characters. The Duke of Windsor (Guy Pearce) and Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) looked like they stepped out of the famous Avedon portrait. Timothy Spall (Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies) is almost as good as Sir Winston Churchill.

Ultimately, a very satisfying, deeply moving movie. Four stars out of Four.

Now I am torn, Oscar-wise. Do I stay with Christian Bale from The Fighter for best supporting actor or Geoffrey Rush for the King's Speech? Actually Firth and Rush should go head to head in the category of Best Actor as both are lead performances. Helena Bonham Carter will have to compete with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Melissa Leo (the Fighter) for Best Actor, female. Of course this may all change after I see 127 hours and the Black Swan in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 31, 2010

"True Grit" (2010)

I saw another Oscar contending movie last night: "True Grit," the latest from the Coen Brothers, I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers' movies, most particularly "Fargo" but "The Big Lebowski," "No Country for Old Men," and "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" are high among my favorites. I also liked "Blood Simple," "Barton Fink," "Miller's Crossing" and "A Serious Man." The only one I didn't like was "The Ladykillers." I also enjoyed the original "True Grit" (1969) the film in which John Wayne earned his only Oscar.

"True Grit" is the story of a 14 year old girl (13 year old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) out to avenge the murder of her father by hiring drunken over-the-hill U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, the John Wayne role now ably inhabited by Jeff Bridges (2009 Oscar winner for "Crazy Heart") to hunt him down and bring him to justice. The killer is played by Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") who has linked up with Lucky Ned Pepper and his gang. Pepper (the underrated Barry Pepper) stands out among a stellar cast of actors which includes Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger also on the trail of the killer for another offense. Damon is great as the self-absorbed dandy. There are three stand outs in the movie: the Coen Brothers' meticulous casting, their adherence to the formalist prose of Charles Portis' original novel, and the wonderful Hailee Steinfeld as the plucky daughter on a mission Mattie Ross. She is worth the price of admission and worthy of her inevitable consideration for an Oscar for best actor, female (I try to avoid the diminutive 'actress').

The movie is a marvel throughout, for Roger Deakins' expressive and beautiful cinematography, Carter Burwell's moving score (both are Coen Brothers regulars) and for Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. This is not just a wonderful western but a wonderful movie, and a worthy addition to the Coen Brothers canon. I was unprepared for the elegiac coda to the film in which the story is resolved far beyond the end of the original film. Poignant and hauntingly moving.

The original "True Grit" had two major faults (three if you count the casting of singer Glen Campbell): The first was John Wayne, simply because any movie starring John Wayne becomes a work of John Wayne iconography. Unavoidably. The second was casting a 22 year old (Kim Darby) to play 13 year old Mattie. Darby was good but Steinfeld is a revelation. four stars out of four.

"The Fighter"

This time of year I try to catch as many prospective Oscar contending movies as I can. I like to watch the Oscars having seen most of them.

I recently caught "The Fighter" on a friends recommendation. Good 3.5 out of 4 star movie. Manages to avoid most of the hoary "Rocky"-style fighter movie tropes. Christian Bale is definitely due supporting actor consideration as the big brother/former fighter/crack addict/sometime trainer of Mark Wahlberg's aspiring welterweight champion character.

Wahlberg's good, as is Melissa Leo, downright scary as the mom, a harridan harpy from hell. Both are good but Bale is great.

If I were a resident of Lowell, Mass. where the true events depicted take place, I would be offended by the casting of the townspeople, the most grotesque cast of characters since Richard Avedon's "American West" portraits.

Russell is best remembered for his superb "Three Kings," first and arguably best of the Gulf War movies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Thanksgiving, some Native American rock resistance music: Blackfire - It Aint Over!

I heard this Navajo rock group today on Michele Martin's "Tell Me More" on NPR. Before Black Fire I was only aware of two: Redbone and Clan Dyken. Redbone had a monster dance hit at Howard University in the early 70s called "Maggie."

Rock music has been appropriated by White musicians for so long that it has come to be perceived as the exclusive province of White people. Certainly the commercial rock stations hold fast to this perception. Rock stations seem to acknowledge only one Black rocker: Jimi Hendrix, discounting the solid Black rock of jam bands like Mandrill, War, Parliament-Funkadelic, and more contemporary Black rockers like Vernon Reid, Eric Gales (son of the great jazz guitarist of the same name) and even Prince (live, not recorded) and countless unnamed others.

That is why I always like to learn about and shed some light upon the non-traditional, non-White rockers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"For Colored Girls"

 I saw "For Colored Girls" last night and my impressions were somewhat more positive than negative, powerful performances by & large despite Tyler Perry’s ham-fisted, clunky direction and moralizing, message-changing screenplay. 

Whereas Ntozake Shange’s play celebrated Black womanhood and sexual liberation, Perry’s template focuses on the pathology of victimhood. The young girl played by Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars, etc.) couldn’t  just lose her virginity in high school (which the play & book celebrated as a happy moment of sexual awakening) but had to get a back-alley abortion from Macy Gray and wind up almost dying because of it. The character played by Thandie Newton was an unabashedly sexual being in the book, unapologetic about liking sex without attachment. Perry couldn’t resist writing in a scene where she she did in fact lament the type of woman she had chosen to become along with some clumsy back-story explaining why she came to this.
Which brings up the other glaring disconnect. Was this supposed to be a period piece set in the 1970s of the play? The mise- en-scene is decidedly modern and contemporary. And if modern, then why didn’t she just go to Planned Parenthood to get a safe abortion? Even in the late ‘60s (I was there and I know) abortions had become legal, available , and affordable and thus this TP melodramatic contrivance becomes anachronistic and pointless.  
As good as much of the acting was, some of it was so over-wrought  and emotionally over-the-top that it reminded me of one of those ‘Last Mama on the couch’ plays that George C.Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” made such fun of (TP, cue the mournful strings and the treacly soundtrack). 
 I found myself  diverting myself playing 6 degrees of separation: (Loretta Devine starred in the original Dreamgirls on Broadway. Phyllicia Rashad  was an understudy in the original Dreamgirls on Broadway. Anika Noni Rose won a Tony on Broadway (Caroline, or Change) and also starred in the movie Dreamgirls. Ntozake Shange brought  the theater piece that would become “For Colored Girls…” to New York from Oakland, fine-tuning her play in a performance space provided by Gylan Kain (original member of the Last Poets) whose son Khalil Kain debuted in the1992  movie “Juice” and also plays a rapist in the film “For Colored Girls.” Kimberly Elise starred in the Jonathan Demme film “Beloved” with Thandie Newton.  Kimberly Elise also starred in Tyler Perry’s first Film “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” But I digress… 
 The good: I thought Phyllicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose,  Loretta Devine and Thandie Newton were particularly good. Tessa Thompson was pretty good too (I was a fan of “Veronica Mars” in Which  she played one of the students).    
The not-so-good:  I have long been a fan of Kimberly Elise but Perry had her so over-the-top in her degradation and grief (the murder of your children will do that to you) that she became mopey, ineffectual, annoying. I’ve long been a fan of Whoopi Goldberg’s too  (going back to her stand-up and one-woman show on HBO) and as much as I loved her in “The Color Purple,” Perry had her channeling Celie through some ambiguous type of religious fanatic cult member that just didn’t work for me. And I’ve long been a fan of Kerry Washington (“Our Song,” “Last King of Scotland,” etc.) but Perry has given her little to do but stand around looking pretty and helpless, the good woman who wants children and can’t have them due to a pre-existing STD (TP and his sex out of marriage morality  again). Which brings us to Janet  Jackson, who displayed some decent acting chops though I was constantly distracted by the way  her short-cropped hair made her a dead ringer (sorry) for Michael Jackson in drag.  
Enough has been made of Tyler Perry’s characterization of the Black men in this film, that while the play had none, the film has five: a crazed war veteran child murderer (Michael Ealy), a charming pretty boy who just happens to be a rapist (Khalil Kain), a closeted bisexual  who infects his woman with HIV (Omari Hardwick), a trifling middle-aged commitment-phobic philanderer (Richard Lawson) and a caring cop with a heart of gold (Hill Harper). Courtland Milloy (whom I  often find irritating)made a big deal about this in the Washington Post but I’m inclined to give this a pass. They were not Ntozake Shange’s characterizations but Tyler Perry’s. Her play was not about the men. It was a womanist work in which the women reacted to the negativity in their lives (including the men at times) by asserting agency and moving on. Perry felt he had to go for the stereotypes, the familiar tropes, in short for the melodrama he continues to be powerless to resist. 
That said, Shange’s words maintain their wonderful power despite Perry’s distractions and embellishment.The weakest moment’s in the  film are when  the women are forced to voice his words, which stick out because they lack her gift for language.     

Now, I had reservations going in to this Tyler Perryization of a beloved work, but I was determined not to be like those friends and students of mine who refused to even see Darnell Martin’s wonderful film “Cadillac Records” just because Beyonce was in it playing blues legend Etta James. As a result, they missed a very good, very under-rated film by an under-rated Black woman director (“I Like it Like That.,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God”).     

 I am happy I saw this film and can even find something positive that Tyler Perry brought to “For Colored Girls”: his built-in audience of slavishly devoted fans. Truth is how many people today are even aware that a Black woman named Ntozake Shange existed or that in 1975 she had written and performed a choreopoem called “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” that spoke to a generation of Black people (and not just Women or for that matter, not just Black women), or that she had  taken her play from coffee houses in the San Francisco Bay area all the way to Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony Award for best play (it won best actress for Trazana Beverley as the lady in  red)? I hope this film leads to productions of the original play in college and regional theater, perhaps even once again to Broadway.    

I forgot one other positive from "For Colored Girls": The closing credits featured the Nina Simone classic "4 Women" with Nina singing the first verse and Ledisi singing the other 3. Very moving homage to a classic. Have to get that on my iPod.

 Anyway, that’s my take on the film, my own humble opinion, for what it’s worth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Obama, We've Got Your Back" signs popping up around Prince Georges County, Maryland

This particular sign is at Riggs Rd. and University Blvd. They're starting to pop up around the county. Wish this positive phenomenon was more wide-spread. Incorrigible Curmudgeon photo (c)2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

21st Annual James A. Porter Colloquium

I'm looking forward to the 21st Annual
James A. Porter Colloquium ,
the premiere conference on African-American
Art and Art History, sponsored by and at
Howard University on April 16th and 17th,
2010 in the Blackburn Center.

The theme this year is "Fearless: Risk Takers,
Rule Breakers, and Innovators in
African-American Art and Art of the
African Diaspora."

The first 20 colloquia were the product and vision
and year-around effort and hard work of
Dr. Floyd W. Coleman, who has since retired
and is one of the honorees this year, along with
Jeff Donaldson (posthumously), Elizabeth Catlett,
and Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

The keynote address will be given by photographer/
media artist/activist/provocateur
Renee Cox
    "Chillin' with Liberty",1998, (c) Renee Cox

The JAPC is free and open to the public
(registration required) with the exception
of the fund-raising gala (fee) after Saturday's

Wednesday, February 10, 2010