Shade of “The Grey”

First, let me begin by saying I have a great deal of respect for Liam Neeson and enjoy his movies immensely. Anytime “Taken” or “Love Actually” is on television, I’m locked in for the duration.  Which is why I was looking forward to seeing his latest movie, “The Grey”.

The trailer promised an exciting man-vs.-wild story, complete with heart-stopping action scenes. Unfortunately, it felt more like I’d wandered into one of those man retreats where they learn how to be “real men”, coupled with survival instincts during an ill-fated orientation.

Granted, Neeson held up his end of the bargain by once again being the rugged yet sensitive character that keeps me watching his films, but if I want to spend a couple of hours watching a bunch of men cry, talk about their feelings and challenge each other’s manhood… I’d go to a sports bar. At least it’s slightly more entertaining when they’re drunk.

With that said, although the film fell short of my expectations, it was interesting to see a movie where the male leads all reveal a vulnerability and compassion towards each other — even while surviving fiery plane crashes, facing the threats of starvation, sickness, brutal cold and ultimately a vicious pack of wolves. Even the men with obvious personality flaws somehow became redeemed when it became evident they were on their way to becoming dog food.

The premise of “The Grey” may appeal to a male audience (and dialogue referring to “alpha” and “omega” and “dominance” seem to bolster that theory), but the fact that most of the characters expressed such a strong determination to return to their families — including Neeson’s character whose own longing for the woman he loves is repeatedly viewed in dream sequences — appeals more to a female audience.  Women also sympathize with Neeson’s personal story (he lost his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, after a tragic ski accident in 2009).

Overall, in an attempt to flesh out the characters and make the audience care about their fates, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to make a truly interesting movie. The action was scarce and almost predictable at points, which became a little unbearable when a movie starts to clock in at almost two hours. When the end finally does come, the audience is unsure of it being a payoff or a ripoff.

While the film, and especially Neeson’s performance, is engaging at times… audiences looking for the fast-paced action of “Taken” will likely think the latter.

I left thinking travel to the Alaskan wilderness is definitely not on my bucket list, and Sarah Palin can have it.

Apples and Oranges

Most days, I love being a New Yorker. What’s not to love about a city that offers so much in culture, experiences and various personalities?

Today, however, it blows… right through my closed window, which sits next to the Hudson River. On a perfect Spring day or a warm Summer night, the breeze is my friend and savior. Tonight, it has conspired with the schizophrenic radiator in my room to keep me addicted to Booster C vitamins for the rest of Winter. With temperatures in the teens, the big apple is now what clever newspaper caption writers (whose job I semi covet) call the “frozen apple”, and I’m not loving it. Give me the “orange state” of Florida, please.

Sitting here, fully clothed and huddled up in sweats and two layers of socks and sneakers… my mind wanders wistfully to places like Jamaica, Bermuda and Miami — where I not only had the time of my life, but I was significantly warmer (although not by much in Bermuda). Just thinking about South Beach and the ocean waves cooling off the hot sand that I wish was running through my toes instead of this shooting pain that feels like frost bite.

But as much as I’d prefer the warmth of the sun and sand, this brutally cold city has my heart. It’s where I can get pizza, Thai, Caribbean, and sushi within blocks of each other. It’s where I’ve checked out the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the upper east side, and a local homegrown artist exhibition at the awesome Apt 78 Lounge in the upper upper west side neighborhood of Inwood in the same day. It’s where I meet and connect with people who own multiple homes and use “Summer” as a verb, in addition to those who are just getting by in their rentals and looking forward to Summer the season so they can hit Coney Island. It’s where I can converse comfortably with hedge fund executives, marketing and media wizards and unemployed folks taking advantage of the free wi-fi in the coffee shops and libraries. It’s where I can watch the majestic dancers of Alvin Ailey and Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence troupes, and then see young kids with moves defying gravity on the subway ride home.

Physically, I feel the bitter chill, but the thought of New York always warms my heart.

When I think of Florida, I think of Alligators, and unless I’ve decided to become a cobbler for the pimp industry — there’s just no reason for me to be near them.

One Life To Live: In Celebration and Memoriam

It’s only Wednesday morning, and yet the week has already been loaded with life lessons.

When I began this blog, I made a personal declaration to be more open to life and all that it has to offer. While there’s still more to accomplish, the fact that I’ve barely had a moment to write about the many amazing things that have occurred since making that promise to myself is an indication I’m on the right track.

But in the past four days, four people have affected me in four different ways — each inspiring in their own way… three of which in passing and one in living. Their contributions to society perhaps only known to the people in their respective “bubbles”, they’ve given me numerous shots of perspective in such a small space of time.

The first life is that of Andy Rooney, who spent decades sharing his views of the world every Sunday night on “60 Minutes”. At 92, he only retired last month because his life and the news were so intertwined that he couldn’t have one without the other. As someone who’s passionate about writing from the heart about… well… anything, it was an eye-opening revelation to learn that Rooney pioneered that practice which has now become a popular staple for news programs. His honest, humorous, and sometimes provocative commentary changed the way millions of people saw things as complicated as politics and as simple as household products. In his passing, I’ve learned not only to keep speaking from the heart, but also that I should’ve watched that show more.

The next life is that of Joe Frazier, the legendary boxer who went by the name “Smokin’ Joe”. Although my appreciation for the sport of boxing only seriously developed over the past five years or so, I can recall as a kid listening to my dad and uncle having conversations with various characters at my grand uncle’s liquor store about boxing matches and would always hear Frazier’s name — usually in tandem with Muhammad Ali — amongst the list including George Foreman, and Sugar Ray Leonard. To these men, his greatness was evident in the power he displayed in the ring, but it would only be known to me later after watching the biopic, “Ali” with Will Smith, that Frazier’s greatness was also in his generosity; something that also contributed to his financial difficulties and was unfortunately payed back by Ali in public ridicule and disrespect. Frazier spent a good part of his life and fortune making sure other boxing hopefuls, including his own son and daughter, had an opportunity to realize their dreams as contenders. In his passing, I’ve learned about the perils of allowing yourself to be so consumed with bitterness about what others do and say about you, and what they have, that you fail to recognize and capitalize on your own value. Frazier reportedly regretted not using his fame the way Ali and Foreman had done so lucratively.

The third life is that of Dwight Errington Myers, who is best known by the name “Heavy D”. Most, if not all, of my high school and college life had been spent in some form or another listening to Heavy D and the Boys. When he came onto the scene, girls were swooning over the “overweight lover” — as he famously called himself, and it was clear in his lyrics that he was a lover… not a fighter. He was also a trendsetter: bringing sex appeal to big men before Biggie, making the switch from artist to executive before Jay-Z, and successfully navigating the acting game before LL Cool J, Common, Ice Cube, Ludacris, and everyone that’s turned up on a CBS network show within the last couple of years. As a recording artist, his songs were never explicit or misogynistic — he even had a song titled “Don’t Curse” — arguably solidifying his role as a gentleman in a genre made up of an increasing number of lotharios. His passing not only saddens me because it was sudden in nature, but it reminds me of a time when music used to make me carefree… and dance. And it reminds me that there are artists out there who won’t sell their soul for fame and are perfectly content doing work they believe in.

The fourth and final life is still in motion… quite literally. Though she’s not as famous as the other three people I’ve just spoken about, my friend Laura is still a pretty big deal. This past Sunday, she completed the New York City Marathon, and while it’s not her first time running, it was her first time running that much. When she’s not making strides to educate the millions of children in the New York City school system, or fundraising for Cancer and other causes… she runs. Whilst I cringe at the concept of running for anything other than the border of Taco Bell, this woman is plotting her next feat of superhuman proportions. In her living, I am simply inspired by her ability to find the strength to endure and complete such a physically grueling task. Of course, she’s also successfully navigated her way through several seasons of Carnival in Trinidad, so perhaps this is just further proof that this chick is pretty bad ass.

As extraordinarily unique as all of these people are, they share one universal truth: they’ve found success in being precisely who they are, and living and acting with such integrity that you can’t help but admire them for that… and even challenge yourself to take a page from their books.

In life, and in death, that’s the greatest lesson of all…

No Commercial Interruptions

It has been said time and time again that music is food for the soul.

Anyone, anywhere can attest to a moment where a specific song has changed their entire demeanor within a matter of seconds.  Memories are made in instances when you are engaged in anything from a breakup to a personal triumph or a traumatic life experience, and whatever was playing on the radio or television or iPod drives you to burst into either song or tears.  Years later, when you hear that song, it transports you back to that time and — for better or worse — show you how far you’ve come.

For me, and I’m sure many others, music has been my escape into other worlds and minds.  When I listen to Jazz, I’m in a blue-lit room swaying with people who are so immersed in the sound that they don’t utter a word.  When I listen to my Buena Vista Social Club album, my hips and legs have a mind of their own and I think to myself how much more I’d enjoy the songs if I comprehended more Spanish.  When I listen to Talib Kweli and Mos Def, I want to join a revolution or go back to school cause their poetry is just brilliant.  Listening to Prodigy amps me up to clean things with purpose.  Listening to Adele makes me cry and wonder how someone so young managed to put all my pain and heartache from past relationships into the perfect songs and realize that I’m not the only one who experienced it.  Reggae and Soca sometimes makes me feel I could be dangerously prone to promiscuous behavior, but it’s all good fun. 

You get the idea… I’m a musical schizophrenic.

For some time now, I’ve been embracing more artists that aren’t as commercially mainstream as the Beyonces and Katy Perrys of the world.  Not to take away from their well-earned success and exposure, but the amount of both undiscovered talent and dues paying veterans out there are overwhelming.

Last night, I went with one of my “super music-afficionado girlfriends” to see N’Dambi at the BAM Cafe.  I’d heard of her some years back and was especially fascinated by her look; she emerged on the music scene around the era of Angie Stone and Erykah Badu — singing backup for the latter — and had their natural “soul sista” style, with a badass afro that channeled Pam Grier.  Although she’s since eschewed that look for a funky two-toned fauxhawk that she sways and rocks from side to side, Miss Thing commanded the stage in that intimate cafe setting as if she were performing at the Highline or Roseland Ballrooms.  For a minute I thought I was watching a young Tina Turner as she jumped, shimmied and squatted in what looked to be 5-inch heels, all while maintaining her smile and especially her vocals.  My friend and I were so blown away, we ran straight to the table after the performance to buy her CD and personally meet and profess our awe, and then rushed back to her apartment to listen to the incredible set finale “Can’t Hardly Wait“, the unofficial anthem for women whose love for a man keeps her in a relationship longer than she knows she should be in it. 

Last night’s performance capped off a week of amazing talent. This past Sunday, I went to The Village Underground’s open mic night with another SMAG to catch the abundance of talent that braved the stage to perform amongst strangers.  That night, one singer performed a gospel song so powerful that it sent shivers through my body and brought me to tears.  Apparently, it also brought her to tears, because she burst into them directly after her performance. 

In a time where MTV and VH1 have replaced music with reality train wrecks, and the radio only plays the same regurgitated pop “hits”, it’s refreshing to be not only in the presence of true musicians but fellow lovers of real music that doesn’t come in a can or hyper-sexualized industry products.

For those of you who haven’t experienced BAM Cafe on a Friday or Saturday night, or Village Underground on a Sunday — consider your itinerary for the weekend made.


High Infidelity

When I first heard the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger  and Maria Shriver, my friend Angela and I were listening to the BBC radio in London.  The first thing that came to mind was “It took her long enough!”, and we laughed about it.

But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the scope of just how damaged the man was as a husband.  (Not that I spent hours thinking about this.)

Years after the infamous groping scandal during his gubernatorial campaign — which his wife stood fiercely by and defended him throughout — the world would come to learn that the man who gained fame by playing such complex and cerebral characters as “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Terminator” had fathered a child with his housekeeper of 20 years.  It would appear that he’s a better actor than we thought, as he kept the affair and child, who’s reportedly as old as his youngest child with his wife, a secret up until his run as Governor of California ended.

All jokes about his acting, accent, bodybuilding past, horn-dog and political histories aside… even though there’s obviously so much to work with… the real story is how Arnold, like so many other men in powerful positions, managed to convince himself, his family and the public that he was an upstanding citizen all while living a major lie for over a decade.  Unfortunately, it’s become all too typical to hear stories of politicians in sex scandals, and it’s a common (stupid) practice that dates back centuries to a bygone era before people could choose who was even in power.  The new class of elected lotharios have Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and Mark Sanford amongst their growing list of poster boys.  For Maria, it’s just another day of being a Kennedy scion, having uncles that have had the most notorious and public roving eyes and other parts.  For some reason, they’re not completely satisfied screwing just the voters. 

But truthfully, what drives such behavior?  Is it a “God complex” where they feel no repercussions from their actions?  Are they so emotionally spent from the pressures of having to satisfy their constituency that they need to release their tensions in ways that a session in the gym or masturbation won’t suffice?  Are their marital partners picked more for professional and political leverage than connubial support?

Now we’re on to something…

The Hillarys, Jackies, et al have all been extraordinary women with noteworthy pedigrees and powerful careers and personalities to match.  In many cases, their husbands have called on their spouses to use their influence and Rolodexes to make their political aspirations come to fruition.  With the exception of Laura Bush, who was a librarian, and perhaps a few more domesticated examples in history, the modern political wife more often than not tend to be lawyers, businesswomen, or heiresses.  At best, they open doors and provide an understanding of the lifestyle they signed up for.  On the flip side, they sometimes outshine their husbands in popularity once the voters’ increasing demands begin to take its toll, and occasionally the often forceful, opinionated and influential persona that made them so successful in their former careers become undesirable bedmates once the inaugural ball is over.

As much of a colossal douchebag as Arnold may be, I’m a little cautious about the shock being expressed by Shriver.  As I’d read in a news report, during the campaign in 2003, while his wife went on the defense and denied the groping allegations, Schwarzenegger himself never did.  For a woman who spent her entire life around philandering men, and years as an investigative journalist and media personality, I’m not all too convinced that she was as clueless as much as she simply looked the other way because historically that’s what the women in her family did.  She’s a strong, smart woman who is very capable of manipulating the media  — as displayed in the fact that it took months for news of the split to become public — and possibly even her muscle-for-brains husband who now outranks Mel Gibson as the most hated faded action star of the moment. 

My heart still goes out to her.  In the past two years, the woman has lost both of her parents and is now grappling with the collapse of her 25-year marriage, for which she gave up her prominent career to be First Lady of California.  The worst part is the public humiliation and scrutiny that won’t likely see the end of day anytime soon, and the idea her four children will be subjected to it all for years to come.  But something tells me she’s going to be just fine, and as despicable as the acts of her husband and housekeeper may have been, they provided her with the necessary motivation she needed to free herself and her family from a bad situation.

But what of the “Sperminator” and the rest of his ilk?  Do they ever really learn from their transgressions?  Does it always have to end in a disastrous, publicly embarrassing and emotionally and psychologically crippling ordeal for their trusting loved ones?  At what point does the head of one’s penis begin to think in place of the one on top of the body?  Furthermore, at what point does it become a non-issue that the adrenaline rush of being naughty with someone of lesser stature like the intern, prostitute or domestic employee, overtakes the risk of losing your family, friends and the faith of the people who made you who you are? 

Granted, women aren’t immune from making horrible and costly mistakes, but if you can show me a woman in power who’s allowed herself to be toppled by a sexual indiscretion, I’ll show you the DNA evidence that reveals an exorbitant amount of XY chromosomes. 

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking… the answer is he should know better.  Michelle spends a lot of time in the gym, and she will open up a can of whoop ass and not even care about the Secret Service.  In fact, she may just give them a taste too if they try to get in her way.

Madness, Messages and Madea

This past Easter weekend, I revisited my Southern African-American family roots and joined the masses for a religious experience… I went to see “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family”.

When it comes to Tyler Perry, my emotions are occasionally conflicted.  His personal story is touching, inspiring, and emboldens me as a survivor of abuse.  His contributions to the Black community are indisputably generous.  

His movies…?  This is where my love/hate emerges. 

While MBHF genuinely had entertaining and some laugh-out-loud moments, one could get the sense that Perry was giving you “everything and the kitchen sink” in the course of an hour and forty-five minutes.  The movie covered health issues in the Black community such as Diabetes, Cancer and the importance of a colonoscopy, angry Black women, rape and incest amongst many other topics.  Of course, most of his movies are like that.  In fact, my head is still spinning from “Why Did I Get Married Too?”.  I’m officially a little afraid of Janet Jackson now after that meltdown scene where she smashes up her house.  Somewhere, Jermaine Dupri is breathing a little easier.  

The movies are often based on the plays that made Perry a household name, and have become almost mandatory annual pilgrimages for church groups.  In both movie and play, the writer/actor/producer/director — who stands six-feet-five — dresses up in drag as Madea, a gun-toting, hell raising old lady who’s also a straight shooter from the mouth.  Madea is the glue that binds families on the verge of falling apart from secrets and lies; she reveals and then counsels in one fell swoop, wrapping her message in spirituality… even while maintaining that her own relationship with God is sketchy.  It’s the kind of entertainment cleverly packaged as a comedy, but figures while they have your attention, they might as well throw in some church and therapy (which, when you think of it, is really quite economical).

What irritated me about the movie were the moments that had comedic potential but came up short: Madea’s encounter with the “Ghetto Girl” character played by Teyanna Taylor — who’s intentionally irritating voice was just a bit extra — was missing something.  There also tends to be a penchant for overacting from the cast, almost as if they are performing on stage and want to make sure the audience is alert and gets the jokes or the big dramatic climax.  And as funny as the Madea character can be, I tend to have difficulty retaining pertinent messages about relationships and the decline of the youth when the message is coming from someone with grapefruits swinging under a bad floral dress that my own grandmother would have lit on fire. 

In addition to being funny, thought-provoking, and uplifting (I’m not telling you anything specific because I want you to get off your butt and go see it and support this man, dammit!), the film provides a little eye candy for the ladies and gentlemen… although we fare better since the females are either gold-diggers or harpies.  Which begs the question: Why are the only sensible, calm, female characters elders?  Are younger women really that high-strung and wayward? 

Oh, right… yes we are.

Whatever.  At least we get to see the Old Spice guy be all sensitive for more than the usual thirty second commercial spot. 

Thank you, TP.  All is forgiven after “For Colored Girls”.  Side note: Can we ease up on the casting of Janet in bitch roles?  She really does scare me now.