Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Real Master of the Game

As the likes of Shawn Carter and Sean Combs continue to preen
and pose and export their own hype, Percy Ellis Sutton, a real
master of the game, has passed away. Sutton went to glory on
Saturday, December 26th and his was one remarkable life. The
fifteenth and last child born to Samuel ("S.J.") - a former slave -
and Lillian, Sutton, would stow away on a passenger train to New
York City on Manhattan Island, at the age of twelve, where he
would sleep under a sign on 155th Street in the Harlem neighbor-
hood of the borough he would one day serve as Borough Presi-

At age thirteen, Sutton was passing out leaflets in an all-white
neighborhood for the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP). By the age of sixteen he would
achive the rank of Eagle Scout as a member of the Boy Scouts
of America.

A lifelong adventurer, Sutton would take up stunt-flying on the
barnstorming circuit. He would land at Tuskegee Institute where
he would become one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. He
would win combat stars in the Italian and Mediterranean war
theaters as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S.
Army Air Forces.

After attending Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View,
Texas, the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee Alabama, and the
Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, Sutton would go on to
attend the Brooklyn Law School in the borough of Brooklyn on
the New York Islands while working as a post office clerk and
a subway conductor.

Sutton would serve again as an Air Force intelligence officer
during the Korean War before returning to Harlem in 1953 and
establishing his law office with brother Oliver and a third partner,
George Covington.

In addition to representing Malcolm X for a decade until his 1965
assassination, the Sutton firm handled the cases of more than
200 defendants arrested in the South during the 1963-64 civil
rights marches. Sutton was also elected to two terms as president
of the New York office of the NAACP.

After Malcolm's assassination, Sutton worked as lawyer for Mal-
colm's widow, Betty Shabazz. He represented her grandson, 12-
year-old Malcolm Shabazz, when the youth was accused of setting
a 1997 fire that caused her death.

Sutton became a longtime leader in Harlem politics and was a
charter member of the Harlem Clubhouse, a fraternal organi-
zation that would include four men who become the pillars of
the New York local and national politics: Representative Charles
Rangel, now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee;
former New York City Mayor David Dinkins; former state senator
and New York’s first black secretary of state; Basil Paterson (the
father of current New York Governor David Paterson) and Sutton,
himself, who would become Manhattan Borough President.

In concert with his brother Oliver, a future New York State
Supreme Court Justice, Sutton would purchase radio station
WLIB-AM, making it the first black-owned station in New York
City. The brothers’ Inner City Broadcasting Corporation would
eventually pick up WBLS-FM before buying stations in Los
Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio.

Sutton and Inner City Broadcasting would purchase the famed
Apollo Theatre in 1983, beginning an extensive renovation that
would bring the hallowed venue back to its former glory. Sutton
"retired" in 1991, but his work as an adviser, mentor and confi-
dant to politicians and businessmen would continue until his

I see you, Jay-Z and P-Diddy, and I raise you Percy Sutton.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Different Kind of Blue

James Cameron has achieved a remarkable daily double. He
has spent years and boat loads of money, putting his career and
his studio at irrational risk and, once again, as improbably as he
did in 1997 with Titantic, he has snatched overarching success
from the jaws of unenviable defeat. Perhaps this is just something
he has to do every ten, twelve years or so (he was less successful
with 1989’s The Abyss). In any case, rarely have I had a more
satisfying movie theater experience than I had watching Avatar.

I have a Holy Trinity of movies: Pulp Fiction, The Matrix and The
(of these Pulp Fiction is the “holiest of the holies”). I
love these movies because as I was watching them I not only felt
as if I was plugged directly into the world portrayed up on the
screen, I felt as if I had just experienced a paradigm shift (“Was
it good for you?”).

Avatar in 3D is an awesome achievement. Many have tried to
deliver the ultimate 3-D experience and many have failed miser-
ably. Cameron has not only succeeded, he has excelled, creating
a full, real world with remarkable depth of field. Cameron uses
3-D as just another color on his filmmaking palette and does not
employ it as just another cheap trick. The 3-D objects and effects
are often as surprising as they are seamlessly integrated into the
intricately woven fabric of his story.

The story itself is familiar and universal. So many elements seen
here have been seen before and have become cultural touchstones.
If you have seen Star Wars, Aliens, Dune, any of the Terminator
movies, or read or seen any of the dragon rider books or movies,
you are prepared to be immersed in Avatar’s world. Much is
taken from Cameron’s own lexicon. There is Sigourney Weaver
essaying a Ripley-like scientist, Giovanni Ribisi in the Paul
Reiser corporate weasel role and Michelle Rodriguez in the
tough-talking female soldier role (Aliens). And there is the
strong woman of purpose (a different kind of blue Zoe Saldana)
who must give a weak man (Sam Worthington) the strength to
do what needs to be done.

There are many grace notes in Avatar. The braids that snake
down the backs of the indigenous Na'vi people are organic USB
cables and the way Cameron’s characters “jack” into their cog-
nitive world is lovely. The notion of the natives bonding with the
extraordinary flora and fauna of this alien world is at once illus-
trative, exhilarating and, often, thrilling.

Cameron has gathered an eclectic and racially diverse cast.
Worthington is Australian and Saldana, Laz Alonso, CCH
Pounder and Wes Studi can be glimpsed under their blue patina.
In addition, Stephen Lang (as Colonel Miles Quaritch) delivers
such a muscular performance, as the pragmatically evil face of
American Imperialism, you may wonder where he has been all
your life.

Avatar is powerful, moving, didactic and thought-provoking.
All in all, a singular achievement.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Countdown to the End of the World

Only three more years before the Mayan calendar - and thus,
the world - ends.

~your good buddy, rave!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Inglouriously yours

I have just seen Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and
I am powerfully underwhelmed. The movie it most reminds me
of is Spike Lee's The Miracle at St. Anna. Both movies are
bloated and too long and show a remarkable lack of narrative
restraint. But where Anna has made $9 million, Basterds
has made $312 million worldwide.

Thinking "maybe it's me," I googled other reviews:

"I don't know if I've ever seen a revenge fantasy so willfully
messed up, sometimes offensively so."
- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

"Clocking in at 2 hours and 32 minutes, it is unforgivably
- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

"Tonally schizoid and rife with anachronisms (a David Bowie
song on the sound track, out-of-era vernacular), Tarantino's
Third Reich folly is utterly exasperating."
- Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

All of these things are true and all of them can be said of
"Anna" (with the exception of the Bowie song).

Both movies are visually impressive (some of the images in
"Basterds" are stunning), almost painterly but, in both cases,
the heightened cinematography distracts from the narrative.
Both directors have made better movies with lesser palattes.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Curse of the Black Leprechaun

On November 30, 2009, Notre Dame University found itself at
the same crossroads it has found itself at often in the new millen-
nium, firing a head football coach and preparing to hire another
one. The last hire could not have been more disastrous and it is
illustrative that by violating their own principals and bowing to
alumni pressure when they fired Coach Ty Willingham just three
years into his contract, the university may not only have bought
itself five more years of futility, it may have invoked “The Curse
of the Black Leprechaun.”

It is noteworthy that Ty Willingham, the first black head football
coach in Notre Dame history also happened to be the first head
coach in Notre Dame history not allowed to fulfill his five year
contract. Honoring the five year contract was a point of pride
and honor for the University. Even Gerry Faust, an over-
matched ex-high school football coach, despite going 5-6 in his
first year – Notre Dame’s first losing season in seventeen years –
never winning more than 7 games in a season and finishing with
a 30-26-1 record was allowed to fulfill his five-year contract.

By contrast, Ty Willingham became the first coach in Notre Dame
history to win ten games in his first year when he went 10-3 in
2002. Willingham also suffered some ignoble firsts during his
three years as coach including getting shut out twice in one
season for the first time since 1960 (2003) and a 41–16 loss to
Purdue (ND's only home loss to PU since 1974, and the second-
worst home loss ever to PU). Still, his three year record was
21-15, and his 2004 record was an improvement over his 2003
record, giving him two winning seasons out of three and a winning
percentage of .714.

The Gerry Faust era was known as “The Bold Experiment” but
nothing, apparently, was bolder than the Golden Domers hiring
a black head football coach on the last day of the first year of the
new millennium.

On December 11, 2009, to great fanfare, Notre Dame hired Brian
Kelly, its third new millennium coach, to a five-year contract.
Time will tell if he is the new Lou Holtz or the next Charlie Weis.
Time will also tell if “The Curse of the Black Leprechaun” will
prove as long-lasting and intractable as “The Curse of Billy Goat
Tavern” that has plagued the Chicago Cubs since 1945.

Here’s hoping “The Curse of the Black Leprechaun” doesn’t last
64 years (and counting) but that it lasts long enough to serve as
a reminder to the good provosts of Notre Dame to always do the
right thing.

It's Complicated

It’s Complicated is the title of a new Meryl Streep movie and a
succinct synopsis of the dilemma facing actresses of a certain age.
Meryl Streep is sixty and, while she continues to age beautifully,
you are not impressed in the same way you are when someone
mentions that Diane Keaton is 63 or that Dame Helen Mirren is
64 (and still posing in bikinis). In other words, no exclamation
points will ensue. Still, like Scott Baio being “46 and pregnant,”
Meryl Steep headlining movies at 60 years of age is both re-
markable and noteworthy.

Not only is Meryl Streep starring in movies, she is starring in
blockbusters. Her last three movies have a combined worldwide
box office of $777 million, and that includes the relatively paltry
$50 million Doubt brought in.

How is it possible that Meryl Streep has become bankable at
sixty? Not only is she bankable at sixty, she is sixty and playing
the lead in a sex farce with two men vying to be her lover and
not one but two sex scenes although, like the fan dancer Sally
Rand, she never shows more than a little leg.

Not to digress but has there ever been a sweeter mouth out of
which to hear a foul word? Who besides La Streep could have
delivered the classic “cocksucker suit” line from Sophie’s Choice
with such casual naiveté? Who else but she could have delivered
the line “I’m a little bit of a slut” in It’s Complicated with such
coquettishness (at sixty!) that she comes across as anything but.

Nancy Meyers, reprising her dual roles of writer-director, is at
the top of her game plowing fertile ground she has plowed before
(2003’s Something’s Got to Give). In fact, Meyers is compiling
sort of a cinematic dissertation on the sexuality of post meno-
pausal women. Meyers has given Streep a great ensemble cast
including actresses of certain age: Rita (“Mrs. Tom Hanks”)
Wilson, 53, Mary Kay (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) Place,
62, as two of Streep’s quartet of stalwart gal pals (Molly "V.I.P."
Culver, 42, and Alexandra “In Living Color” Wentworth, 44 -
how did they get in here? – are the other two) and two former
leading men, Alec Baldwin, 51, and Steve Martin, 64, as the duo
seeking to make her the object of their affection.

It is telling that Meyers has cast the younger Baldwin as Streep’s
husband and, as her grown, toothy and very blond children, actors
Zoe Kazan, 26, Rosalie Ward and Hunter Parish, 22, who could
easily be playing her grandchildren. This is noteworthy because
like male actors her age and stature, Streep is playing a character
younger than her actual years with a co-star nearly ten years her
junior. To put this in context, in 1962, the thirty-seven year-old
Angela Lansbury played the mother of the thirty-four year-old
Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate, and Miss Bette
Davis and Miss Joan Crawford, fifty-four and fifty-seven,
respectively, had their last true starring roles opposite one
another in Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The complication of the title is the continuation of Streep’s nascent
and unexpected affair with her bombastic ex-husband (Baldwin)
while she is falling in love with a sweet but once burned divorcé
(Martin). Both the twinkly Streep and the subdued Martin exhibit
exquisite comic timing but Baldwin continues his Emmy-winning
renaissance as a comic actor by stealing scene after scene (an
honorable mention goes to The Office tested John Krasinki as
Streep’s non-plussed son-in-law to be). With his increasing girth,
Baldwin appears completely at ease in his excess skin. His per-
formance as an undisciplined man temporarily freed from the
prison of his impulsive mid-life train wreck of a remarriage to a
much younger woman (an anorexic, neurotic and very scary
Lake Bell) is a joy to watch. He eats scenery the way he devours
Streep’s exquisite on-screen cooking, greedily, lustfully and

One thing that is not complicated is how enjoyable It’s
proves to be.