When the #BookofRhymes club chose Born to Use Mics as our monthly read for the month of April, I was sooo excited. A book about Nas, unquestionably one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time and Illmatic...what could possibly go wrong, right?
A whole lot, apparently. Particularly when scholars over analyze hip hop and fail to root the conversation in aspects of the genre that true fans find of interest. One of the authors actually engages in ‘lyricsplaining’ one of my favorite tracks on the album, It’s Yours in Chapter Four:
“...immediately following the "It's Yours" sample, Pete Rock begins the hook by singing the question, "Whose world is this?" To which Nas immediately replies, "The world is yours. The world is yours.”
You get the idea.
The #BookofRhymes club featuring Porsha, Kil, Vince, Tone and Yours Truly, really break this book down without hesitation.
Last month my #Apt5B #BookofRhymes family decided on reading Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&*k. I had never heard of the book, but was instantly intrigued by the title. Seriously, the subject matter could not be more timely. I am making a lot of changes in my life at the moment, some of which other people won’t be so happy about, so, while I’m in the mood of looking out for myself first, learning how to not give any more f&*ks sounded like a fantastic idea.
Let me tell you, Mr. Manson wastes no time and really breaks not giving a f&*k down. Check out a few gems from the first chapter entitled: Don’t Try:
On page five: “The world is constantly telling you that the key to good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more…”
Page nine: “The desire for more positive experiences is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
Page fourteen: “Subtlety #1: Not giving a f&*k does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.”
Direct, to the point and spot on.
To hear more of my thoughts on this book, check out Kil’s #BookofRhymes podcast also featuring Porsha and Vince.
Roxanne, Roxanne is a biopic based on the life of one of Hip Hop’s first leading ladies, Lolita Gooden aka Roxanne Shanté, I highly anticipated this film’s March 23rd release by Netflix, as the “golden era” of Hip Hop took place during my formative years. However, this film is not a celebration of Hip Hop nostalgia. Instead, the writer and director, Michael Larell, chose to focus on the challenges Roxanne faced in her personal life behind the scenes. This was a refreshing surprise.
Known as a fierce battle MC from Queensbridge Projects, Gooden rose to fame at age fourteen after recording a diss track entitled Roxanne’s Revenge. The film begins before this track is recorded. Roxanne’s Revenge was released in 1984 in response to the UTFO hit, Roxanne, Roxanne.
Roxanne’s mom, Ms. Peggy (Nia Long) is a harsh, broken woman, twice abandoned; first, by the father of her children, and then, by her boyfriend, Mr. Lester. As Ms. Peggy drowns herself in alcohol, Shanté is thrust into an adult role of caring for herself and her sisters. Hip Hop helps to provide both a financial and emotional outlet for Shanté, most notably providing a mask to hide her vulnerability as a young child.
It is difficult to watch the cycle of abuse Roxanne suffers, particularly at the hands of men who enter her life. Cross (Mahershala Ali) is a particularly disgusting pedophile who begins a ‘relationship’ with Roxanne that includes showering her with expensive gifts to build her trust. As time progresses, he isolates her from her family and friends and beats her repeatedly, irrationally claiming that violence and love are one and the same.
Although the film provides insight into the making of Roxanne’s Revenge and introduces a few members of the Juice Crew, the script fails to provide adequate exposition of UTFO and the magnitude of their cultural influence. This is something that could have been accomplished with very little fanfare by strategically adding a scene or two. Without this information, the impact of Shanté’s success is one dimensional in that we see the impact it had on her life, but, we are not fully made privy to the movement this song helped to accelerate for women in Hip Hop. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the hip hop genre during this time need this additional information to fully embrace Shanté’s significance. I benefited directly from this movement as an MC by being invited to bless mics in situations in which I was previously ignored.
In spite of this oversight, Roxanne, Roxanne is a celebration of a trailblazer that proves to be inspirational. It’s about time this story finally made it to the screen.
Seven Seconds is a riveting episodic crime drama released by Netflix. Set in New Jersey, the first season chronicles the story of the accidental vehicular death of a 15-year-old black child at the hands of a police officer. The officer, Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp) convinced that the child has died, is easily coerced by fellow officers to leave the scene and cover up the accident. Pete’s commanding officer, Mike DiAngelo (David Lyons) reasons that the race factor will overshadow good intentions, resulting in his crucifixion by the public. Ironically, race is indeed the overwhelming factor that motivates these officers to leave the child in a ditch like roadkill.
Regina King and Russell Hornsby earnestly portray the boy’s parents Latrice and Isaiah Butler. The dynamics within their family structure is so authentically layered, watching creates the feeling of being drawn into a family one might know personally. Latrice bears the emotional weight of the family. In contrast, Isaiah embodies the persona of a man that pours whatever emotions he may have into religion and considers providing for his family the ultimate display of love. He is not likeable for most of the series, but, his character’s evolution is well defined throughout.
KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), the Assistant District Attorney, shares Isaiah’s affliction, as she avoids emotional espousal by crawling into a bottle and having trysts with strangers. She has perfected wearing an impenetrable mask while in public and has garnered an undesirable reputation. KJ’s backstory, once revealed, makes her motivations for being drawn to the Butler case clear. Ashitey’s performance can be misconstrued as flat, but KJ is a flat, broken character seeking a way out of perdition--subtle nuances that are all captured very well.
The police officers are such a despicable lot, it’s hard to determine who is more racist or corrupt than the other. Although we learn some sombering details about Pete and Mike’s family life, it is impossible to sympathize with them and overlook their actions. Thank goodness KJ has Fish Rinaldi, a dutiful newcomer to the precinct, to assist with the investigation. Michael Mosely’s portrayal of Fish is a delightful combination of optimism and sarcasm which is worthy of more screen time should there be a second season.
Seven Seconds is most definitely “binge-worthy,” filled with interesting subplots that continuously explore important social themes, dynamic characters that keep the story moving forward and a cast that realistically brings them to life.
I’d like to fully disclose at the beginning of this post that I am not a Westerns ‘expert’, but do have a few films I truly love within the genre. Once Upon A Time in the West and The Wild Bunch top my list of favorites. I can’t remember the last time I considered seeing a Western in a theatre, but the Hostiles’ marketing strategy, labelling it “best western since Unforgiven”, did the trick. I studied Unforgiven as a screenwriting student in film school, and really grew to appreciate it as a solid film. On a side note, The Quick and the Dead was released after Unforgiven and is a pretty good Western as well. To have the audacity to compare Hostiles to Unforgiven, it must be a good film, right?
Well, it’s not a bad film. The dark, psychological tone of the film is set from the opening frame containing the following quote written by English writer, D.H. Lawrence: “The essential American is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer”. This quote is followed by the brutal killings of Mrs. Rosalind Quaid’s entire family by the Comanche. It was hard for me to watch a wife and mother witness and survive such a brutal attack on screen. Rosalind Pike’s performance thoroughly manifests a realistic range of emotions during this story.
We meet quite a few killers throughout this film, most notably, Christian Bale as Captain Jonathan Blocker, a genocidal killer, renown for his efficiency during times of war. He is a well-read, hostile racist, who rationalizes and trivializes his murders as doing his “job”. In a twist of fate, Captain Blocker’s last assignment before retirement is to escort a Cheyenne family through perilous territory into Montana where the family patriarch, Chief Yellow Hawk, who is dying of cancer, will be laid to rest. Blocker hates Chief Yellow Hawk. In contrast, Blocker is accompanied by Master Sergeant Thomas Metz (Rory Cochran), a man that has not been able to process the brutal things he has done under the guise of democracy, and is struggling to cope with these realities both emotionally and psychologically.
Blocker insists on shackling the escorts as if they are prisoners, even when Chief Yellow Hawk confronts him with the likelihood they will encounter the Comanche during their journey. This likelihood becomes a reality during a confrontation with the murderers of Mrs. Quaid’s family, resulting in the loss of several of Blocker’s men. Violence serves as an interesting device to unify captors and captives against a common enemy in this film, which within itself is a powerful statement.
Hostiles lags at times but makes a powerful statement directly connected to the quote in the opening of the film--Violence is woven into the very foundation of America. During a panel at NATPE, Byron Allen of Entertainment Studios cited the need to highlight the violent displacement of Native Americans from their land as one of his primary motivators in acquiring this film. This is something we definitely need to talk more about. For some, however, Hostiles’ social significance will be overshadowed by the brutality of the Comanche, Christian Bale’s few strong moments won’t be enough, and the well executed homage to John Ford unimpressive.
My Rating: B
I finally got around to seeing Mother! this past weekend. I’m not really a fan of the horror genre and wasn't sure what to expect. Most recently, I read a review written by Candice Frederick on Vice, exploring the film from the angle of Mother’s introverted nature and was so genuinely terrified, I considered not seeing it. As an introvert, just the thought of strangers invading someone’s home…well, let’s just say there were moments during the film that I found myself silently screaming “Get the f*ck out of her house!”
For the most part, however, I felt that Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) wasn’t so much of an introvert as she was trapped by her love for Him and the visceral connection she has with the house. Aronofsky’s execution of close-ups and extremely tight tracking shots adds a suffocating, isolating and neurotic energy to the film, that is paired perfectly with subtle and amazingly distinct layers of sound. It is clear that Mother has no life or existence outside the house.
Mother’s husband (Javier Bardem) is a writer who appears exhausted and uninspired by her. He needs her love and “loves the idea that she loves him”, but needs more to create. Craving inspiration, he welcomes strangers into their world, choosing them over Mother, believing that this sacrifice is one she should be willing to make. The bottom line is, If an artist cannot create, they cannot be happy.
And so, inspired by the chaos that unfolds due to the crazed interaction with these uninvited guests, he pens a masterpiece that garners international recognition, making Him a literary marvel, idolized by fans that show up at his home. Again, he choses the strangers over Mother who, once again violate their home and ergo violate Mother in the worst imaginable way. These sequences are over the top and incredibly orchestrated and reminded me of the frenzied dragging that occurs on social media when celebrities share their personal lives with strangers.
There is so much to unpack from Mother! that I feel like I need to see it at least once more to fully digest it, but I can say with certainty that it ranks highly amongst Aronofsky’s body of work. There were a few moments where things slowed down a bit too much for me, but the performances (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) made up for that. Ignore the negative reviews and go check it out before it gets to DVD. This is definitely a film to be seen in the theatre.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Episode Two of Claws airs on TNT in a few hours and I can hardly wait. Admittedly, I watched the premiere last Sunday with low expectations, but the ensemble cast was so enticing--Neicy Nash, Carrie Preston and Harold Perrineau to name a few--I couldn’t resist. I'd also learned that the show was originally developed for HBO, a network that consistently produces iconic television, so I was anxious to see the programming they had passed up.
TNT’s marketing campaign for Claws convinces the viewer that this show is about a group of misfit women that work in a nail salon and go up against gangsters. Technically, this is an accurate summation of the plot, but the characters build the groundwork for a show that is much more complex. Densa (Neicy Nash) is a prime example of this. She presents in those outfits, that hair and those nails; a device clearly designed to perpetuate a stereotype (a stereotype that the men in the series clearly embrace), but, as you watch you learn that Densa is a human being of many layers. She dreams. She hopes. She loves.
I interpreted the salon as sort of a safe haven for the nail technicians with Densa’s character at the helm as sister and protector. Unfortunately, the salon is also laundering money for an illegal opiate operation led by Uncle Daddy, a hilarious over the top character played by Dean Morris. Densa had an agreement with Roller (Jack Kesy) to launder the money in exchange for a $20,000 cut. When this agreement isn’t honored and someone gets killed, the ends fail to justify the means.
It was painful to watch Densa neglect her own needs to take care of everyone else, only to be rewarded with blatant, unforgiving misogynoir. Densa’s by no means a pushover, but I believe her experiences will ring true for many women, particularly women of color, who have remained in unpleasant and even abusive situations in an effort to achieve a goal. In spite of this, I am eager to delve into the backstory of these characters and hopeful that they will kick ass and be victorious in the end.
PS - This show is rated TV-MA so if you’re sensitive about nudity and other MA type stuff, watch something else.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you should know by now that Wonder Woman hit the theatres last Thursday, June 1st. I can't begin to tell you how excited I was about Wonder Woman coming to the big screen. It took long enough, especially when you consider that her first appearance in the comics was in 1941, a little before my time. I have absolutely no recollection of Wonder Woman from the comics (we didn't read DC comics in my house) but I was a real fan of the television show that starred Lynda Carter. Lynda Carter and Theresa Graves from Get Christie Love were my idols at the time. Unfortunately, Graves’ show didn't last that long, but we can revisit that in another post. Anyway, the point is, I felt as though I would be watching the movie with a fresh pair of eyes.
Diana tells her story via flashback, not one of my favorite ways to frame a story, but it works for this film. She tells us about her life as an Amazon princess, revered and protected from the outside world. As a child Diana had an innate desire to learn the art of combat, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, was against Diana’s participation in these activities. Antiope, played by Robin Wright, goes against Hippolyta’s wishes and begins to train Diana any way. One day they are found out, and the Queen agrees to let the training continue provided Diana never finds out who she is. Who is she? Well, I think that would be too much of a spoiler to reveal here.
In any event, It's a good thing Diana received that training as it comes in handy when outsiders arrive in pursuit of Steve Trevor, a spy whose plane crashed into the sea right outside of the island. Diana saves his ass from drowning and it winds up costing a few of the Amazon sisters their lives. Steve tells the women about the war raging in the outside world, which Diana is sure has been started by Ares, so she decides to leave home to find and kill him.
What did I think about Wonder Woman?
Well, while watching I found myself wishing that the story had been set in present day as I have grown weary of storylines of Nazis and spies. The movie also reminded me of Christopher Reeves’ Superman, but I couldn't put my finger on why until I read this article, which reveals that the director, Patti Jenkins, was heavily influenced by Superman. The dialogue is extremely clichéd. I suppose cliche’ works for a superhero flick, but I was hoping for a little more substance, reflective of the complexity of Diana’s character. The film is also quite predictable as I figured out who Ares was pretty early, so the Big Reveal near the end fell a little flat for me. I'd also hoped for a more menacing Aries as I really believe a good antagonist makes a great film.
In spite of its flaws, the cinematography and graphics are excellent and the acting is pretty good. Fight sequences and battle scenes are executed flawlessly. Robin Wright is excellent. I liked Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. I think she is believable as a woman entering a world she is unfamiliar with, presenting the perfect combination of strength, naïveté and fearlessness. Thematically, it touches on many of today’s hot topics: sexism, social stratification, and warmongering to name a few.
On that note, I recommend that you go see it. Wonder Woman is what we need right now.
I cut the cable cord about six months ago, sick and tired of wasting hard earned money on content that didn't interest me and I never watch. This does mean that I occasionally miss watching a show on it's airdate, a sacrifice I've been able to overcome by being reintroduced to over the air networks or antenna television (that's right, say it with me an-ten-na TV).
One of my favorite things to do is to watch Movies TV Network's film noir features late Saturday night. These broadcasts start about 2 AM, and contain a plethora of films, some great, some not so great, that honestly represent the cynicism of the genre.
This morning I had the pleasure of re-watching In A Lonely Place, directed, incidentally by one of my favorite directors, Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause, On Dangerous Ground). It stars Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele, a disillusioned screenwriter that drinks too much, which is something I can definitely relate to. Dix hasn't worked in awhile and is being pressured to adapt a book he doesn't want to read into a screenplay. Dix "doesn't work on things he doesn't like" and is so uninspired by the thought of this project, that he invites the coat check girl, who has actually read the book, back to his house to provide him with a synopsis.
Unfortunately for Dix, the coat check girl turns up dead, making him a suspect in her murder. While at the police station being interrogated, he meets his muse, Laurel, portrayed by Gloria Graham, who he falls in love with. Their relationship is overshadowed by Dix's violent outbursts, questionable past and the unsolved murder of the coat check girl. It stands to reason that Laurel would be afraid of him and it messes everything up.
You will really feel for Dix as it is clear that true love has filled a void that is changing his life, but this film really serves, in part, as a cautionary tale about taking accountability for ones actions. I won't give away what happens for those of you that haven't seen it, but I highly recommend you check it out. It also serves as a reminder that violence is never the answer.
Writer. Producer. Creator of Ultimatum, a pop-up, live streamed, trivia game show.
We live in a world driven by “on demand” digital content. Streaming video coupled with advances in mobile technology has led to increased accessibility to the world of digital storytelling. Everyone has become a creator. Are you a creator? Is that idea you have the next big web series or short film?
Before you jump in and start writing your masterpiece, you should ask yourself a few pointed questions. These questions may seem very basic, but you will be surprised how many people write without considering these things, ending up with a subpar project, if they ever finish it at all.
Question #1: What is my film about?
Identify the true story you want to tell. Identifying the narrative will ensure that you are consistent to those parameters as you write. Freewriting is one of the best ways to flush out a story. Sit in a quiet space and write down whatever comes to mind about your idea. What is the theme of your story? Who are your main characters? Where will the story take place? From your freewriting, chose the ideas that you think work best to begin putting your story together.
From here, you can chose to write a treatment that details all of your major plot points, or take a more organic approach and work from an outline. Whatever method you use, organizing your how your story progresses before you start writing helps to create a pleasant writing experience.
Question #2: Can I invest the time to write?
In the words of Robert McKee, story is about thoroughness, not shortcuts. Writing a script takes time and commitment. Being realistic about the time frame needed to complete your first draft can help you remain motivated and avoid unnecessary stress. Stress can impede the creative process. Also, a preset time frame helps with setting writing goals and scheduling dedicated time to writing every day. Whether you plan to write a scene a day, or to write 10 minutes a day, the process is always easier if you are writing a story you truly believe in (see question #1). If you tend to procrastinate, the idea of a looming deadline may also keep you on track.
Question #3: Do I know the rules of writing a screenplay?
Screenplays follow a strict formatting structure. The way the margins, font and dialogue are positioned are somewhat of an exact science. Generally, this structure is used to estimate the length of a finished project, and to make reading and breaking down a script easier as a project moves into production. Also, it is important to note that a screenplay is not at all like writing a book or a magazine article. Novelists and journalists have certain flexibilities that screenwriters do not. Read a few screenplays before writing as a way to become acclimated with the craft. Read the script of a film you are familiar with. This will demonstrate how the words on the page translate to the screen. Screenplays of all types of films are available online on the Internet Movie Script Database www.imsdb.com.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee
The Blacklist https://blcklst.com/help/script_standards.pdf